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Colombo

Photo © Budai

Travel Guide Asia Sri Lanka Colombo

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Introduction

Colombo is the largest city and the commercial capital of Sri Lanka. It is a busy and vibrant city with a city population of nearly 1 million people.

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Neighbourhoods

Colombo is divided into 15 zones and these zones have a designated postal code 1 - 15.

  • Colombo 1/Fort Area - This is the commercial area and is heavily congested. Fort railway station is the main railway station in Colombo, from which major inter-city trains depart. The main bus terminals are also located in Fort, as are the head offices of several banks and some ministries. While parts of Colombo 1 are more upscale, especially those closer to the Galle Face beach where the Galadhari, Intercontinental and Hilton as well as the World Trade Center are located, other parts are more grimier, the ones closer to the Pettah market.
  • Colombo 2/Slave Island - This area is also a commercial area, with head-offices of many private sector enterprises located there, and has a major private hospital, Nawaloka in its zone. The Beira Lake forms the center of this zone. The town hall is also located in this area.
  • Colombo 3/Kollupitiya - This is both a commercial and residential zone, where many offices as well as trendy apartments and colonial day houses are located. Liberty Plaza is a major shopping complex that falls within this zone, as well as the Liberty theater. There are many restaurants and hotels in this area as well. The University of Colombo's many faculties are located in this area.
  • Colombo 4/Bambalapitiya - This is a more residential area, though the main roads are lined with shops. Majestic City and Unity Plaza are the major shopping complexes in this area and are right on Galle Road. There are smaller ones on R.A. De Mel Mawathe or the former Duplication road, like the Singer show room.
  • Colombo 5/Havelock town and Kirulapone - This is also a more residential area, though there are many offices and shops in the zone. Apollo Hospital and Asiri hospitals are major hospitals located in this zone.
  • Colombo 6/Wellawatte - This is mainly a residential area with shops heavily lining the Galle Road. The market is known for its fresh vegetables and fruits. Many apartment complexes have sprung up in this area and they are generally cheaper than the ones in Kollupitiya.
  • Colombo 7/Cinnamon Garden - This used to be the area where the richest used to live. While that trend might continue, most of the houses in this locale are quite old and Kollupitiya is currently considered the more trendy place with newer and modern apartments, that have every facility from swimming pools to gyms within the apartment complex. However, it manages to retain its atmosphere and there are nice tree lined avenues within this zone. The Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Center is located in this zone, as is the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (national TV service).
  • Colombo 8/Borella - A mixture of residential and commercial sections in this zone. An interesting private theatre that stages plays and other performances is located here and is called the Punchi Theatre. The cemetery is also located here and the British School located right next to it.
  • Colombo 9/Dematagoda - This is considered more of the suburb than central Colombo and the Baseline road goes through it. It has comparatively cheaper housing.
  • Colombo 10/Maradana and Panchihawatte - This zone has the second main railway station in Colombo. Panchihawatte is more famous for vehicle spare parts shops that line the roads.
  • Colombo 11/Pettah - It is famous for its cheap, open market and the streets that have cheap but wider varieties of sarees. Very crowded.
  • Colombo 12/Kochchikade - Close to Pettah. Two famous landmarks in this area are the Ponnambalavaaneeswara temple and the St. Antony's church, both opposite each other.
  • Colombo 13/Kotahena and Bloemendahl - More known for its jewellery shops and saree shops, this area is a very congested area.
  • Colombo 14/Grandpass
  • Colombo 15/Mattakuliya

Other main areas of Colombo

While the following are not considered within Colombo proper, they are the suburbs to the south of Colombo and are located pretty close to the center and have to be mentioned. They are listed here in the order that they come when moving from Colombo towards the south, along the Galle road.

  • Dehiwela - Relatively cheaper area for housing. Kalubowila hospital, a govt. hospital, is located in this zone. The only zoo of Sri Lanka is also located in this area.
  • Mount Lavinia - The lovely Mount Lavinia hotel is located in its zone. It is famous for its stretch of beach.
  • Ratmalana - The zone which follows Mount Lavina and has the domestic airport located in its zone.
  • Moratuwa - The University of Moratuwa, which is primarily for engineering studies, is located in this region. Arthur C. Clarke was the Vice Chancellor of this university and he founded the Arthur C. Clarke Center of Excellence in this area.

