Sri Lanka’s bustling capital city offers a variety of attractions for travellers exploring the island previously known as Ceylon. Before you dash off into the countryside to see the elephants and ruins of ancient civilisations, stay for a couple of days and check out some of the urban sights, which will give you a good idea about the local culture and its traditions.
Colombo National Museum, Albert Crescent
Some do complain that the lovely colonial building housing the Colombo National Museum is best admired from the outside, as there is no air-conditioning inside, however those that can live without creature comforts for a few hours are in for a treat. If nothing else, the museum will give you a good general idea about Sri Lanka’s two thousand year history, as it houses an impressive collection of cultural heritage artefacts from around the country.
Curio lovers will delight in discovering the vintage Vesmuhunu (Devil Mask) collection. Make sure you purchase your camera permit ticket with your entry fee, as you will want to take some snapshots. There is a pleasant café on site, and you can also stroll in the lovely gardens surrounding the museum.
If a nature escape is what you are after, but don’t have that much time to leave Colombo, visit the Talangama Wetlands, which can be found near the suburb of Battaramulla, about 45 minute drive from the city. Situated around a beautiful lake, this area attracts flocks of various waterbirds (around a 100 different species), being a true find for avid birdwatchers and photographers.
It is quite a pristine place despite being relatively close to the city, and offers fabulous walks and wildlife spotting opportunities; watch out for Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys, Indian porcupines, mongoose, Civet cats and many species of tropical butterflies.
Beach lovers should head straight for Mount Lavinia, picturesquely situated on the coast and just a 20 minute scenic beach-side train ride from Colombo city centre. The stretch of beach is home to several hotels and a plethora of seafood-focused beach restaurants. Sunset views of Colombo city skyline from here are quite spectacular, and the area has a lively night-life scene. Drop by for cocktails at the heritage “Mount Lavinia Hotel,” a post-colonial remnant of luxury, complete with a rainforest garden and a Koi fish pond. In fact, it used to be the governor’s mansion and the local legend has it that Sir Thomas Maitland had a tunnel built between the mansion and the house of a certain local dancing girl, so they could meet in secret. Unfortunately for the governor, the match would not have been socially acceptable at the time (early 19th century), so he named his house after the girl, and had a statue of her mounted in the courtyard fountain… Travellers often end the day here after souvenir-shopping at the nearby Majestic City.
These days getting to Colombo from Australia is easy, with most flights arriving here via Kuala Lumpur, or you could combine Sri Lanka with your South Indian itinerary, and fly in from Kerala or Goa.
Patricia Bieszk is a freelance writer and avid traveller who enjoys having her dinner on the beach.