Colombo is a vibrant city located on the west coast of Sri Lanka and is one of the biggest commercial ports in the Indian Ocean. It is one of two capitals in Sri Lanka: Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte is the official administrative capital, while Colombo is the commercial capital. Colombo also boasts a long and varied history marked by several different colonial periods, which can be seen in the unique mix of cultures that co-exist in the city today.
Before planning a visit to Colombo to discover its unique history and culture, foreign citizens should first check the vaccine requirements to travel to Sri Lanka, and whether or not they require a tourist visa to travel to the country.
Eligible foreign citizens are able to obtain a Sri Lanka ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization), which allows a stay of up to 30 days in the country for either tourism or business purposes. The ETA for Sri Lanka is available through a simple online application which only takes a few minutes to complete, and eliminates the need to apply from an embassy or consulate or lengthy waits for a visa on arrival at border entry points.
Why Are There Two Capitals in Sri Lanka?
Many travelers to the country question why Sri Lanka has two capital cities, Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte and Colombo. Kotte is the official administrative capital of Sri Lanka, but, as it is a satellite city of the main population center, Colombo is often referred to as the capital.
To understand why Sri Lanka has two capital cities, it is first necessary to look at the history of the settlement which became Colombo. The natural harbor where Colombo is located had been known to Indian, Greek, Persian, Roman, Arab, and Chinese traders as much as 2,000 years ago. In the 16th century, Portuguese explorers established a trading post and fort at the site and gave it the name Colombo, derived from the Sinhala name Kola-amba-thota which means ’harbor with leafy mango trees’.
The city was later captured by the Dutch and served as the capital of the Dutch maritime provinces until 1796, when British Rule in Sri Lanka commenced. Colombo was then made capital of the colony of British Ceylon in 1815, and remained the capital of Sri Lanka until after the country gained independence in 1948.
Things changed in the 1980s when Kotte was made the official capital of Sri Lanka in an effort to minimize environmental damage to Colombo by minimizing traffic and population congestion. However, Colombo is still known as the commercial capital of Sri Lanka, and many countries still maintain diplomatic missions in the city.
What Is Colombo in Sri Lanka Famous for?
In recent years, Colombo has become known as a vibrant travel destination which boasts a unique combination of a mixture of cosmopolitan modern buildings and colonial architecture. Visitors to Colombo can trace the history of the city through the different styles used for each colonial period, such as the Wolvendahl Church, built by the Dutch in 1749, and the Colombo Fort Clock tower and Neo-Baroque Old Parliament building, both constructed during British Rule.
Colombo is also home to a variety of impressive Buddhist and Hindu temples, such as the Gangaramay Temple, an eclectic mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture. It’s also worth visiting the unique Seema Malaka temple, built on platforms over the Beira Lake in central Colombo.
One of the most famous districts in the city, and one of the oldest, is the Pettah, a concentrated area of shops, markets, and stalls that merges Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim culture all in one place. This can be seen in the unique juxtaposition of architecture such as the Wolvendaal church, one of the oldest Protestant churches in Sri Lanka, alongside the distinctive Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in the city.
Colombo is also within easy traveling distance of some of the famous World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka, such as the Sacred City of Kandy, and the Old Town of Galle and its fortifications.
Getting to Colombo from the Airport
International travelers coming to Colombo will arrive at Bandaranaike International Airport, also known as Colombo International Airport or Katunayake Airport, after the suburb of the city where it is located. The airport is located around 30 kilometers north of Colombo, and travelers have a few different options for how to get to the city
After presenting their eVisa to gain entry to the country and passing through customs in Sri Lanka, travelers have the option to arrange a shuttle to their hotel at one of the dedicated desks in the airport or to take a taxi from the ranks outside the terminal building. The average price for a taxi to Colombo city center from the airport is 2000–3000 Sri Lankan rupees (US $11-17), although it is often possible to haggle the price with the driver.
Travelers also have the option to take public transportation from the airport to Colombo. A public bus service to the city, marked ‘Colombo Fort’, departs just a few meters from the airport terminal. The price for two tickets on the bus is around 250 Sri Lankan rupees (under US $2), and the services take passengers directly to Colombo Fort Railway Station in the very center of the city.