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Sights and Activities

Colombo is generally more known for its shopping, rather than for its sights. However, it has some nice sites that are worth visiting.

Temples and churches

  • The Gangaramaya temple is an old buddhist temple that is worth visiting. So are the Ponnambalavaneeswara temple and St. Antony's church. In Colombo 2, there is an old mosque that is also worth visiting. Other hindu temples are the Vajira pillaiyar koyil, Manicka pillaiyar koyil and the Kathiresan temple in Bambalapitiya.

Other Sights and Activities

  • National museum - The museum is housed in a colonial building and is worth the visit, if you have lots of time to spend in the city.
  • Dehiwela zoo
  • Independence square - A pleasant square that is popular amongst joggers and evening strollers.
  • Shopping - Colombo is the major shopping capital of the country. The following are the major ones:
  • Odel located in Colombo 2 is good for clothes, both cheap, user-friendly T-shirts and casuals and the more expensive yet cheaper than western prices designer wear direct from factory outlet clothes. There is a lovely Japanese restaurant in the complex, as well as Deli-france and Il Gelato branches. Recently, they have opened a food court at the entrance and have many major restaurants having stalls there, including Bay Leaf, supposedly the best Italian restaurant in the city.
  • Majestic City - While Odel caters more to tourists, foreigners resident in the country and Colombo residents, Majestic City is a shopping complex catering to more locals. There are five levels of shopping areas and the top floor houses the cinema, a popular hangout for teenagers. The basement area has a food court where numerous affordable restaurants have set up stalls and there is a variety of food and fresh juices available. The food court is always crowded and it is quite difficult to find a free table. The remaining floors all have shops that sell everything from clothes, toys, cd's, tea, souvenirs and gifts, leather products, sports goods and accessories etc. There is also a branch of the Cargills Supermarket chain located on the first floor close to the KFC outlet.
  • Unity Plaza in Bambalapitiya - Though this is a smaller shopping complex adjacent to Majestic City, it does not face competition from its larger neighbour. This is mainly because Unity Plaza focuses on specialized shopping. This is the place people generally go to for buying software and computers and its parts, as well as repairing computers. There is also a bookshop located on the first floor, the Vijitha Yapa bookshop.
  • Liberty Plaza in Kollupitiya - Similar to Majestic City but with some electronic shops like Photo Technica, Siedles etc. also included. The shopping complex is less ordered than Majestic City and it is difficult to navigate.
  • Crescat Boulevard - The newer upmarket shopping complex located closer to the Galle Face Beach.

Besides these major shopping complexes, there are the numerous individual specialized shops. The following are some of the most popular amongst tourists:

  • Barefoot in Galle Road, Bambalapitiya is very popular for its handwoven products ranging from clothing to toys and souvenirs.
  • Lakpahana in Reid Avenue, Kollupitya is great for souvenirs from Sri Lanka. Very affordable and is preferred by both Sri Lankans and foreigners.
  • Sri Lanka Tea Board in Kollupitiya - Great for buying tea. Another tea place is the Mlesna outlet at the Majestic City, which is located opposite the Cargills supermarket.
  • Stone and String in R.A.De Mel Mawathe, Kollupitiya is good for buying jewellery at affordable prices. Great as gifts.

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Events and Festivals

  • Esala Perahera - This festival, also known as the "festival of the tooth", is a Buddhist celebration commemorating the day when a sacred tooth relic of Buddha was brought to Sri Lanka. Lavish parades are held during this event, with processions of elephants and local performers dressed in vibrantly colored celebratory clothing (during this event, even the elephants sparkle). Visitors can expect to see many different kinds of traditional dances, including the awe inspiring fire-dance. This event is held every year in July or August.
  • Wesak Festival (Buddha's Birthday) - As a primarily Buddhist country, this is a widely celebrated event all over Sri Lanka. This event commemorates the birth, life, enlightenment, and death of Buddha. For this event, the city streets are decorated with beautiful lanterns and lights. Some light displays are so elaborate that they visually depict important moments in Buddha's life. Parades are held, and thousands of devotees make their way to temples to worship and bring gift offerings to Buddha. This lavish event is typically held on the first full moon during the month of May.
  • Deepavali Festival - Sri Lanka also has a devout Hindu population, and the Deepavali Festival is one of the most highly anticipated events of the year for practicing Hindus in the region. Deepavali is also known as the "Festival of Lights", where many rituals take place in order to banish off all shadows from one’s house and life. The lamps represent the victory of good over evil and the hope for an bright and prosperous future. Adherents light small lanterns/lights all over their home and residence. Beautiful light parades are held throughout town, and extravagant fireworks shows illuminate the night sky. This festival is held annually, celebrated in October or November, and lasts for 5 days.
  • Sinhalese and Tamil New Year (13 Apr 2014 - 14 Apr 2014) - Although many in Sri Lanka also observe the Western New Year (Jan 1), the official new year, according to the local lunar calendar, is celebrated April 13-14th. This New Years holiday is celebrated by a variety of religious rituals (all timed specifically to lunar movement), families get together, share food and desserts, and play traditional games.
  • Colombo Marathon - This marathon is growing in popularity and is held every year in October. The city's picturesque beaches and lush tropical scenery are the backdrop to this unique race. All of the entry fees are donated to a local charity that supports school-aged children.

