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Travel Guide Sri Lanka

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Colombo remains both the commercial and financial capital of Sri Lanka even after the administrative capital has been moved to Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte, a suburb east of the city.

Colombo is a huge, sprawling city, which can be visited any time of year due to its tropical climate. The traffic can feel somewhat overwhelming at first but it is organised and much more manageable when compared to other major cities of South and Southeast Asia. Colombo as a city has been discussed in historical records for over two millenia. The city boasts an incredible level of cultural diversity that can be experienced through its eclectic architecture and cuisine. Sri Lankans are very friendly, highly educated and worldly. In Colombo you will experience tradition blending with progressive values with English being spoken widely.

Electronic Visa (ETA) Electronic Travel Authorisation System can be obtained prior to arrival at a cost of USD35. SAARC country nationals pay USD33. For VOA at the airport most OECD nationals will have to pay for a USD35 visitor’s visa prior to going through passport control at the airport. You can pay this using a credit card. Visa is valid for two entries within a 30 day period. If you are transiting, you may leave the airport for up to 24 hours (the transit time allowed is 48 hours) [48] without a visa but the immigration officials would try to persuade you to get one, unless you have a hotel voucher supplied by Sri Lankan Airlines or ask for a bribe – typically half the cost of the visa. In case of the latter, say you will get a visa (paying with a credit card, of course!), leave the Immigration counter and head back towards the VOA desk and speak with the head of Immigration on duty in the office adjacent to the VOA desk

 Travel Guide Sri Lanka

By plane

 

There are currency exchanges in the arrivals hall with an ATM. Another ATM available outside the airport in the drop-off / pick-up area; leave the building and turn left.

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 with transits typically in middle-eastern countries. British Airways have direct flights from Gatwick Airport to Colombo.

Sri Lanka’s prime international airport, Bandaranaike International, is at Katunayake, close to Negombo, on the coast north of Colombo. The journey to Colombo will take about an hour by taxi with heavy traffic and just half an hour otherwise. Note: There is a charge of 300 rupees to get into the arrivals hall (no matter what your skin colour) from outside. If you plan to meet a friend, bear this in mind. Foreigners can get away with claiming they’re re-entering (but you will need to know a recent flight that has arrived and perhaps an excuse such as foreign exchange).

Trains operate from nearby Katunayaka South Railway to Fort, Colombo. A single one way trip costs LKR500 per person. Trains run only once a day and at different schedules on each day of the week. Train timetable info is also available on a Government site. For foreigners, online booking is available

A secondary international airport “Rajapaksa International” is located in the southernmost city of Hambantota a 5 hour drive to Colombo.

Katunayake airport to Colombo

The international airport is located about an hours drive from Colombo. Depending on the time of your arrival and traffic conditions, the journey usually takes about one hour. Since 2015, there is a highway that connects the airport to Colombo and at night time, the journey takes upto 40 mins.

By taxi

Airport Taxi There are some taxi counters, some belonging to 4 / 5 star hotels, providing air conditioned taxis on a fixed price basis depending on the destination. It is highly recommended to agree on the fare beforehand to avoid being overcharged. As of March 2015, the fare was between LKR 2,500 & 3,000 to Colombo so do shop around for the best rate.

Uber Uber is now a great option coming from the airport. As of January 2019 an uber cost LKR 2000 to Colombo.

Kangaroo Cabs [49] is a very reputable taxi company in Colombo that has special deals starting at LKR 1750 from the airport to Colombo in new air-conditioned taxis.

There is also a mini van taxi service counter in the arrivals hall providing transport services. The rates are not cheaper than air conditioned taxis but a mini van will seat more than four passengers. The services are primarily for the locals so if you do not hold a Sri Lankan passport, they may refuse to offer you one

By bus

This is the cheapest way to get into Colombo. The air-conditioned public bus (number 187-E3), is operated by Sri Lankan Transport Board (SLTB), to Colombo central bus station from the airport. As of April 2017, the bus picks up from the bus stand across the street from the terminal (i.e. come out of the terminal and keep walking straight; the bus stop is within the perimeter of the airport). The fare is 120 LKR, and it takes about 30 minutes as it takes the expressway to Colombo. The buses do have luggage storage space at the rear but be warned that someone pretending to be associated with the bus company may help you load your luggage. If this happens, they would expect you to tip them or the conductor will tell you that there is a LKR 100 charge for the luggage, even though there isn’t one for it. It is a scam and do not fall for it! There are smaller overhead compartments in the bus, and in most cases, you can take an extra seat to keep your baggage as the buses leave to a schedule, regardless of the number of people in the bus. The last SLTB-operated bus from Colombo is 7.30 pm, and last bus from the airport leaves at about 8pm. Note that the schedules are not fixed, but expect a bus at twice an hour.

