The majority of travellers that visit Sri Lanka begin their journey in Colombo. The capital city has a population of over 2 million people and is the largest city in Sri Lanka. Unlike other towns in Sri Lanka, Colombo feels like a real city: a sprawling metropolis with high rise buildings, busy streets and plenty of colour. In fact, over a tenth of Sri Lanka’s population lives in Colombo. We, like most, started our trip in Colombo where we rested after a long flight and then stepped out to experience our first taste of Sri Lanka.
The first thing I noticed when we got to Colombo was the traffic. Having travelled through Vietnam on a motorbike, I have seen crazy traffic. The streets of Colombo are similar to those of Hanoi, but with more buses who show little to no regard for other road users, and a sea of tuk-tuks seemingly racing one another through the streets. The streets are hectic.
The vast differences in architectural styles in Colombo bears witness to the country’s past with its various colonial powers. First, the Portuguese held power, followed by the Dutch, and finally the British until 1948 when Ceylon was granted independence. The distinct styles of each colonisation’s architecture are visible around the city. Fast forward to the present day and Colombo is a prospering city with countless new developments. Ancient temples are juxtaposed against high rise apartment blocks and banks which are propelling the city into the future.
Things to do in Colombo
With so much history, there is a lot to see in Colombo. To experience Colombo’s past you could visit the Dutch Period Museum or the Fort District. You can also visit the National Museum and Colonial buildings which offer an insight into the country’s varied history.
For a more Asian experience visit the colourful Pettah district markets. The best time to visit the markets is between 10am and 12pm, and after 4pm. Be prepared to be overwhelmed after a while though as it’s quite intense.
Where to stay in Colombo
There is no shortage of hotels and hostels in Colombo. We found that the price for a room was higher in Colombo than other places around Sri Lanka, however, they are still cheap. We chose to stay around 10km south of Colombo in Mount Lavinia. The busy suburb is right close to the beach and is slightly detached from the fast pace of the city.
Spending a couple of days in Colombo is more than enough in our opinion. Catch up on some sleep, plan your next destination and then catch a train from Colombo Fort station into the hills or down the coast.