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Backpackers Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka

Backpackers Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka

Airport

– e-Visas are now available for foreign travellers to Sri Lanka, check the website https://eta.gov.lk/etaslvisa/etaNavServ. To check eligibility dependent upon your passport nationality. The e-Visa online form was quick to complete and does not require the uploading of a passport photograph.

The cost was $35USD and this was payable upon application. In my experience, I received confirmation within a couple of hours via email. There is no need to print out said confirmation, as this is an e-Visa and is recorded electronically with your personal details.

The visa allows for tourist travel in Sri Lanka for up to 30 days. If you do not have a credit or visa debit card, then visas are also available on arrival, however, prepare $35USD.

There are ATMs just outside the door from the baggage carousels. These are to the far left-hand side of the waiting arrivals area.

Getting to Colombo

Once you exit the front of the airport, turn left and walk to the end of the airport building. You will see a large car park, and towards the road see either an empty bus bay or a large coach-style bus waiting while passengers board. If you are u sure where to wait, just ask bystanders for bus 187.

Many bystanders may offer you a private car, but just tell them you wish to take the bus. It is not hard to find, and the bus waits within 30 metres of the airport building, so you will see it pull in if not already there. I missed the first bus and waited about 10 minutes for the next bus, meanwhile many tourists and locals arrived and joined the wait. The bus to the city centre costs 110LKR (approx $AUD 1).

Bus Station, Train Station

Colombo main bus station and train station are located within the same region, from there, you can easily walk or take a rickshaw to your accommodation. My accommodation was about 5 kilometres away, i would normally walk through the city and enjoy it if the distance was short, however, this is not walkable in the heat so I took a tuk-tuk (look for a metered tuk-tuk, which works just like a taxi).

Getting Around the City

Walk the Streets

If you are staying nearby the Colombo Fort Railway Station or the Central Bus Station then you are able to walk to and around the Pettah Floating Market, the Pettah Fruit and Vegetable Market, the bazaar streets around the Central Bus Station, as well as the CBD (a few old colonial-style buildings now used as offices). these are all within walking distance of one another.

Metered Tuk Tuks

Metered tuk-tuks are the best way to get around the city, look for the tuk-tuks with a “metered taxi” sign on the roof. These drivers will not approach you, so if you arrive at a bus or train station and are approached by multiple tuk-tuk drivers – you can guess that these are unmetered and will overcharge you drastically.

The rate for a metered tuk-tuk in Colombo is approximately 40 rupees per kilometre (that is around 40 cents AUD).

A Tuk Tuk Tour

While I was walking around the city, and along Galle Face (for foreshore area with small market stalls, pier and path along the shore) I was approached by many drivers asking if I wished to do a tour in their tuk-tuk. In fact, Various drivers over the days I was in Colombo had approached me, all offering temple visits, to take me to multiple sights as well as act as a guide.

So if you are in Colombo, short on time and wish to have a local guide give you some insight into what it is you are actually visiting then haggle for a reasonable price. Try to avoid any conversations about gemstones if you do not wish to be sold any of these, as selling gems is a popular thing in Sri Lanka.

I said yes to one of these drivers, after saying no many times to him. The driver took me to the Gangaramaya Temple (also known as the temple of the hair). He came into the temple with me and explained about the blessings, jewels and how famous the temple was. The driver seemed to have gems on his mind as he told me about these throughout the temple visit.

However, after exiting the temple, I paid him and he refused at first. And tried his best to linger me back into the tuk-tuk to look at another attraction, some gems. So just be aware if you are not in the market for purchasing some gems.

Attractions

Gangaramaya Temple – Temple of The Hair

This temple is the largest and most famous in Colombo. Here you can see the various exquisite Buddha statues made of solid gemstones, decorated in diamonds and crystals, not to mention, a few strands of Buddha’s hair enclosed in a glass case. You can also see a few smaller solid gold buddha statues.

This is a great opportunity to observe locals doing their daily prays and if you are in the temple while a local monk is, you may be able to get a blessing for good luck as i was able to. A monk called a few foreigners towards the glass-enclosed display room where the precious gems were kept guard by security guards with rifles. The monk took a gold platter statue with Buddha ornaments and laid it upon our head before tying a band of thing white strings around our wrist all whilst chanting a good luck blessing.

