Sri Lanka is easily one of the most accessible destinations in the Indian Ocean, where the cost of the Visa (at least for us on British Passports) is a whole lot cheaper than when travelling to India. Not to mention it is just really simple to organise them online and last minute through online agencies e.g. ETA Sri Lanka. But there is no doubt a lot to offer culturally on the island, with an old colonial feel of the British spice routes, mixed with the prominent Buddhist culture, and spatters of the regions Hindu roots. Not to forget the overall diversity in nature, the tropical island feel, the colourful traditions, and the fantastic food. All which can be found on a short Colombo sightseeing tour.
So Allan and Fanfan have always recommended Sri Lanka to us as a simple stopover destination between Europe and Asia, where a short 1-night stay or a quick weekend is recommended for any layover in the region. Although they had always opted for short stays in the coastal town of Negombo (below right) which is as close to Colombo Airport as the city centre is itself (as Colombo Airport is found on the outskirts of the city). But on our 1-day visit, we would arrive by cruise ship (organising our visas on the move with e-visums.co.uk) and embarked on a fuller day’s Colombo sightseeing tour.
The Tuk Tuk Tour
We arrived in Colombo harbour on a beautiful sunny morning and began the mile walk to the city centre. We did not make it. The temperature was in the high thirties and there was no shade. The driver of a passing Tuk Tuk realised we were struggling and offered us a tour of the best sights of the city. We gladly accepted if only to get into the shade and out of the scorching sun. We had been warned that some tuk-tuk drivers may try to take advantage of visitors but, in this case, our driver was very helpful and informative and took us to some very interesting places
We quickly reached the crowded city centre a vibrant noisy place with constant honking of hundreds of tuk-tuks. We certainly enjoyed our trip. It was exciting as the tuk-tuk weaved through the traffic and while it may not have been comfortable it was very convenient as we were able to hop in and out at the various sites.
1-Day in Colombo
Our Colombo Sightseeing tour gave us a wide-ranging view of a very cosmopolitan city with new corporate skyscrapers blending in with the old colonial architecture, Twentieth century Colombo is a modern multicultural city but the narrow streets and street markets retain the joys of traditional trading, Everywhere there is evidence of the colonial past and previous Portuguese Dutch and especially British rule. This is reflected in the street names, the monuments, the statues of Queen Victoria and an old red post box. There is also much evidence of the Sri Lankans love for cricket with every open space we passed hosting an impromptu match.
While our tour included visits to Independence Square and National Museum of Colombo it had a distinctly religious flavour highlighting the various religious background of the population. It included a visit to the Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, remarkable for its alternating white-and-rust colour scheme, the Hindu temple Sri Kailawasanathar Swami Devasthanam a temple dedicated to peace and harmony an impressive building made up of hundreds of intricately carved small statues and the Roman Catholic St Lucia’s Cathedral which traces its origins to a small structure for worship built during Dutch occupation in the eighteenth century.
Perhaps the most impressive was Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple a strikingly beautiful building which is a site of great significance to pilgrims and locals alike. The temple is of unique design but architecturally it is clearly influenced by Chinese, Indian and Thai culture. The complex also houses a museum and a library and a training school.
Following a coffee break in one of the multitudes of coffee houses in the city centre, we took an evening stroll along the Galle Face Green the city’s largest and most elegant promenade. It is lined with palm trees and adjacent to the beach and the Indian Ocean and runs for half a mile from the city centre. It was a hive of activity as families as come to relax enjoy the beach fly their kites play cricket or have a meal. It is also conveniently close to the Fort as well as the restored 17th-century Dutch Hospital building which now hosts a bunch of cafés, restaurants, bars and shops.
Overall our visit was most enjoyable. There was so much to see beautiful building reflecting the colonial history of the city fascinating religious sites highlighting the religious and cultural diversity of the city and the beautiful parks and beaches lapped by the warm Indian Ocean.