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Weather

Colombo has a tropical climate, meaning hot and humid weather year round. Temperatures average around 30 °C during the day and around 20 °C at night. February and March are the warmest months, July and August the coolest, but differences are very small. Rainfall is possible year round, but is higher during the April to June and October/November, with over 300 mm of rain a month. January-February (only 75 mm a month) and July-August are somewhat drier.

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Avg Max30.9 °C31.2 °C31.7 °C31.8 °C31.1 °C30.4 °C30 °C30 °C30.2 °C30 °C30.1 °C30.3 °C
Avg Min22.3 °C22.6 °C23.7 °C24.6 °C25.5 °C25.5 °C25.2 °C25.1 °C24.8 °C24 °C23.2 °C22.8 °C
Rainfall58.2 mm72.7 mm128 mm245.6 mm392.4 mm184.9 mm121.9 mm119.5 mm245.4 mm365.4 mm414.4 mm175.3 mm
Rain Days559141616121115171510

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Getting There

By Plane

Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB), also known as Katunayake International Airport and Colombo Bandaranaike International Airport, is the main gateway to Colombo and in fact of Sri Lanka as a whole.
Sri Lankan Airlines is the national airline of Sri Lanka. It operates international flights to and from Abu Dhabi, Bangalore, Bangkok, Beijing, Chennai, Coimbatore, Doha, Dubai, Delhi, Dammam, Frankfurt, Goa, Hong Kong, Hyderabad, Kuala Lumpur, London Heathrow, Male, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Karachi, Kuwait, Singapore and Tokyo Narita. Other airlines serving the country are Emirates, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Martinair, Condor, Cathay Pacific and lowcoast airlines Air Arabia from Sharjah. Expo Aviation operates many charter service to and from the following destinations: Abu Dhabi, Australia, Bangalore, Bangkok, Beirut, Cairo, Kozhikode, Chennai, Chittagong, Kochi, Dhaka, Dubai, Hyderabad, Islamabad, Jakarta, Jeddah, Karachi, Kathmandu, Kuala Lumpur, Lahore, Malé, Manila, Mumbai, Muscat, several cities in Africa and Europe, Sharjah, Singapore, Tiruchirapalli and Thiruvananthapuram. Domestically, Expo Aviation and Aero Lanka offer scheduled flights to Jaffna and Trincomalee from Colombo. Chartered flights are also available.

Mihin Lanka is a lowcost airline which focuses on providing low cost flights from Colombo to Dubai and a number of cities in India. Its future base would have been Weerawila International Airport (WRZ), which would have been ready in 2009. However, the project faced significant environmental concerns, and was eventually scrapped. The site of the proposed airport was moved to Mattala, Hambantota, and a new Hambantota International Airport/Mattala International Airport is currently under construction there.

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Getting Around

By Public Transport

It is easier to use public transport to get around Colombo, rather than driving your own car. Public transport range from buses, trains to the more individual form of public transport, the taxi and the three wheeler.

