I must confess, I love Colombo. The ever growing sense of opportunity, exciting new start ups, the local and the luxury coexisting.
I haven’t always looked at Colombo so fondly however. The traffic, faster paced chaos, the occasional tuk tuk driver aggressively attempting to overcharge. Feeling uncomfortable being stared at.
It’s all too easy to allow negative experiences to imprint an aura of frustration in your mind for the rest of the day. In extreme cases I’ve heard these kind of experiences putting people off visiting Colombo full stop, advising others to do the same.
Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to experience Sri Lanka without a taste of Colombo. It just needs to be approached differently to the rest of the country.
To experience Colombo positively I’ve learnt to do two things.
Number 1. Patience. Don’t rush. Take it slow, be conscious and aware. Don’t let anyone rush you into making decisions and don’t trust people who attempt to rush you. In fact, don’t trust anyone too quickly. Be cautious of appearing fresh faced and vulnerable as some may see it as an opportunity.
Number 2. It is your sole responsibility to retain your sense of peace. Allowing one bad experience to cloud your mindset will only inevitably lead to a domino effect of another.
If you are faced with a challenging experience accept it as a lesson and move on. Work out how you can avoid/ overcome the same happening again. Smile and be positive while retaining astute and you will see how different your experience can be.
Is this easy? Absolutely not. But it’s the only option, tried and tested by yours truly for many years! It works.
Use transport apps. It is the easiest way to retain your peace. Wait for the tuk tuk or car to arrive under a fan or in AC. Don’t wait outside in the heat.
Wear light, comfortable clothes. Dress modestly, especially if you happen upon a temple.
Download the Pick Me and Uber apps. You can hail transport across the city. There’s no worry of being overcharged and you can connect your card to pay hassle free.
Tuk tuks often have very little change, if you hand them a Rs.5,000 note for a Rs.230 journey they likely wont have enough. Otherwise, be prepared with small money. I’ve been on many a wild goose hunt to break down large notes for drivers!
Colombo is becoming an ever diverse foodie hotspot. Enjoy a British/Lankan fusion afternoon tea at Mount Lavinia Hotel. Sunset cocktails on the rooftop of Jetwing Colombo 7. Local eats along Galle Face Green. A local Sri Lankan lunch at Upalis. A romantic middle eastern dinner at August by Mama Aidas.
There are some incredible hotels in Colombo too. Avoid international chains, save those for foodie visits. Experience authentic Sri Lankan hospitality at Paradise Road Tintagel or Maniumpathy, both intimate boutique hotels. For a touch of luxury on a larger scale, Galle Face Hotel or Cinnamon Grand.
Have a massage at the wonderful Spa Ceylon post flight. Buy some products for loved ones to avoid gifting touristy presents. Shop at Paradise Road. Attend a Sri Lankan cooking class at Aunty’s. Buy spices from local supermarkets to cook for others when you fly back home.
There is so much to enjoy in Colombo. The city is unique, diverse and fascinating. Look beyond the surface, be open to it’s many levels. Take it slow, be patient and avoid expectations.
Research and write a list of everything you may want to do but don’t take the list too literally. Wake up in the morning and see how your body feels.
If you’re tired after a flight don’t go straight into sightseeing mode. Have a massage. Visit a hotel with a beautiful view. Order a nourishing thambili coconut. Relax by the sea or pool and bathe (with shade and suntan lotion!) in that glorious Vitamin D.
Save the days you’re feeling close to 100% for local adventures. Take the commuters train to Mount Lavinia from Colombo Fort station, explore the streets of Pettah, visit Kollupitiya fruit & veg market.
For more tips on exploring Colombo, visit 33 Things to do in Colombo.