If you do not see an SLTB-operated bus, don’t worry there will be a privately-operated bus all the time, even at the nights. These buses stop at the same spot SLTB buses start from (airport), or the road next to it. From the arrival hall, exit, and walk all the way to your left until the end of the building. This is about 50 meters. The SLTB bus, or the private bus alternative should be across the road, but if you do not see any bus there, continue to the road at the right side. You will be at the main road (this is a two-way road, and keep in mind that vehicles travel from the left side). Cross the road, and you will see a bus stopped at about 20-50m to your left. The route number is 187. If the bus takes the expressway, the number would be 187-E3.

From Colombo, after 7-8pm, your only bet is the privately-operated ones (187-E3 or 187), which start from the Private Bus Stand just opposite the SLTB Bus stand and next to the Colombo Fort Train Station. These cost LKR 200 (April 2018) and smaller buses, with a seating capacity of about 40, and leaves when full. Bus will take you to the departure area; ask the conductor if you have a problem finding it.

Note that all buses except the SLTB buses usually serve locals who commute to work in the airport, nearby shops, or even at the smaller cities along the way. There can be several stops to drop and pick passengers. The travel time is roughly 1 hour. Buses that leave from the airport make another 10-15 minute stop at the main road near the departure hall. Buses can be packed, and as a courtesy, offer to hold onto the bags of others if you can. If your bag is huge, the conductor will charge you for two seats. In that case, it is better to take a seat near the door of the bus. The seats right behind the driver are usually reserved for the clergy. Do give your seat if you see anyone, but you are free to take that seat otherwise.

There are many other buses destination “Airport” but it only refers to the bus terminal in Katunayake. For example, there is a larger 2-3 seat bus leaving at the opposite of the Fort railway station. Again, many locals use this bus, and travel time can be as much as 90-120 minutes.

Once you reach the bus depot, you can get a tuk-tuk (a three-wheeler) or a Nano taxi to get to your destination. The Nanos will have a meter and the tuk-tuks are required to have one now but most waiting within the bus station won’t have it. Tuk-tuks without a meter and touts are best avoided. The ones with a meter will have a ‘Metered Taxi’ sign on the roof and you may have to walk out of the bus depot and on to the main road to find one. It would cost about LKR150 to go to hotels near Galle Face (e.g. Cinnamon Grand, Taj or Galle Face Hotel). There is no need to tip the driver but rounding up to the nearest 10 would make things easy. Before leaving the airport, ensure you have some LKR 100 notes as most taxi drivers won’t have a lot of change.

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 1km, 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 LKR100, 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. Price is LKR30. 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 for Katunayake (not Katunayake Airport station) to Colombo train online timetable 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 money.

Note that trains run only 11 times/day to Colombo (March 2015) so ensure that there is a train for you before leaving the airport.

Museums

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Buddha Statues at Seema Malakaya, Colombo

  • The National Museum of Colombo, Cinnamon Gardens. +94 11 269-4767. Closed Fridays and all public holidays. 09:00-17:00. Also known as the Sri Lanka National Museum, it is the largest museum in Colombo. Among its exhibits, it contains regalia of the 17th century Kandyan Kings. LKR1000 entrance fee.
  • The Natural History Museum– Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Cinnamon Gardens +94 11 269-1399. Closed Fridays and all public holidays. 09:00-17:00. This museum features Sri Lanka’s floral and fauna in dioramas. LKR400 entrance fee.
  • The Dutch Period Museum– 95 Prince Street, Pettah. +94 11 244-8466. Closed Fridays and all public holidays. 09:00-17:00. Historical museum documenting Dutch colonial rule in Sri Lanka. Houses Dutch-inspired artifacts. (Closed for extensive renovations in April 2018.)

