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The striking city of Colombo is marked by towering high-rises and lush green spaces, a city of diverse ancient heritage and natural wonders. Sri Lanka’s cultural and commercial capital has seen the influx of new cultural ideas many times over the centuries, having been subject to interest and occupation by Portuguese, Dutch and British trade powers. Modern-day Colombo is a hugely popular destination for tourism in Sri Lanka, and offers its visitors a high concentration of sights and experiences taken from all over the island.
Columbo offers all manner of attractions to visitors, including the striking red and white stripes of the Jami Ul Alfar mosque and the whitewashed, neoclassical architecture of mansions and state buildings from the city’s British era. But there’s also a great choice of attractions that highlight Colombo’s original cultural identity, as well as its remarkable wildlife.
Seema Malaka Buddhist temple
A world away from the cityscape around it is the Seema Malaka temple on Beira Lake, a place of serene beauty with a modest white pagoda. Here statues of the sitting Buddha line the terraces, and a single reclining Buddha lies in a golden robe on the wooden pier out in the water. This isn’t a place for hurried sightseeing – more a retreat from the noise of the world, where you’d find it hard not to feel a deep and lasting sense of peace.
For a closer look at Sri Lanka’s Hindu past, you couldn’t do much better than a trip to see this towering, technicolour temple to Lord Shiva and Ganesha – known simply as ‘the Hindu Temple’, or Sri Kailawasanathar Swami Devasthanam Kovil to give it its full name. The walls of the temple’s square tower are wildly decorated with statues of deities, picked out in pinks and blues; and as the oldest and largest Hindu temple in the city is a very popular place of worship. Once inside, you’ll find a peaceful sanctuary filled with the smell of incense – another perfect spot to relax and think about this city’s rich and varied cultural heritage.
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Out of the city and away from its many religious sites, there are several attractions for those with a love of nature. Perhaps the foremost of these sights is the elephant orphanage at Pinnawala and some cruises may give you the option to visit here on a shore excursion. People flock here to see the elephants bathe in the river, and you might well see baby elephants walking in line with the adults down to the water. These are rescued elephants, however, and many have come from sad backgrounds to be cared for here – so visitors should expect just to see the elephants enjoying themselves and being given a better quality of life, rather than being able to interact with them.
Colombo offers visitors quite a selection of jewellers, with rubies and sapphires being the main precious stones to be found in this part of the world. Sri Lanka is also renowned for its cinnamon production, and you’re bound to come across this spice wherever you shop in the city.
As Sri Lanka’s cultural hub you’ll find yourself spoiled for choice in Colombo when it comes to fine dining options. Be sure to try the local crab dishes, or relax in a cafe with a refreshing milkshake. Try a taste of British influence at a continental restaurant, or take a seat in one of the city’s choice of Indian, Japanese or Italian eateries.
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