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Sleep

Budget

PropertyAddressTypePopularity
AAA Accommodation49 Lionel Edirisinghe Mawatha Off Polhengoda RoadGuesthouse65
Hotel Sansu651/31, Sir oliver Gunatilake Gardens off Elvitigala Mawatha, NarahenpitaHotel-
Ranjit's Ambalama53/19 Torrington avenueHostel-
Summer House Apartment1126, 2nd Lane, Zone V, Millenium City Athurugiriya (off Colomb)Apartment-
Tropic Inn30 College AvenueHostel81
Hotel Clarion103 kandy road kiribathgodaHotel-
Hornbill Holiday HomeNo 21A, Fernando Gardens, DehiwalaGUESTHOUSE75
Concord Hotel140 Galle Road DehiwelaHotel-
CHAMENKA GUEST HOUSENO 44, PALLIDORA ROAD, DEHIWALA,SRILANKAGuesthouse-
Fieldview Holiday ResortNo 17, Annasiwatte Road, Athurugiriya,Hotel-
Mount Lavinia Home Stay17/7 Off De Saram Road Mount LaviniaHostel86
Tropic Inn @De Vos Avenue19 De Vos Avenue Colombo 4GUESTHOUSE-
Omni Holiday BungalowNo: 10, De Soysa avanue, Mount LaviniaGuesthouse-
Salco Residency475/19 Lake Crescent RAJAGIRIYAApartment-
Supun Arcade Residency56, Galle RoadHOTEL-
Adikaram sea View Hostel45/1, Initium road DehiwalaHostel-
Lavinia Beach Hostel6A Samudra Mawatha Mount LaviniaHOSTEL83
Airport Vicinity Hostel3/69 Serendib Airport Road, MinuwangodaHOSTEL-
Mount Air Inn24-A Station Road Mount LaviniaHOTEL-
Ivory Inn21, Barnes AvenueGUESTHOUSE-
Colombo Airport Hostel @Negombo Beach42, Kannattha Para (Cemetery Road) Eitthukala, NegomboHOSTEL-
Breeze of Paradise35/8A, Meegahawatta Road GangodawilaGuesthouse-
Mysoor Inn130 Galle RoadHostel78
CityRest Motels128, Old Moor Street Colombo - 12HOSTEL-
Colombo City Hostel68 S D S Jayasinghe MawathaHOSTEL80
Clock Inn Colombo457, Galle Road, Colombo 03HOSTEL86
Cottage 2626, de Vos Avenue Colombo 4GUESTHOUSE-

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet cafes are available in all the cities and these are cheap and easy to access. Most hotels have internet access as well but are relatively expensive. There are various internet service providers (Sri Lanka Telecom, Dialog, Mobitel etc.) providing different packages: ADSL broadband, dial-up, WiFi. Please contact a service provider to learn more about the packages and prices.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The country code for Sri Lanka is 94. Remove the intercity prefix (0) before the area code when dialling internationally into the country (i.e., 0112 688 688 becomes +94 112 688 688) when dialling from abroad). The two next numbers after 94 represents the area code, they are different for every district.

The use of GSM cellphones is widespread and the coverage is good. Dialog and Mobitel are two operators that have sales offices at the airport inside the arrivals lounge. Dialog Mobile has the widest coverage in the country including rural areas and has the best quality GSM / 3G / HSPA +/4G network. Mobitel also has a 3G/HSPA+ network. All the mobile operators are having same call rates due to floor rate tariffs. Therefore it is advisable to go to the network which offers you the best quality. All Mobile Operators offers cheap IDD Call rates. If you want to surf internet, best way is to buy a HSPA dongle and a Mobile Broadband connection. Dialog Mobile, Mobitel, hutch, Etisalat and Airtel offers prepaid Mobile Broadband services which can be activated and used immediately. Dialog is the Vodafone Roaming Network in Sri Lanka and offers the best range of Value added services for Roamers and the rates are cheaper. Etisalat and Airtel also provide cheap roaming rates specially to India.

Post

Sri Lankan Post is the national postal company. Each city/town has a main post office and the villages will have access to sub post offices, either at the village or nearby village. Local post, through normal mail, is cheap and fast. However, to ensure that the post has reached recipient, it is better to send by registered post which will allow you to have a reference number which you can later use to check with your post office that your mail has reached its destination. There are local courier services. Aramex and Pronto are some of the ones in Colombo and they deliver mail the same day or overnight. For better tracking and fast services companies like DHL, or TNT provide a good service but are more expensive.

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: 6.9155
  • Longitude: 79.8572

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This is version 37. Last edited at 11:55 on Nov 5, 14 by Utrecht. 30 articles link to this page.

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