Galleries

  • The Sapumal Foundation– 32/4 Barnes Place. +94 11 269-5731. The Sapumal Foundation was once home to the late Harry Pieris. Visitors are able to see his studio and art materials that have been left undisturbed over the years. This gallery also contains 200 paintings that follow the development of Sri Lankan art. Special art classes are also available at the gallery.
  • The Lionel Wendt Memorial Art Centre– 18 Guilford Crescent. M-F 09:00-13:00 & 14:00-16:00. +94 11 269-5794. The Art Center provides a multi-functional creative experience with exhibitions, art shows and stage events. Visitors to the art center are also able to purchase various antiques as well as paintings and crafts by contemporary Sri Lankan artists

Travel Guide Sri Lanka

Do

  • Visit Galle Face Green Promenade at sundown for a spectacular view. The promenade stretches 13 acres between Galle Road and the Indian Ocean; it tends to attract children, teenagers, vendors, and families. Usually on Saturday and Sunday evenings, the land is filled with day-trippers, food vendors, and people picnicking. The Galle Face Green Promenade was reopened to the public in May of 2001.
  • Colombo Zoological Gardens– Colombo’s zoo has a wide variety of animals, birds, and reptiles from all over the world. One of the most popular attractions to the zoo is the elephant show, which is held daily at 17:15. The zoo also offers elephant and pony rides. Currently, the zoo is being renovated, and plans to have an open area for the elephants. Admission for foreigners LKR 2500 adults, LKR 1250 children.
  • Casa Serena Art Gallery, 122 Havelock Rd, Colombo 5,  +94 11 2587440, [3]. Tu-Sa 10:00-18:00, M 13:00-18:00. The Gallery is a purpose built space, designed to exhibit a diverse array of art, photography, sculpture, video installations and craft. It focuses on contemporary and traditional arts and features the work of local and international artists.  edit
  • Turtle Conservation Villa (Our Turtle Conservation Project), No. 73/23 St Rita Road Mount Lavinia Colombo Sri Lanka (Drive south from Colombo city centre along Galle Road and turn right into St. Rita’s Road. Drive all the way to the end of the road, cross over the train tracks and onto the beach. Turn left and 20m ahead – you have arrived!),  +94 11 427 7195, [4]. 08:00-18:00. A non-profit centre for the conservation of turtles along the coast just past Mount Lavinia Hotel. Since 2003 OTCP (Our Turtle Conservation Project) has been ensuring the hatching, release, preserving and protecting of Sri Lanka’s endangered turtles. It is a local initiative that aims to educate both locals and tourists about the importance of protecting these incredible sea dwellers, in a fun and interactive environment. LKR500.  edit
  • Cirque Lanka (cultural show), Viharamahadevi Open Air Theatre (South-East corner of Viharahamadevi Park),  +94 71 207 4750, [5]. 2. More than 15 performers on stage, live music, drummers, traditional masks, acrobats, aerial acrobatics and fire effects. Cirque Lanka is the unique project which combines traditional Sri Lankan drums and dances with European New Circus. All this in the most beautiful open air theater in Sri Lanka – in Viharamahadevi Open Air Theater. Program of the cultural evening is created under the leadership of European theater directors and is approached by the best Sri Lankan and European artists. Together we create one hour long show that combines a traditional Sri Lankan dances and music with „High artistry and poetic circus“. This causes an unusual symbiosis which will be very attractive for audience and completely original. The performance also maximally respects the traditions of Sri Lankan culture.  edit

