Colombo is the main city- the airport is there and ten percent of the countries population (approximately two million people). It’s hectic. If one has the time, it’s a good place to stay and do a bit of shopping before going home. The Sri Lankan military still heavily guards the city, but we wouldn’t recommend wandering around alone or drunk at night.
At the Galle Face Hotel. Mammoth Rooms. It’s the oldest hotel in Sri Lanka; it’s worth staying in the old section of the hotel because it’s so historical – but it smells like mildew and there’s always some sort of booming bass gala happening on the checkerboard dance floor on the green. The saltwater, seaside pool at the Galle is excellent; a great way to spend your last day.
Getting Around:
In Colombo, you can have a tuk-tuk – make sure you ask the driver to turn on the meter. The price will be completely arbitrary otherwise, usually much higher than it should be. Drive by the Colonial trading neighborhoods; they’re ancient, peeling, wild and haunted. Since the Civil War ended Colombo has been under major construction, and historical neighborhoods don’t last. The old streets are most likely going to be torn down sooner rather than later.
Seema Malakaya is definitely worth visiting. Designed by Geoffrey Bawa, antique, ornamented statues of Hindu gods such as Vishnu, Ganesh, and Lakshmi are placed inside mini rooms on a pier on a quiet lake in the middle of the city. A Buddha-filled, open-air pavilion in the center is a public meditation center. Leave your shoes and cares on the steps leading to the cool wooden space.
Adjacent to the lake is Gangaramaya Temple, which is a temple-slash-museum. Everything from colonial cabinets of rusted locks to Sri Lankan postage stamps in vitrines to quasi-pornographic antique deities stacked against the walls. Bejeweled and gilded eclectibles are everywhere, many for purchase, as well as a major library. Across the street from the bummed-out baby elephant that eats palm leaves, burnt out Volkswagens on stilts sit by the back entrance.
Also, go to Viharamahadevi Park if you have a couple of hours. Munch on chick pea & chili fritters while wandering the blooming floral paths, take photos of the surreal playground inspired by a bridge, catch a game or two of (forbidden in the park) cricket, or look at a burka clad women staring at an elephant taking a bath in the muddy cement pool.
Get a massage at Spa Ceylon. They have their own line of products, and sell a eucalyptus and menthol towel that you spray with water, put in the microwave for five minutes, and wrap yourself up in. Beautiful candles. Not completely traditional Ayurvedic, but as lux as you’ll find in Sri Lanka.
Don’t Miss:
The sunset by Sunset Promenade (next door to the Galle). You’ll be there with a bunch of locals; soldiers lower the bold, lion flag with a beautiful ceremony every day. Students and young Sri Lankan families play in the twilight and the water. Street eats (not to eat!) of crab and shrimp fritters. Loads of children’s toys, from soap bubble balloons to neon plastic animals, are sold on Galle Face Green- the lawn facing the beach.
Go to Barefoot. Locally made fabrics. Eat at the garden café. Gorgeous and delicious. Art galleries attached host a rotating phalanx of local shows. And there are so many nooks and crannies filled with hammocks, local soaps, books, and everything you can imagine (baby socks to oven mitts, incense holders to massive stuffed dragons) made from Barefoot’s bright fabric. Barefoot has a few outposts around the country. But this is the main store.
Paradise Road Café is an excellent place to dine. The attached shop, Paradise Road, has incredible fabrics, sarongs. Everything from hand painted doorstoppers to 100 year-old wooden wheels to really gorgeous hand-blown glass to stationary bags. It’s the Sri Lankan version of West Elm meets Crate & Barrel, but much, much better.
Odel can be skipped. It’s Macys-meets-Ikea with a good café. Nothing you can’t find at home.

April 2013