Hugging the west coast of Sri Lanka in the northern Indian Ocean, Colombo is a vibrant multi-cultural, multi-ethnic mix of humble and grand, colonial and modern, urban and rural, land and water. It is Sri Lanka’s largest city and major port, considered the commercial, industrial and cultural capital of Sri Lanka.
Towering, modern skyscrapers sit alongside historic colonial buildings dating to the 1700s. Colombo’s colonial past has influenced the fascinating and varying architecture that spans centuries, from Portuguese, Dutch, and British to Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Indian and contemporary styles.
Due to its strategic position along East-West sea trade routes and its large, natural harbour, Colombo was known to Greek, Persian, Roman, Arab and Chinese traders as long as 2000 years ago. Now, Colombo Harbour enjoys status as one of the busiest ports in Sri Lanka and is home to the head offices of the majority of Sri Lankan corporations.
People flock to enjoy the open sky and land next to the sea at Galle Face Green, a mile-long span of green, lined with palm trees and buzzing with activity: walking, jogging, flying kites or enjoying a concert, such as the World Drum Festival. Beira Lake, in the heart of the city, is another popular attraction, hosting colourful regattas and other events on its shores.
Colombo’s colourful heritage, multi-ethnic population, tropical climate, beautiful festivals and its luxurious hotels, fine dining and shopping make this island a thrilling destination to explore and enjoy.
What is special or unique about your city?
Welcome to Sri Lanka! Sri Lanka is an island in the Indian Ocean and is also known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.
Sri Lanka is predominantly a Buddhist country, but many Christians, Muslims and Hindu’s also reside here.
The National Geographic Traveller magazine selected Sri Lanka as one of its top six destinations for world travellers in 2012, which comes at a time when top hotel chains such as Starwood, Marriot and Shangri-La, Hyatt Regency are setting up hotels in the country.
What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city?
The first impression for newcomers will typically be the spirit of hospitality of the Sri Lankan people and the vibrant energy that the city gives.
Colombo city and the suburbs are seeing rapid development. New 5 star hotels and many luxury skyscraper apartments are being built which will change the city skyline in times to come. Lotus Tower which will be the tallest in Asia is also under construction. With many motorways scheduled to be built, travel time will be much shorter in the future.
Are these impressions likely to change?
Impressions are most likely to change in a positive way - Sri Lanka is gradually becoming the wonder of Asia.
What is the local language?
Sinhalese is the official language and English is widely spoken and used. Tamil is the other language which is spoken here.
Here are some Sinhalese words and phrases that may be fun to learn as well as help you while you are here:
English to Sinhalese
- Hello: Ayubowan
- How much: Keeyada?
- Goodbye: Aye hambawemu
- What time is it: Welawa keeyada?
- Yes: Ow
- Food: Khame
- No: Naha
- Water: Wathura
- Right: Dakuna
- Thank you: Bohoma Istuti
- Left: Wama
- Please: Karunakara
How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?
English is very well understood and widely used, and one can easily get on with life without knowing any of the local languages.
What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?
The predominant religion is Buddhism, and as such, following the customs and culture of Buddhists would be appreciated. For example, you should remember to wash hands after touching footwear, and no footwear is allowed at places of worship. No shorts are allowed inside Buddhist and Hindu temples. Most locals would like you to keep your shoes out of the house entirely, especially in the kitchen.
The following are some other tips to avoid offending the locals:
- Status is often determined by a person's age, social status and profession
- It is acceptable for men and woman to wear trousers. However, on more formal occasions the trousers should be "dressy." Indian sarees are generally worn for occasions like weddings, receptions, dinners etc., and there are many dressing salons that can happily assist women with draping a sari and adding makeup
- Shorts are acceptable for men and women when jogging though it is preferable for women to wear tracksuit trousers, but this is not mandatory. More new walking and jogging tracks have been constructed under the “Be healthy” program sponsored by the government which are well lit and crowded which makes it very comfortable to engage in a walk or a jog
- If you host a meal, keep in mind that Buddhists and Hindus have a variety of dietary restrictions
- Generally, Buddhists and Hindus do not eat beef, Muslims do not eat pork and many Hindus are vegetarians so make sure there are some vegetarian dishes as well. Muslims do not like pork dishes kept next to other dishes, so keep a separate spoon for the pork dishes
- Alcohol should be avoided until you are certain that your host approves of it. Even if it is okay, do not get drunk. Drinking and driving is a major offense in Sri Lanka and subject to an overnight detention at a local police station and a heavy fine
- If you're invited to dine at somebody's house, a bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates is the common gift to bring. It is typical for guests to arrive late regardless of what the invitation says
- Be respectful when visiting holy sites, no matter what condition they are in. Smoking and drinking are prohibited in Holy Sites. Always speak in soft tones. No shorts are allowed in most religious places of worship
- Sri Lankans disapprove of public displays of affection between men and women - extreme cases of unruly behaviour can get reported to police
- Standing tall with your hands on your hips is perceived as aggressive
- Pointing with your finger is considered rude
- Whistling in public is unacceptable
- Never point your feet at another person as feet are considered unclean
- To tip a taxi driver, simply round off the fare.
How might the local weather affect my daily life?
Sri Lanka is tropical and the weather is generally humid. The monsoon season starts in October and ends in May. Colombo has an average temperature of 27 degrees Celsius.
Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?
People are quite friendly, although more so to expats because of a sense of curiosity.