Buy

  • Barefoot handicraft store, 706 Galle Road, Colombo 03, Kollupitiya. [50]. Has a wide range of good quality souvenirs and handmade items: clothes, bags, and children toys, from some of the most beautifully-colored fabric you’ve ever seen.
  • Crescat Boulevard, 89 Galle Rd, Colombo 3, Kollupitiya. An up-market shopping mall. Though it is fairly small, it contains a food court on the basement floor.
  • Lakmedura, 113 Dharmapala Road, Colombo 07, Cinnamon Gardens.
  • Lakpahana [51], 14 Reid Avenue, Colombo 07, Cinnamon Gardens. A non-profit organization run by the craftsman association of Sri Lanka with assistance from the government. Offers all handicrafts and gemstone jewellery. Unique metalware, wood carvings,silver jewellery,batik ,textile products and other crafts. Only member in Sri Lanka of the World Craft Council and winner of several international awards therefore all our products come with an international guarantee.The only place where quality exceeds price.
  • Liberty Plaza RA de Mel Mawatha, Colombo 3, Kollupitiya. Another shopping mall similar to Majestic City however it is smaller in size. You can find various items such as clothing, CDs and DVDs.
  • Majestic City in Kollupitiya on Galle Road has a wide variety of clothing outlets – including a sub-branch of Odel – at very good prices, as well as various electrical goods and toy shops. It’s pleasantly air-conditioned and includes a food court on the ground floor.
  • Odel [52] No 5, Alexandra Place, Colombo 7, Cinnamon Gardens. A stylish department store, with its very own Delifrance outlet, clothing, houseware, sporting goods, books and movies, as well as Delight – for sweet indulgences from chocolates to exotic nuts.
  • Paradise Road – 213, Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo 7, Cinnamon Gardens. Tel: 268 6043. Open 9AM-7PM. A shop with a small café in a British colonial style building where antiques, home décor items and art can be viewed or purchased.
  • The Pettah Market, this is the place to go for shopping for all kinds of things from fruits to clothes to electronics if you want to buy at wholesale prices. You have to bargain extensively and it is recommended that you take a local you trust along with you. Even if you don’t buy anything, Pettah, or Colombo 11 is an experience in itself being a very typical, loud and crowded oriental market place full of Color and character. Each street in the market has its own specialty, for example, in 1st Cross Street you can find Sri Lanka’s biggest grain and rice merchants, 2nd Cross Street has electronics and so on. The Pettah market is extensive and one suggestion to begin the walk from Main Street at the Clock Tower and keep walking north towards Dam Street and New Moor Street. All the shops are major wholesalers and do not cater rock tourists per se. If you have a question, just walk in and ask politely. They all speak English. Sri Lanka has the highest rates of literacy in the world! In the Pettah Market area, some street vendors actively ask passers-by, foreigners and locals to view products they are selling though polite refusal is generally accepted.
  • Casa Serena boutique, 122 Havelock Road, Colombo 5,  +94 (0)11 2587440, [6]. Tue-Sat 10AM-6PM and M-1PM to 6PM. The boutique showcases a wide range of traditional and modern creations to enhance the art of living. Some are practical, some are useful, and some are just beautiful souvenirs  edit
  • 33S Phygital Store, 33, Lauries Road, Colombo 4.,  +94 767771353, [7]. Mon-Sat 10AM-6PM. 33S Phygital Store is a refreshing, one-of-a-kind shopping experience with a three-storeyed treasure trove of stunning fashion, homeware and lifestyle purchases. Curated with some of Sri Lanka’s largest and much-loved online names like Fashionmarket.lk, Island Craft and the new brand on the block—Design Colombo and digitised with QR-code based shopping and other tech-assistance, it is an immersive experience in the ‘phygital’ world  edit

Eat

Budget

Buy a “lunch packet” from street stands practically anywhere in the city. Typically, it will be a filling meal of rice and vegetables for about LKR120.

Also available everywhere are small bakeries selling rotis (either flat or folded into triangles filled with egg, vegetable or fish), hoppers (bowl shaped pancakes made with coconut milk), and other “short eats” (bread based snacks or fried foods). The price of individual items range from LKR10-50.

Around Fort Railway Station there are several local restaurants with the sign “Hotel”, these actually are restaurants and not hotels, this usage of the word “Hotel” seems to be unique to Sri Lanka and India. These places have some hot dishes as well as various local baked items. The prices are very cheap, though if you are picky about hygiene you might want to avoid these.

Colombo has a McDonalds on Galle Road, which actually has some unique local offerings, as well as several KFCs, and a Pizza Hut in the Fort area near the Hilton that serves some combo meals for around 500-600 LKR. Though these are certainly not an authentic experience, they are one of the few air conditioned places you will find, and can be a life saver if you are about to die from heat stroke.

