Renowned for its ancient ruins and a deeply hospitable welcome wherever in the country you find yourself, Sri Lanka is a must-visit whatever kind of break you’re looking for. It’s also just a short flight from the UAE.
Whether your holiday dreams feature history and sightseeing, wildlife and adventure, or incredible food and clean, sandy beaches, you’ll find it on this charming island in the Indian Ocean.
Colombo is the country’s capital, and home to the airport, which is served by direct flights from the emirates – though travellers should note the country’s tropical monsoon climate when booking a trip. April to May and September to November are the wettest periods, with bouts of heavy rainfall, but temperatures stay a fairly average 30°C throughout the year.
Once a well-used port for east-west trade, across the island you can expect to see relics of Portuguese, Dutch and British military stationing and colonial rule, as well as influence from travellers and traders from all corners of the world.
SIGHTSEEING AND CULTURE
Sri Lanka is a relatively small country, and as such many arrive in Colombo only to venture inland to lush, mountainous regions such as Kandy, or south to the sandy beaches just beyond the old fort city of Galle. But the capital is worthy of a long weekend in its own right. Sri Lanka’s premier cultural institution the National Museum (www.museum.gov.lk/+94 11 269 5366) is the top place to start your history lesson. You’ll find all manner of art and statues from the country’s ancient past and colonial heritage. Look out for the throne of King Wimaladharmasuriya II and the 9th-century bronze Bodhisattva Sandals. If you’re planning on heading off elsewhere on the island, the museum is an essential pit-stop.
Colombo Lighthouse, The Prison Cell of the last Sri Lankan King, Lighthouse with Clock Tower designed by Lady Ward (built before Big Ben in London), Galle Face Promenade with cannons of World War II… these are just some of the other sights you could head to on foot, or you could save on time and effort by hopping on the Colombo City Bus Tour (www.colombocitytours.com /+94 112 814 700). The company offers three types of tour: quick glimpse, heritage and night. It’s probably the quickest way to experience the city’s old and new and can been boarded from the National Museum.
For another slice of history, head to the immaculately manicured greens of the Royal Colombo Golf Club (www.rcgcsl.com/+94 1126 95431). Its stunning 18-hole course has attracted players for more than 130 years. It was given a regal seal of approval in 1928 when King George V bestowed upon the Club the privilege of using the prefix “Royal”.
Viharamahadevi Park is also a must, even if you just grab a picnic and enjoy the aromas of its superb flowering trees in spring. Expect to see elephants occasionally munching on trees, too.
FOOD AND DINING
Seafood, seafood, seafood. A perennial staple of Sri Lankan’s diets, and with good reason. You’ll find an abundance of cracking restaurants, cafés and street vendors serving delicious dishes – pretty much straight from the sea. Head to one of the most popular in Mt Lavinia beach Bu Ba (www.bubabeach.com /+94 11 273 2190) but only with those in the know as it still remains relatively hidden. The seafood pub boasts candlelit tables right on the beach – perfect for romantic dinners.
Or for a taste of one of the country’s best-loved restaurants you must head to Ministry of Crab (www.ministryofcrab.com/+94 112 342 722) – but book ahead. You can enjoy a truly superb meal and drinks for just Dhs300 for two – expect crab served in a variety of ways: Singapore-style, spiced, garlic pepper and a load more.
If you haven’t visited the historic Galle Face Green yet then you absolutely have to just for one street food stall: Nana’s. Don’t be fooled by the various copycats, the original is found opposite the entrance to the Taj Saumdra hotel. Its legendary meat and rice dishes are wolfed down day in, day out by both locals and tourists alike. Grab a wobbly seat at a wobbly plastic table and enjoy some simply stunning flavours.
Once the sun sets on Colombo, it transforms from breezy beach city into a buzzing nightlife scene with clubs regularly steering partygoers into the next sunrise.
Grab your pals and dancing shoes and head to Rhythm and Blues Nightclub (+94 77 360 1555), it is one of the best Colombian nightclubs around so expect lots of Latin American tunes to salsa the night away to. There’s a finger food menu if you need, however you won’t want to fill up on heavy dishes and miss out on the chance to hit the dancefloor. It stays open until 5am on Sundays.
Another top spot to keep the party going into the early hours is at Cascades (+94 11 237 437), although be sure to dress to impress – no flip flops and shorts here, chaps. The DJ keeps the music pumping until 5am, meaning it can get extremely busy on weekends.
WHERE TO STAY
If you’re travelling on budget then Colombo City Hostel (www.comobocityhostel.com/ +94 77 485 2650), is a great low-cost option. There are 33 beds in dorms set across three floors with a rooftop lounge and kitchen that looks over the sprawling city below.
If you’re going a bit more upmarket then Colombo Courtyard (www.comobocourtyard.com / 011-464 5333), a boutique-style hotel, ticks all of the boxes if you’re looking for more of a fancy urban-style retreat. There’s a nice rooftop bar and a spa where you can get a Jet Lag massage. Make sure to visit both.
Buses are regular with fares costing around Rs 10 to 50 – around 20 fils to a dirham – depending on the distance.
You can also get a taxi – most of which are metred – although you should agree a far in advance if not. A taxi from Fort train station to Galle Face Hotel (a little over 2km) should cost about Rs 300.
The cheapest way to travel is by three-wheeler, and though far from glamorous, it’s all part of the Colombo experience.
SriLankan Airlines offers 11 flights a week from Dubai to Bandaranayake Airport from Dhs1,555. Emirates and flydubai also offer several flights a week from Dubai from Dhs1,945 and Dhs703 retrospectively. You can also fly with Etihad from Dubai from Dhs1,443 or from Abu Dhabi from Dhs1,643.