Colombo

Buddha Statues at Seema Malakaya, Colombo

Colombo (Sinhala: කොළඹ, Tamil: கொழும்பு) is the largest city and commercial capital of Sri Lanka. Former capital of the nation, Colombo is still perceived as the capital of the nation by many and is located just beyond the suburb of Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, the official capital. Due to being on a stragic in the Indian Ocean, Colombo host one of the busiest port of South Asia and was known to ancient traders 2,000 years ago. Today the city is the central point of the country's activities and is home to a majority of country's restaurants and entertainment venues. Just like another typical South Asian biggest city, Colombo is congested, noisy, busy and vibrant city with a mixture of modern life and colonial buildings. It is the financial centre of the island and a popular tourist destination.

Understand

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 30.9 31.2 31.7 31.8 31.1 30.4 30.0 30.0 30.2 30.0 30.1 30.3
Nightly lows (°C) 22.3 22.6 23.7 24.6 25.5 25.5 25.2 25.1 24.8 24.0 23.2 22.8
Precipitation (mm) 58.2 72.7 128.0 245.6 392.4 184.9 121.9 119.5 245.4 365.4 414.4 175.3

Source:w:Colombo#Climate

Colombo is the commercial and financial capital of Sri Lanka after the administrative capital was moved to Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, a suburb east of the city. "Colombo" could refer to either the city proper, or to Greater Colombo that includes the areas of Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte and Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia.

Weather-wise, the best time to visit is during the north-east monsoon season, which is November to April.

Get in

By plane

There is air service to and from Colombo, provided by the national airline Sri Lankan Airlines. Flights are available from origins throughout Europe, United States, Southeast Asia, Australia, China, Japan, the Middle East, India, and Pakistan. Other airlines, include Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Etihad and Emirates.

By train

Long-distance train services are starting to improve after decades of neglect due to the civil war. Sri Lankan Railways resides over an increasing network with the central station Colombo-Fort as main hub. There are daily services from Badulla and Kandy as well as over-night trains from Batticaloa and Trincomalee. As of early 2013 there are still no services from Jaffna or any other northern cities.

Apart from the government-owned SLR there's ExpoRail with a high-end service on the Badulla-Kandy-Colombo stretch. Prices are about twice as much as the government trains but still affordable for a tourist, the ticket includes an onboard meal.

Fort Station is in the heart of the city, located next to Colombo Fort and Pettah and close to the meeting points of the A1 and A4 highways. The station provides access to businesses and offices in Colombo Fort, as well as the markets at Pettah. - - Maradana Railway Station is a major rail hub in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The station is served by Sri Lanka Railways, with many inter-city and commuter trains entering each day. It is the terminus of several intercity trains. - Maradana is home to the suburban-Colombo network's centralised traffic control centre.

By bus

The Sri Lanka Transport Board is the nationalized bus service. Buses are the principal mode of transport in the country. If you cannot speak or understand Sinhalese, however, travelling by bus might prove more difficult than train travel but is entirely feasible and may be much quicker. Prepare for severe over-crowding and make sure to confirm your destination with the driver and conductor of the bus. Route No 187 connects the Katunayake Airport to the city of Colombo, and buses are available throughout the day. The three primary bus terminals — Bastian Mawatha, Central, and the Gunasinghapura Bus Terminals — are in Pettah.

By boat

Passenger services with India have to Tuticorin are out of operation probably to never return at least not on this line. As a pricy alternative Indian Ocean Cruises operates a cruise liner to Colombo as part of its itinerary along the West Coast of India and to the uninhabited Lakshwadeep Islands.

Getting into Colombo from Katunayake Airport

It is highly advisable to confirm the cost of any mode of transport before using it, and trying to "hand a smaller amount than asked" as indicated below.

The international airport is closer to Negombo than to Colombo, so if you're arriving late, it might be a better option to head to Negombo for the night instead. Do an online search for those hotels. Star class hotels and budget guest houses are available. Ceylon tourist board (Controlled by Government) has a of hotels.

By taxi

Airport taxi

Taxi services are available at the airport. Immediately after exiting customs, there's a taxi counter on your right. Tell them your destination and they will print you a voucher with the price. As of July 2013, an A/C van from the airport to Colombo 1 (Fort) cost Rs. 2904.

Other popular taxi services

- Kangaroo Taxi and Airport Taxi booking

Hotel taxi

Most 4 or 5 star hotels have their own counter just outside the arrivals hall. You can get a taxi from one of these places. They will provide an air conditioned car.

