Sri Lanka’s bustling capital city offers a variety of attractions for travelers exploring the island formerly known as Ceylon. Before you head out into the countryside to see elephants and the ruins of ancient civilizations, stay for a few days and see some of the city’s sights, which will give you a good idea of the local culture and traditions.
Colombo National Museum, Albert Crescent
Some do complain that the beautiful colonial building that houses Colombo’s National Museum is best admired from the outside, as there is no air conditioning inside, but those who can live without creature comforts for a few hours will be in for a treat. If nothing else, this museum will give you a great overview of Sri Lanka’s two thousand year history, as it houses an impressive collection of cultural heritage artifacts from around the country.
Antique lovers will be delighted to find vintage Vesmuhunu (Devil’s Mask Collection).. Make sure you buy the camera pass ticket with the entry fee, because you’ll want to take some photos. There is a lovely cafe on site, and you can also take a stroll in the beautiful gardens surrounding the museum.
If you want to get away from nature, but don’t have much time to leave Colombo, visit the Talangama Wetlands, which can be found near the outskirts of Battaramulla, about a 45-minute drive from the city. Situated around a beautiful lake, this area attracts flocks of various water birds (about 100 different species), a true find for birdwatchers and photographers alike.
It’s a fairly unspoilt place despite its relative proximity to town, and offers great walks and wildlife viewing opportunities; watch out for Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys, Indian porcupines, badgers, badgers and many species of tropical butterflies.
Beach lovers should make a beeline for Mount Lavinia, which is beautifully situated on the beach and only a 20-minute scenic train ride from Colombo’s city centre. This stretch of beach is home to several hotels and many seafood-focused beach restaurants. The sunset views of Colombo’s city skyline from here are simply spectacular, and the area has a vibrant nightlife scene. Stop for a cocktail at the heritage “Mount Lavinia Hotel,” a remnant of postcolonial luxury, complete with a rainforest garden and Koi pond. In fact, it used to be the home of the governor and local legend has it that Sir Thomas Maitland had a tunnel built between the mansion and the home of a local dancing girl, so they could meet in secret. Unfortunately for the governor, the match would not be socially acceptable at the time (early 19th century), so he named his house after her, and installed her statue in the courtyard fountain… Tourists often end the day here after shopping for souvenirs in the nearby Majestic City.
These days getting to Colombo from Australia is easy, with most flight arrive here via Kuala Lumpur, or you can combine Sri Lanka with your South India itinerary, and fly from Kerala or Goa.
Patricia Bieszk is a freelance writer and avid traveler who enjoys his dinners on the beach.