Hotel Pilawoos, 417 Galle Road, Colombo 4 Probably the best place to eat in Colombo city. The food ranges from wonderful meat and vegetable curries to delectable Chicken Biryani to Cheese Kotthu. They also serve fresh juices. Try the Sprite and Lime Soda to cool yourself off. Open 24 Hours and ideal for take away, you will notice people from all walks of life dropping by for a snack or meal. For the Muslim traveller, the food is also Halal.

  • New Banana Leaf, 720 Galle Road, Colombo 03,  011 2 553 233 / 075 5 500 001. “. I remember it was a nice Sri Lankan restaurant, don’t really know the prices anymore but it was very affordable. Food is served on banana leafs.  edit

Mid-range

  • Cafe on the 5th, 108 5th Lane, Colombo-03. “. Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. Very nice, friendly service and an outside eating area. They do a different special every day (self-service) for LKR300 (Mar 2014). Fresh juice LKR170. Also has a nice, tasty range of English desserts at around LKR80. Three course set dinner menu for LKR1000 + 10% service..  edit
  • The Cricket Club Cafe, 34 Queens Rd, Kollupitiya, Colombo 03. This cafe is a must for any cricket lover. The walls are covered in autographed memorabilia and photos with sports (usually cricket) being screened on all the TVs scattered throughout the rooms. They serve authentic Aussie cuisine and a wide variety of drinks. The Bar is named after Donald Bradman. Prices – around LKR1,300-1,800 for food (Mar 2014). Ask for the 625mL bottle of cold Lion lager or the draught (about LKR 700 incl service and taxes – March 2015).
  • The Gallery Cafe, 2 Alfred House Road, Off Alfred House Gardens, Kollupitiya, Colombo 3. Wonderful atmosphere in beautiful building – designed by famous Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. Large food menu featuring many international dishes, decadent desserts and extensive cocktail menu.
  • The Lagoon, The Cinnamon Grand Hotel, 77 Galle Road, Kollupitiya, Colombo 03,  +94 11 243-7437. 12-2:30PM, 7PM-12:30AM. This restaurant focuses primarily on seafood with colorful Sri Lankan flavors. The friendly, professional staff are able to create an enjoyable dining experience. Full meal: LKR4000 per person.  edit
  • Mango Tree, 82 Dharmapala Mawatha, Kollupitiya, Colombo 03,  +94 11 537-9790, 11 537-9791 ([email protected]). Daily 12:00-15:00 & 19:00-23:00. One of the finest restaurants in the city. North Indian Cuisine, full of innovative dishes. Portions are on the small side. Full meal: LKR2000 per person.  edit
  • The Palmyrah Restaurant, 328 Galle Rd, Kollupitiya, Colombo 3. Serves excellent Sri Lankan dishes as well as having an “international” menu.
  • Raja Bojun, 90 Galle Road, Kollupitiya, Colombo 03,  +94 11 471-6171. 12-2:30PM, 7PM-11PM. This restaurant features a buffet with Sri Lankan foods as its only dinner offering. The professional staff provides exceptionally prompt service in a pleasant, if somewhat crowded, environment. Dinner Buffet: LKR1800 per person, beverages extra.  edit
  • Roadhouse Cafe, 335 Galle Road, Kollupitiya, Colombo 3. Serves Sri Lankan and Western food. Meals range LKR180-380. The food is excellent, but the service is a little slow. Try the mango milkshakes or one of their specialty coffees.
  • 168 Seafood Palace, just off Galle Road, near Hotel Renuka, Kollupitiya, Colombo 3. Serves excellent Chinese food and seafood dishes. Prices start at LKR250 but some prices depend on weight (e.g. crabs). The service is very good.
  • UK Urban Kitchen, Arpico Super Center, 69 Hyde Park Corner, Union Place, Colombo 2. Serves Western, Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines at relatively reasonable prices. Also specializes in wood-fired pizzas and coffee. Next to Arpico supermarket. Open M-Th 10AM-10PM, F-Su 10AM-11PM. Telephone 94 11 7219169

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