By bus

This is the cheapest way to get into Colombo, but will take some effort and time. The public bus (number 187) to Colombo Fort leaves from the airport bus depot which is located outside the airport. You can get there by free shuttle or walk (about 10 - 15 mins). To catch a free shuttle bus, come out of the airport, turn left and walk all the way to the end of the building. You will not find any signs, so be sure to ask airport personnel. You will see an old white bus with a sign that says main terminal. Catch it and it will drive for 5 minutes and drop you off at the bus depot. From the bus depot, catch any bus marked 187 to Colombo at a cost of 40 rupees (although the bus collector may try to make tourists pay more 'for luggage' etc., the typical luggage a tourist may carry is not supposed to be accommodated in public transport, thus be prepared to not even be allowed in the bus if there is a crowd waiting to take the bus) to Colombo Fort station. Beware that only the big white buses (similar to the airport shuttle) will be 40 Rupees, the smaller buses with aircon will charge foreigners definitely more. Given that "more" might mean 70-100 Rupees, it's not that big of a deal, even though they might ask for 300 Rupees in the start, just hand them over a smaller amount and tell them it's not your first visit here.

The journey into Colombo Fort could take anything between an hour and fifteen to two hours. The bus will stop at major towns en route . They also have collapsible seats along the aisle which will get used as the bus becomes busy so, try to get a seat at the front. The one opposite the door is preferable! Ask the conductor to tell you when the bus gets to the Fort station (as opposed to the Colombo bus depot). Note that some buses do not go as far as the Fort station and stop at the bus depot, which is about 5 min walk from the station. Others go via the depot to fort station and then double back to the bus depot.

Once you reach Colombo Fort, you can get a three-wheeler (tuk-tuk) to get to your destination. You will pay a little premium for catching a tuk-tuk from the bus station or outside Fort station (on the main road so there will be a choice of tuk-tuks) but it should not cost more than Rs 150 to go to hotels near Galle Face (e.g. Cinnamon Grand, Taj or Galle Face Hotel).

You can also catch a bus to Galle Face (less than Rs 10) but you will not be welcome on board with large luggage; however, a backpack may be accepted.

For further information on bus timetables, routes and prices please visit where you can search for the best route for you.

By train

This is probably the most unknown way to get into Colombo, but completely possible. Take either the free Airport to the bus station and then follow the road (Canada Friendship) to the Katunayaka South station (around 1 km, if you don't have luggage) or, if you've luggage, best just to take a Tuk Tuk right from the airport to the train station. Should be 100 Rupees, if you're good at haggling you might get them down even a bit more. Then, at the train station, get a ticket to Colombo Fort, you'll be arriving right next to where the buses drop people off. Cost is 30 Rupees. Trains are sometimes delayed, but driving relatively frequently, around 1 per hour, more during rush hour. It will take around 1 hour to get to Fort station, so definitely quicker than by travelling by bus, if you manage to just catch a train without much waiting. Check online timetable (look for Katunayake, as "Katunayake Airport" station is not in use) on one of the free computers in the terminal when arriving about the next train, if it suits you, it's an easy way into the city for very little.

Tri-shaw (three wheeler, tuk-tuk)

You can also take a tri-shaw aka tuk-tuk from the bus depot(reach there by free airport shuttle bus) as on May 2011 it takes about 1500 LKR to take you from airport to Galle Road and with some bargaining it can reduce up to 1000 to 1200 LKR. On average it will take about an hour to reach Galle Road (these rates are highly unrealistic as even the meter taxi tuk tuks that cost about 40% less than the normal ones cost around 1400 for the same journey, a normal one, specially for a foreigner would cost substantially more.) So do be careful as you may be embarrassing your self following these exaggerations as to how cheap things are in Sri Lanka.

Get around

A Tourist Development Authority operated 'tuk tuk' or tri-shaw
Colombo Traffic

Getting around by Tri-shaw (Three wheeler, tuk-tuk) is most convenient. Most three-wheelers do not have any meters fitted with them and so you have to always negotiate and agree on a price before you take a trip. But it's best to hail a meter taxi (identified by the words "Meter Taxi" on its windshield) that is traveling in the direction that you need to go instead of hiring one from the parking area or the tuk-tuk stand. The meter taxi, costs 50 rupees for the first kilometre and 30 rupees for every additional kilometre plus waiting fees.

It is also easy to travel by bus.

The Sri Lankan Tourist Development Authority also operates its own fleet of 'tuk-tuks' around Colombo which are tourist friendly and metered to ensure that travellers are aware of the price being paid. Tourist board tuk tuks are distinguishable by their unique paintings. These three-wheelers can be booked 24 hours a day by calling 0712 500 800 or 0772 299 299.

Taxis are also a good mode of transportation. There are 'TATA Nano' cars in service nowadays and the charges start from Rs. 40 per kilometre with air-con and it is also a safe and convenient way to travel. Taxis are much safer than a three-wheeler. The tuk-tuks also offer their service for a fee of Rs. 30 per Km and do not forget to go for the ones with the "Metered TAXI" name board in front. Others may not have the meters running.

