Eight Facts About Colombo You Probably Didn’t Know

By Noreyana Fernando

1. Colombo is the commercial capital of Sri Lanka.

Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, a suburb of Colombo, is the legislative capital. The word “Colombo” is believed to have originated from “kolamba,” the old Sinhalese word for “port.” Even today, Colombo is the hub of the majority of Sri Lanka’s foreign trade.

An aerial view of the busier area of Colombo, including the Colombo World Trade Center. Photo courtesy of Globeimages.net
An aerial view of the busier area of Colombo, including the Colombo World Trade Center. Photo courtesy of Globeimages.net

2. The city was once home to Arab, Portuguese, Dutch and British settlers.

In fact, there are still remnants of these colonial periods. For example, Cinnamon Gardens — which is today a wealthy residential area and home to the Prime Minister’s Office was where the Dutch grew Cinnamon spice in the mid-17th century.

The Cinammon Garden Police Station in 1910. Photo courtesy of Lankapura.com.
The Cinammon Garden Police Station in 1910. Photo courtesy of Lankapura.com.

3. There is no international airport in Colombo.

The common misconception is that the Bandaranaike International Airport is in Colombo. It is actually in Katunayake, which is an hour’s drive from Colombo (about 30 minutes if  you take the newly built highway). This is significant travel time in a country where it takes just about 10 hours to go from the southern to the northern tip!

The arrival lounge of the Bandaranaika international airport is often crowded with hundreds of Sri Lankan waiting to welcome relatives, friends and visitors. Photo by Vasantha Fernando
The arrival lounge of the Bandaranaika international airport is often crowded with hundreds of Sri Lankan waiting to welcome relatives, friends and visitors. Photo by Vasantha Fernando

4. It is divided into 15 zones.

They are known as Colombo 1, Colombo 2 and so on. Colombo 2, for example, is Slave Island, which was where slaves mainly from Africa were held during the Dutch and Portuguese period. Today, it is a busy commercial area and home to several government offices.

The Beira Lake in Slave Island is lit up at night for a week in May to celebrate three milestones in the life of the Lord Buddha. Photo by Noreyana Fernando
The Beira Lake in Slave Island is lit up at night for a week in May to celebrate three milestones in the life of the Lord Buddha. Photo by Noreyana Fernando

5. It is tropical all year around in Colombo.

The average high for March is 90°F and the average low for March is 75 °F. These averages change only be a couple of degrees each month.

Fishermen prepare to leave fish out in the sun for drying, resulting in a salty local favorite known as “karawala.” Photo courtesy of Craig Hickson.
Fishermen prepare to leave fish out in the sun for drying, resulting in a salty local favorite known as “karawala.” Photo courtesy of Craig Hickson.

6. The Galle Face Green is one of the most popular tourist and local spots in the city.

Often known simply as “Galle Face,” this half-a-kilometer stretch of land facing the Indian Ocean is a scenic and costless entertainment for Colombo’s tourists and 700,000 residents. Its beach is lined with little shacks that sell finger foods like naan breads, fried vadais and a suspiciously colorful range of drinks. The Galle Face is also just minutes from major locations like the president’s house, the Navy Headquarters and the Colombo Hilton.

Tourists, locals and vendors embrace the gentle salty breeze at the Galle Face Green, easily the most popular family  entertainment destination. Photo courtesy of MooreTravelTips.com.
Tourists, locals and vendors embrace the gentle salty breeze at the Galle Face Green, easily the most popular family entertainment destination. Photo courtesy of MooreTravelTips.com.

7. Shopping in Colombo is pretty spectacular.

As tourism in Sri Lanka blossomed after the end of the civil war, so did shopping centers. Popular and surprisingly reasonable destinations include the Majestic City shopping mall, the House of Fashion and the slightly pricier Crescat Boulevard. For a true Sri Lankan experience, people visit Main Street in Colombo 11 or Pettah. Amid the clutter of haggling customers and screaming vendors, shoppers usually take great care not to get run over by an impatient vehicle. It’s chaos at its finest — a must-have experience.

Main Street, Colombo on a calm day.Photo courtesy of Toushkalee.com.
Main Street, Colombo on a calm day.Photo courtesy of Toushkalee.com.

8. The selection of restaurants and cuisine will spoil you

Colombo offers Thai, Chinese, Indian, American (i.e. McDonalds), Saudi Arabian and even German food with an unmistakable Sri Lankan twist. Sri Lankan food is more popular with people of the working class, who find it a cheaper, and more convenient option than buying and cooking for themselves, as gas prices and vegetable prices have skyrocketed over the past few years.

The Dragon Brunch at the Cinammon Grand Hotel in Colombo offers a wide range of Chinese, Korean, Singaporean, Thai and Malaysian food to suit the Sri Lanka palate.  Photo by Vasantha Fernando
The Dragon Brunch at the Cinammon Grand Hotel in Colombo offers a wide range of Chinese, Korean, Singaporean, Thai and Malaysian food to suit the Sri Lanka palate.
Photo by Vasantha Fernando

Watch out for my next post for more details about this other world.

Revision: An earlier version of the article did not mention the new highway, which takes you to the international airport in 30 minutes. 

Noreyana Fernando is a junior at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York, where she is studying journalism, pre-med with a minor in French. She was born and raised in Sri Lanka. She is currently a news anchor on ICTV’s Newswatch16 and a research intern at the Park Center for Independent Media. 

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