Colombo Urban Trekking

Colombo Urban Trekking

As I first stepped onto the streets of Sri Lanka’s capital city, Colombo, I was struck by how busy it was.

There seemed to be an endless stream of tuk-tuks, buses, and motorcycles zooming past at alarming rates. Buses never seemed to stop long enough for everyone to get on and off, resulting in many locals entering and exiting them while they were moving. I wasn’t able to walk a few minutes without a tuk-tuk driver stopping to see if I needed a ride, or having one of the friendly locals ask where I was from, where I was going, and to offer some advice. But once I got accustomed to the hustle and bustle, I found it an interesting and exciting place to explore. Exploring on foot, was the best way to gain insight into the everyday lives of the local people.

Walking around the historic Fort District, I encountered Colombo’s main tourist attractions, Galle Face Beach, Colombo Lighthouse, and the Dutch Hospital Shopping District.

The real attraction for me, in this area, were the old colonial buildings, leftover from many years of Dutch and British rule. Most of these buildings are still in good condition, and I felt like I was being transported back in time. I also explored many of this area’s gritty side-streets, tightly packed with pedestrians, vehicles, animals and street-vendors, selling everything from fresh fruit, to jewelry, to household wares. The side-streets also contain some notable religious sites, such as the beautiful red and white Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque.

After exploring the Fort District, I started to make my way down some lovely tree-lined streets, towards the newer, more modern downtown area. My destination: Gangaramaya Temple.

Along the way, I unexpectedly stumbled on a local cricket match, not far from the University of Colombo. I decided to take a few minutes to watch, while munching on some pineapple sprinkled with a chilli mixture; this delicious combination is a common Sri Lankan snack, sold by many street-vendors.

After enjoying some cricket, I continued on my way, until I came across Viharamahadevi Park; a charming and expansive place where many locals were enjoying some shade out of the harsh afternoon sun. A large golden buddha statue is situated at one end of the park, facing the front of Colombo’s colonial-era Town Hall. A guard is stationed near the statue, making sure any visitors posing with it, are taking photos facing it, as a sign of respect.

Gangaramaya Temple, only a few minute’s walk from Viharamahadevi park, is one of the most popular attractions in Colombo. Although I did enjoy the vibrant colours of the main worship hall, I enjoyed Gangaramaya’s sister temple, Seema Malak, much more.

Seema Malak is a very peaceful, calm, quiet place, and a nice reprieve from the sometimes chaotic streets of Colombo. This serene religious site, with its placement on Beira Lake, overlooked by the gleaming high-rises of modern Colombo, was the perfect place to end a day of urban trekking in this busy and vibrant city. 

Written by Erin Kelsey; Photos © Erin Kelsey.

See more of Erin Kelsey’s travels on her Instagram page.

Explore the streets of Colombo like Erin while feasting on traditional Sri Lankan food. With Locals offers a private street food tour of Colombo with 10 tastings, led by a true local who can answer all the questions you have about the city (and food!).