See

Holy Places

Museums

Galleries

Mansions

Do

Nelum Pokuna (Lotus Pound) Performing Arts Theater

Buy

Eat

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Mount Lavinia is a great place to be. The beach and the friendly people always draw visitors there and keep them for a while. Unlike the South of the island, Mt.Lavinia is only abut 20 minutes away from the city and entertains a good deal of nightlife. Along the beach are a variety of restaurants that serve liquor (by restaurants along the beach I mean they are literally ON the beach, 50 feet away from the water and tables on the sand) have great food catered to suit every budget. The variety of the beach spots themselves are interesting, from nice little coves for a quiet chat a and a drink to well lit, busy places with dance floors, music courtesy of a live DJ and well stocked bars. Try Jo Jo's, a quiet little place where they serve pretty decent food and drink and has a nice homey feel to it. The Owner Mr Jo, Jo, (Mr Nihal) better know, is a nice person. Buba, on the other side of the Mount Lavinia Hotel which divides the public beach is also a cool hang out.

Mount Lavinia also serves as the gay district of Colombo. Although not home to any gay bars, it is a very gay friendly town and always plays host to Colombo's Gay Pride week in June. Do not be surprised if some bars have the rainbow flag flying on the beach.

For those night owl's Colombo's nightlife is on par with most other Asian destinations and feature a number of nightlife establishments, that offer decent music and drinks, served in a pleasant atmosphere. The major hot spots as of February 2013 include the Amuseum and My Kind of Place at the Taj Samudra, Kama (near the Ramada Hotel), Silk (near independence Square) and R&B on Duplication Road.

Expect the music to range from 80's retro to modern chart toppers as elegant partygoers dance the night away sipping the poison of their choice. Most clubs close around 04:00, R&B perhaps a little longer after. Please do not drink and drive, hop a Three wheeler, it's easier....

Popular watering holes include Whitehorse (Nawam Mawatha), Inn on the Green (Galle Face Hotel), Rize Bar (Dharmapala Mawatha), Seven Degrees North (Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel) and Cheers (Cinnamon Grand Hotel)

Most nightclubs may charge admission and smart/casual dress is encourages with longs/shoes a must.

After a night out, some people will end with a late night snack, try e.g., Hotel de Pilawoos along the Galle Road in Kollupitiya to enjoy a Chicken Roti (chicken and cheese wrapped in a roti) followed by an iced Milo (sweet chocolate and malt flavoured drink)

Sleep

Colombo's cheap accommodations in the centre of town apart from the famous YMCA (containing a gay bathhouse) are mostly concentrated along the road opposite the Colombo Fort Railway Station. Many rooms are available but with shared bathrooms. These, however, tend to be dirty and dingy affairs that even seasoned travellers are unlikely to tolerate.

Moving south along Galle Rd., one can find a lot of more reasonable housing. Around Kollupitiya, you will still be dealing with air-conditioned concrete boxes where a sleazy clerk will tell you that they have a "budget single room for only 57 dollars". Further down south, prices and people will get more reasonable. There are quite a few small hotels in the side streets off Galle Rd. in Wellawatte area. If you continue south and get as far as Mt. Lavinia, there will be hundreds of small guesthouses, some of them very affordable, in a quiet old-fashioned area with a lot of greenery and right by the sea (the only problem being that it's far from the centre). As of May 2014, you should be aiming at 1,000-2,000 LKR, depending on the room quality. Buses 100, 101 and perhaps some others go down Galle Rd. from Colombo Fort station (20 LKR to get to Wellawatte).

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Colombo is like most other South Asian capitals. Although, it is not as dangerous as one would think, tourists should be very vigilant. Many first time visitors to Colombo find themselves falling victim to scams and touts, however, seasoned visitors to Sri Lanka are rarely scammed and it is very simple to avoid being a victim of scammers as long as you take precautions such as:

Once you are past the scammers, Colombo is a far more welcoming destination than other South Asian cities. Certainly single women, although not advised to explore every nook and cranny of the city on their own late at night, will not find the pestering attentions of leering men. Sri Lankan women are also very "western" in their dress sense, so it is very normal to wear skirts, tank tops, etc. You may get a few whistles and hellos from bored school boys, but they are more friendly and not meant to be threatening, so just ignore it and they will leave you alone.

The recent civil war in this country will not affect your journey as the warring area is mostly off limits to civilians and is hundreds of miles away from Colombo. Furthermore, there have also been some small bomb attacks on Colombo buses and trains in the past, so taxis or private hire cars should be used. Such attacks are noted for their avoidance of tourist spots, mainly due to the severe adverse publicity this would create.

In June 2009, the Sri Lankan government lifted travel alerts after the military defeat of rebel insurgents in the north of the country, though it is advisable to check with the local travel advisory bureau in your country if there is any doubt. Since June 2009, Sri Lanka is now a very safe country to travel around. Avoid the peak seasons as this small country is now getting too overcrowded with tourists.

Respect

Cope

Embassies

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