Galle Face

This area is perfect for a walk along the foreshore. It seems to be a windy area so it is a great place to cool down from exploring the humid and hectic city. Bring some snacks and drinks and relax on the seating facing the shore. You can find small vendor stalls set up selling packaged snack foods and some pre-fried snack foods out of glass display wagons.

Galle Face is also a popular place to hire a kite and fly it. The area in the evening is the place for local couples and friends to hang out.  You can walk from the CBD, however, in the heat I would suggest waving down a metered tuk-tuk.

Pettah Floating Market

The floating market is a brand new building set behind a man-made lake area. Walk across the pier to access the stores. The stores sell various clothing and accessories that you would typically find in the local markets.

However, this market is directly aimed at tourists, so you can expect clean paths, super clean stores and vendors who will not approach you too much or call out for you to come purchase something. Check out the green water around Colombo! The prices here are very much inflated. There are nearby public toilets.

Pettah Fruit and Vegetable Market

This place surrounds the Central Bus Station and is within walking distance from the Colombo Railway Station and the floating market. Here you can walk through the locals purchasing their various produce, buy some fresh fruits or the beautiful honey dates available for the next bus or train trip you have booked. The hundreds of nearby clothing and accessories stores make for the perfect place to grab some fisherman style printed pants or some souvenirs.

Fort and Clock Tower

The Fort and clock tower are listed in every online guide as an attraction. Although, this is not so much an exciting area, as it is an official area with guards at various posts and a road running through the middle.

Leaving Colombo

If you are going to the airport, simply head to the Central Bus Station (red buses = government buses). Simply ask for a bus to the airport, or search for bus 187. This should cost 110 rupees ($AUD 1). The trip will take around 45 minutes and is air-conditioned and pleasant.

If you are going to Kandy or Galle (the two trips I made hence writing these options) then you have the choice of either a bus or train. Simply head to either the Colombo Railway Station or the Bus station and tell staff where you wish to go.

As I chose rail as a means of transport around Sri Lanka, as I like hanging out the window, taking photos and videos, having space for my legs and fresh air. The Colombo Railway Station is clearly set up with a ticketing area displaying big boards of the routes, destinations and prices.

Second Class is a good option if you wish to do as I do on a train. There are luggage racks above seating and a few vendors that board the train at times to sell bottled water and juices, as well as some unidentifiable fried snacks I was told was some sort of fishball batter that was spicy with a small prawn indented to the top.

The train to Kandy took 3 hours 20 minutes (12:50 train). The trip was a little bumpy during the first hour. On the way back from Kandy to Colombo, taking an earlier train (10:30) was much more pleasant as it was not as hot.

The train to Galle took just under 3 hours from Colombo. The trip was 180LKR.

It is important to arrive at the station early, as the train will arrive early also. This means you can board the train and still find a seat. I would highly suggest bringing ample water, as well as hydrating fruit and snack foods. But make sure you don’t drink too much water and need to use the toilet, trust me, you DO NOT want that to happen!

Accommodation

I decided to stay a little out of the hectic market streets area and chose along Galle Road where many large hotels have set up, some overlooking the sea. The hotel was named Clock Inn and offered hotel-style rooms as well as dorms.

This place was a B&B style, offering both private rooms and dorm-style rooms. All furniture, fittings and linen are new and breakfast and WiFi was included, so it ended up being a good option. I enjoyed the area as it seemed to be a business and hotel area, a bit more peaceful, cleaner and modern compared to the inner city area of Colombo. There was free tea and coffee available 24hrs. There was also restaurants, other hotels and office-style buildings nearby, as well as a medium-sized shopping centre. A metered tuk-tuk ride to the central train station costs around 400 rupees ($AUD4).

If you are interested in staying at Clock Inn Colombo (or the Clock Inn Kandy) you can see their rooms, rates and address on the website, https://www.clockinncolombo.lk

As always I hope this post was helpful to those thinking of visiting Sri Lanka but are unsure whether or not to stop by Colombo or to transit straight through to more interesting places, such as Galle, Unawatuna or Kandy. As a solo female traveller, I felt completely safe and my belongings secure the entire time I was in Sri Lanka. There were of course tuk-tuk drivers who I perceived as quite annoying/persistent and two that were overtly sleazy.

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