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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.