We stopped off in Colombo on a layover to the Maldives and decided to make the most of our stop in a new country and stay the night in the city. It was a little bit of a trek from the airport but it was totally worth it and we kinda wished we’d stayed for a few more days but then who would want to miss out on extra days in the Maldives. Here are some of the awesome things we crammed into the short amount of time we had in the city.
7 Things to do in Colombo
Admire the Red Mosque
The Red Mosque is set in a pretty busy part of town in Colombo and almost seems completely out of place. The only reason it doesn’t is because everything kind of seems out of place. There is the biggest mix of old and new, expensive and cheap, Buddhist and other religions. There isn’t much to visit in the Red Mosque or so we found, it is still an active place of worship so certain privacy rules apply. However, the bit we did visit was incredible, the architecture is beautiful and the red and white colours so striking. What’s more is being inside the Mosque allows you a little peace and rest bite from the chaotic streets outside. It’s worth stopping to admire and take pictures but you won’t need more than 15 minutes for this.
Visit a Buddhist Temple
There are plenty of Buddhist Temples in Colombo as this is the predominant religion. The one we went to and possibly the most well known is the Gangaramaya Temple. There are two parts to this temple, the first being the temple itself and the second being a memorial hut which is located on the edge of the lake. The former was a maze of rooms with shires for those who believe to worship. There was a map with the order you should go around and we were lucky to have our tuk-tuk driver come in with us and explain certain elements to us. This temple had two main points of interest: a tree that people come from miles to worship because they believe it will make your dream come true and the second a huge collect of Buddha statues.
The second part of the Gangaramaya Temple was a memorial hut which was a lot smaller than the temple and located on the lake. It seemed to have a main prayer room, an information section inside the hut and then more Buddha statues all around the outside. The views from here were gorgeous and I found this part of the temple to be a lot more simple and beautiful.
Try Sri Lankan Cuisine
Sri Lanka is famous for it’s food and drink but particularly curry. One of their signature dishes is a fish curry with rice and that is exactly what I had for lunch while in the city. It tasted delicious and came with a couple of extra bits on the side most notably the cucumber in a yoghurt based sauce. This is much needed for cooling your mouth down as is inevitable to happen. Yes these curries in typical Asian style, are hot and spicy with chillies.
Try Paradise Road Gallery Cafe for amazing food and awesome interior.
Ride in a Tuk Tuk
This is especially a must if you have never ridden in a tuk-tuk before or if you are short on time. It is very easy to grab a tuk-tuk as they are constantly driving around the streets. Lonely Planet recommended getting one that is already driving rather than a parked up one as they will charge less. It is also possible to hire a tuk-tuk for a specified amount of time in the day and pay an agreeable fee. In our experience the driver was very reluctant to give a price and much keener for us to pay as we pleased. We probably pay paid too much but we felt the driver had listened to our interests and tailored the trip to what we wanted to do. You can expect to pay from 3000 rupee for this kind of service or 300 for a single ride from Col 7 to the Fort area.
Go to a Cricket Match
Another thing Sri Lanka is best known for is cricket and they have three main pitches in Colombo. All are used for huge international matches as well as local high school matches. We were lucky enough to rock up to Sinhalese Sports Club during an extremely ‘big’ game between two high schools. Our tuk-tuk driver arranged tickets for us for 300 rupee each and we entered the small stand that was heaving with local school children. We quickly found we were the only tourist in the stand and that we had walked into the biggest party. The atmosphere was crazy with dancing and even a band that were playing music. I’m not sure how those playing cricket could ever concentrate and the match was very slow, however, I could not wipe the smile of my face from the experience!
Watch the sunset or rise
I’d read in Lonely Planet whilst doing some research for this very quick layover and found that Galle Green was an essential place to go to watch the sunset. Unfortunately our flight time got changed and we weren’t able to stay for sunset, however, I’d certainly advise doing this if you’re able to. If like us that isn’t possible then the next best thing is to get up for sunrise especially if your accommodation offers high views over the city. As the sun came up there was a low haze across the city and the colours were gorgeous.
Cool off in a Rooftop Pool
I’m not sure of the temperature year round in Colombo but while we were there in April it was crazy hot in the day time. This makes staying out all day to sightsee quite a daunting task and believe me half way through the day the idea of cooling off somewhere will seem essential! There are a lot of accommodation options in the city that have swimming pools and many of these are also on the rooftop. Be sure to build in some time to cool off in the water and refresh before heading back out again.
We absolutely loved our day in Colombo, it reminded us of our early travels in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam but it also gave us a taste for this amazing country. We are already plotting a trip around the south of the country via train.
Be sure not too pack too much into your day as traffic in Colombo can get pretty crazy and you could end up sitting in it rather than being at the attraction you imagined. Let the tuk-tuk drivers who know the city well guide you when it comes to traffic, same applies when travelling back to the airport.