One enters the magnificent Island of Sri Lanka through its largest city, Colombo, inhabited by about a million people. Colombo has an ancient history dating back to the 8th Century. The name Colombo originated from the Sinhala word ‘Kolontota’ later called Kolambu by Arab traders, changed later to Colombo by the Portuguese who arrived in 1505. In the mid 17th Century, the Dutch took control of most of the coastal areas, building forts in several coastal cities including Colombo. The British who colonized the then Ceylon in 1802, made Colombo the capital of their crown colony. Colombo remained the country’s capital for about 200 years until Sri Jayawardenepura was declared the capital.
Colombo is the major commercial and business centre in the country, strewn with State Ministries and Departments, airline offices, banks and embassies and is one of the busiest ports in South Asia. Colombo’s tourist attractions are many and varied. For those interested in history, the National Museum established in 1877, holds a large number of interesting antique possessions including the throne of the last king and other items that display the cultural heritage of the country. The Wolfendhal Church and the old Dutch House on Kumara Veediya formerly Prince Street, date back to the Dutch colonial period. There are old churches, temples, mosques, the stately old parliament facing the Indian Ocean and the expansive white Town Hall facing the public park in the heart of the city. This park known as the Vihara Maha Devi park is generously covered with large trees with plenty of shade and is a luxury to have in a commercial city. In addition, the Galle Face Green adjoining the colonial Galle Face Hotel to its south, bordered by the Indian Ocean to its west, provides ample space for a cool long stroll along the beach.
Going on a shopping spree in Colombo, one finds surprisingly westernized shopping centres with gents to ladies clothing and children’s attire, shops with local silk sarees, dresses, colourful handloom cotton and handicrafts. The Departmental Store Odel, Majestic City, Liberty Plaza and Crescat offer good quality items. Newly established open-air markets overflow with delicious fresh fruits and vegetables. Several star-class hotels adorn the city and provide comfortable lodging to tourists and businessmen alike. A large number of restaurants within the city offer menus with a marvellous variety of local, Asian, and Western foods. Banking services and internet facilities are easily available. One can easily explore Colombo on foot or taking a tuk-tuk (three-wheeler) ride or even public transport. Sight-seeing tours are organized in and out of Colombo to tourist destinations throughout the country.