Colombo, Sri Lanka

Faded manor houses stand shoulder-to-shoulder with cutting-edge condos; jam-packed roads lead into languid lanes; and a melting pot of cultures represent all walks of life, thanks to a staggering array of Arab, Portuguese, Dutch and British influences. Sojourn in this historic south-west seaport and be amazed by the sights, shops and surprisingly switched-on restaurant and bar scene.

When to go

Colombo swelters year round, and there’s no escaping the heat or humidity. May–July and October–December are monsoon months on the west coast, bringing huge storms and frequent rainfall that are best avoided. January–April is the driest period of the year.

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Getting there

  • Planes

    Sri Lankan Airlines (www.srilankan.aero) is the only carrier that flies direct to Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport (www.airport.lk), 30km north of the capital, from Sydney and selected European destinations. One-stop operators include Emirates (www.emirates.com), Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) and Cathay Pacific (www.cathaypacific.com).
  • Trains

    There’s a rail service (www.railway.gov.lk) between the airport and Colombo, but with just one train a day in each direction, it can be inconvenient. Colombo’s Fort Station links the city’s north with the southern suburbs of Kollupitiya, Bambalapitiya, Wellawatte, Dehiwala and Mount Lavinia half-hourly from dawn until 10pm, but even so, taxis are the better option.
  • Automobiles

    Due to traffic, it can take up to an hour to reach Colombo from the airport. Hiring a car isn’t recommended as the roads are frighteningly busy and the one-way system turns Colombo into a crazy maze. Hayleys (www.hayleys.com) can arrange tours and transport around the country. Or, try Kangaroo Cabs (+94 (0)11 258 8588) for city hops and airport drops.
  • Taxis

    You have to call for air-con cabs – they’re forbidden from stopping in the street – so keep the number for Kangaroo Cabs handy (+94 (0)11 258 8588). Tuk tuks can be flagged down anywhere, and cries of ‘you need taxi?’ accompanied by a hovering, spluttering tuk tuk follow you wherever you go. Bartering is expected, but do it with a smile.