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Colombo is the beating commercial heart of Sri Lanka located on the coast of the Indian Ocean. Whether you’re exploring the nearby town of Galle, which features colonial Portuguese architecture and a green space for sports and community fun, or you venture beyond the city to see an elephant orphanage, your Sri Lanka cruise experience is bound to be unlike anywhere else you’ve ever visited on cruise to Sri Lanka. It’s also home to important temples like the beautiful and historic Gangaramaya Temple, which is one of Colombo’s oldest Buddhist temples.
With a population of nearly one million people, Colombo isn’t showing any signs of slowing down soon. The city continues to improve upon its attractions and offer new sights, smells, and immersive experiences to every type of traveler. Colombo takes travelers out of their comfort zones. Try adventurous street foods like the Sri Lankan hopper, local wood apples, and all sorts of roti during your (too-short) time in Colombo.
An oasis in the middle of the city, the urban park Galle Face Green features a long promenade and plenty of street vendors to keep you occupied as you walk. Many locals come here to watch the sunset along the waterfront, play sports, or set up a picnic.
On your Sri Lanka cruise, don’t miss the Old Colombo Lighthouse, which features a still-operating clock tower. It’s a must-see piece of Colombo history on any self-guided city tour. Stand at the base of the lighthouse and admire the Indian Ocean, which stretches out for an impossible length right before your eyes.
The largest museum in Sri Lanka happens to be one of its best attractions for visitors on a Sri Lanka cruise. The exhibits are dedicated to sharing Sri Lankan history, heritage, art, and artifacts with the world. Housed in a British colonial-style building, the museum’s exhibits also outline the effects of British, Dutch, and Portuguese imperialism on the city. There is a cafe to rest and get a drink when you’re done exploring the exhibits.
This elephant orphanage less than three hours from Colombo is known for its conservation efforts and houses injured elephants who, unfortunately, can never be re-released back into the wild. There are nearly 30 acres of forest and green space for the elephants to roam. Remember to respect these creatures and their space as you visit.
When you crave a little time away from the city while still in the middle of Colombo, head to Viharamahadevi Park, which is home to springtime blooming and summertime relaxation. It’s a free park that even has a seated Buddha statue for moments of reflection and quiet.
For one of the best glimpses of the chaos and fun of daily life in Colombo, there’s the exhilarating Pettah Market. At Colombo’s biggest and most famous market, locals hunt for fresh, high-quality produce. Here you’ll stumble upon all the regional foods that can only be tried in Sri Lanka. Visit in the morning to beat the heat and crowds of the afternoon.
Because Colombo is a coastal city, fishing is a critically important piece of the culinary scene here. Try ambul thiyal, a sour fish curry chock full of cubed and spiced fish, or the local staple dhal curry, which is a curry made with boiled red lentils. You’ll quickly become enamored by kottu roti, a crispy flatbread served with chicken, beef, onions, leek, or cabbage in the ultimate Sri Lankan street food dish. Don’t miss the chance to eat a hopper, the thick Sri Lankan pancake typically made with coconut milk and a hint of sugar. They’re the perfect on-the-go breakfast option for the busy explorer. When you go to Pettah Market, don’t leave without trying the controversial Sri Lankan classic, the wood apple. It’s said to smell like blue cheese but taste uniquely sweet and sour. You’ll have to try one for yourself on your Colombo cruise.
Colombo has been a critically important trade port and city for thousands of years. The harbor location made it a competitive spot that the Dutch, British, and Portuguese all fought for throughout the centuries. The British took control of Sri Lanka from 1815 until the nation’s declaration of independence in 1948. Today, Colombo mixes its colonial history with a modernism all its own.
Cricket and rugby are the main sports that Sri Lankans love to play and watch. Over half of the population identifies as Buddhist. The official languages spoken are Sinhala and Tamil, though you may hear English sometimes spoken in business settings.
When your cruise ship docks at the Queen Elizabeth pier, you can walk 15 minutes to the center of Colombo. The port of Colombo is Sri Lanka’s highest volume port for trade, so it’s not solely serving cruise traffic. You can take a complimentary shuttle from your ship to the entrance of the Port of Colombo, where a taxi, tuk tuk, or quick stroll will quickly get you to the heart of town.
Taxis and tuk tuks are two main forms of getting around in Colombo for tourists, and most travelers to Sri Lanka use taxis for longer distances and tuk tuks for shorter rides. Taxis will pick passengers up from the cruise port as well. You can negotiate with your taxi driver to take you from destination to destination throughout the day, rather than hail a new ride each time you want to travel. There’s a train and bus network running through Colombo, too.
There isn’t much in the way of shopping near the cruise port except some kiosks and souvenir stands near the entrance. If you’re craving a snack of fresh fruit or regional delicacy, head to the famous Pettah Market, where you can experience the buzzing pace of street markets in Colombo for the first time.
Understanding the currency and etiquette is important as you choose your Sri Lanka cruise packages. The official currency in the country is the Sri Lankan rupee (Rs), and currency exchange stations are available along Galle Road and in the airport. The city is also bursting with banks and ATMs, so you’re never too far from one. Bargaining is simply part of the culture here if you’re buying something from a local market, so be prepared to haggle. If you get quoted a price, ask for half and see where the shopkeeper will meet you. Typically, tipping is expected in most industries in Sri Lanka. Restaurants will already include a 10% service charge, but you can feel free to tip additionally if service was excellent. Taxis are very affordable here, so it’s polite to round up to the nearest rupee at the end of your ride.