Colombo is a relatively easy city to find your way around. To the north is the Fort district, the country’s business centre, which has department stores, book shops, airline offices and is the site of the Central Bank which the Tamil Tigers blew up in January 1996. There are also ample sights such as the clock tower, a former lighthouse, the president’s residence (known by incorrigible traditionalists as Queen’s House), and a cluster of colonial buildings which lend the district an aura of bygone Empire.
The Fort district is a full-day walking ternary of the cities major sights. Begin this tour from the commercial hub called the Fort – with little evidence of any walls – where historical buildings abound. Start in the Colombo Fort area where most of the five-star hotels are located. In front of hotel Marriot is the Presidential Secretariat, which was the parliament until it moved in 1982 to more spacious quarters in the island’s new administrative capital, Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte. Though called the Fort , the commercial area of Colombo shows little sign that it was once a military stronghold, defended in turn over centuries by the Dutch, Portuguese and British. In front of the Presidential Secretariat, some old cannons still point out towards the sea, a reminder of the threat of invasion from the ocean in the early days.
Colombo Museum: If there is no time to see the ancient cities of Sri Lanka, a visit to the Colombo Museum will provide a taste to the richness of the history and culture of the island. It is interesting to note that the first concept of a museum in the world was recorded in 307-267 BC in the 19th chapter of the Mahavamsa, the monks’ chronicle of the island’s history. Built in 1887 by British Governor Sir William Gregory, the imposing white building is an example of architecture introduced by the British. There are two bookshops at the entrance selling postcards at Rs 1.50, the cheapest on the island.
Kelaniya Rajamaha Vihare: A half-day tour to the Kelaniya Temple. See the chair on which the Buddha reputedly at when he preached for peace. Only a distance of about 7 miles from Colombo.This dagoba is unusual. It is not round like those found in most parts of the island, but shaped like a heap of paddy. The history of the temple dates back to over 2,500 years.
It is believed that Buddha visited here and preached from a jeweled chair to warring factions on the futility of fighting. The original dagoba was said to have enshrined the chair but was later destroyed by South Indian invaders. The reclining Buddha and the Buddha in meditative pose are two important statues here, but it is possible to spend hours just looking at the extraordinary frescoes depicting the life of the Buddha and important events in the island’s history.
Galle Face Green: Politics, vendors and kite fliers in the center of Colombo. Spend a few hours watching the many faces of Colombo here. It is many things to people; an ideal spot for lovers who hide from gazing crowds and the sun behind umbrellas; a playground for children with roadside vendors selling brightly colored balloons, kites, toys, soft drinks and ices; an arena for professional to debate issues of the day; and a popular hangout for teenagers. Observe local color like the kite seller who displays hundreds of fluttering discs of myriad colors. In the evening, vendors push their carts laden with banana chips and fried lentils to vantage points.
Dehiwala Zoo: Both adults and youngsters will enjoy a few hours at this zoo. Cap the day by watching a performance of dancing elephants. The Dehiwala Zoo is one of the finest in Asia and its sprawling ares are host to a variety of animals and birds. Drive 6 miles from Colombo, south along the Galle Road. It is pleasing to see many animals in their natural habitat. Whether it be lions, bears, tigers, rhinos, giraffes or gorillas, there is a greater freedom here than in many zoos around the world. The sight of painted storks fishing in the pond or screeching macaws ruffling their bright feathers immediately puts any visitor at ease. In the Reptile House you will find a rare albino cobra and an enormous python. Watch out for the little tortoises which take piggy-back rides on the backs of ferocious crocodiles. The zoo also has an excellent collection of primates.
Mount Lavinia: Yearing for a sandy beach and the crash of waves but too lazy to drive too far out? Head for Mount Lavinia, only 8 miles from Colombo. To the sailors of the 19th century, Mount Lavinia stood out like the silhouette of a pregnant wench along the southern coastline. This is one of the loveliest beach areas close to any metropolis in the world, being a mere 8 miles from the heart of the city of Colombo. The focal point of Mount Lavinia is the Mount Lavinia Hotel, though there are others like the Mount Royal Beach Hotel which was built in the 1970s.
Navam Maha Perahera: The original Perahera called Colombo Esala Maha Perahera was held at Gangaramaya to commemorate the First Sermon of the Budha, in the month of Esala (August). Later many problems arose, which made it impossible to hold the annual Perahera. One of the reasons was that the Nayaka Thero’s health deteriorated. Instead, a very successful Navam Maha Perahera is held annually in the month of Navam (February) with many innovations. In 1979, the first Navam Perahera was started with the support and co-operation of Mr. R. Premadasa, the then M.P. of Central Colombo. The aims of this Perahera are varied. It is primarily in veneration of the Triple Gem (Thun Sarana). It is for the appreciation and sustenance of traditional dancing and other art forms as well as the Sinhala culture. It is also to encourage little known but talented artistes, to keep their arts alive, and be known.
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