Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel for travelers. Yes, Europe will have to wait, but our next door neighbors Sri Lanka is a great option if you’re in the mood for a vacation soon. Sun, sea, sand, culture, great food with a flair in style – Colombo, Sri Lanka may just be the perfect option for making your way through pre-pandemic life.
Now fully vaccinated Indian travelers are allowed to travel to Sri Lanka without the mandatory 14-day quarantine. You will be tested on arrival and your second injection should be taken at least 14 days before you leave for the country.
So we decided to put together a fun and effortless 24 hour route to Colombo, the capital, to start your vacation with just the right amount of daring. With travel influencer and Sri Lanka expert Riaan george helping us with introductions and leading us to the best places to visit with his Sri Lanka based idea #LoveColombo.
Where to stay
Mövenpick Colombo Hotel is perhaps the best place to set the tone if you are looking for stunning sea views with floor to ceiling windows that catch the morning light and prepare you for a stunning sunset in the evening. Ask for the suites! They have a tub in the bedroom, which means Insta-worthy selfies. Armed with a rooftop bar and infinity pool, this is the best place to park your #Travel Goals in Colombo. The Accor Hotel was Colombo’s first five-star hotel in 25 years, which means you can try anything there. From spectacular food to beautiful sunsets.
Where to eat
The rooftop bar, Views, on the 24th floor of the Mövenpick Hotel Colombo has two perks: live music and Sri Lankan cocktails like the signature achcharu cocktail (a mixture of raw mango infused with salt), Ambarella (pineapple, black pepper and chili flakes included ) and the Pol Gal Pol Cocktail made from arak.
The Robata grill in the same hotel gave us the best flavors of Asia – each dish inspired by Japanese, Indonesian and Chinese, Malaysian, Thai, Korean and Singaporean dishes. We spent an afternoon with TV Personality Danu Innasithamby who regaled us with tales of the land and his own amazing experiences with a side of Hokkaido scallops flambéed with teppanyaki, a clear crayfish soup, a sliced duck marinated in five spices, grilled shrimp, rice to the garlic, sautéed vegetables and more.
Ayu, Mövenpick’s popular restaurant, is the perfect place for a typical Sri Lankan breakfast. Ask for the spicy sambals (Sri Lankan chutneys). Choose the famous Pol sambal which contains coconut, spices, dried peppers and onions and pair it with rice, string hoppers, egg hoppers and parottas to make a great happy meal. And don’t forget to end the meal with the humble molasses yogurt.
Loved by digital nomads, Black Cat Coffee is all about an effortless menu of burgers and convenient dishes with interesting coffee options. One look at the buttermilk pancakes served with applesauce and crispy kithul bacon, and you’re sold! In addition, the cafe also has some great shopping finds prepared for you. Stop for delicious sandwiches, espresso-based coffees, healthy drinks, and fresh breads. If you like its coffee a bit too much like we do, you can also choose to stay there. The first floor of the Colonial House is perfect for those looking for a quiet Airbnb filled with vibrant art and cheerful streets. PS Get some Black Cat Merch, bags and t-shirts if you want to keep the amazing memories you make there.
We have three words for you: Garlic Chili Crab. Other amazing choices include Pepper Crab and the ever popular Baked Crab. The Ministry of the Crab is a hop, skip and jump away from where we stayed, and this is a must see in Colombo as it is listed as one of Asia’s Top 50 Restaurants in 2021. Fresh Seafood, zero compromises, and there is a no freezer policy at the restaurant, so everything is fresh and cooked to perfection.
Carnival ice cream shop is one of the oldest and most picturesque ice cream parlors in Colombo and has been a family favorite since 1983. Sit amid the buzz, get your hands on ice cream with unique flavors like durian, butterscotch , biscotto and cookies, and more. We were also looking at the sundaes stacked with tons of dried fruit pieces and the colorful milkshakes.
French coffee at Park Street Mews, this is the place to go if you are looking for the best cocktails with a side of delicious entrees. Either way, Park Street Mews is where you let go of your hair, party, and drink dangerous cocktails. Meet the fun chef, Bertrand Dubois, who kept us entertained with dancing and lots of banging. Opt for its gourmet burgers and French snails, but stick with the midnight dance and stellar wine list.
Where to visit
With 24 hours at your disposal, it’s easy to miss the essentials. So stick to the priority list of sights that give you a glimpse of the city – walk to the Old Dutch Hospital Complex. There is live music and amazing crowds at night. The Gangaramaya temple was a wanderer’s delight with history and beautiful art accompanied by a calming feeling. A historical monument not to be missed is the Independence Memorial, also known as Independence Square.
Where to shop
Hanged: Away from the usual tourist rates and the hub of the best local designers and labels is Pendi from Colombo. Managed and owned by Natalie Pendigrast, the space is a hit with all buyers. Everything from botanical prints to handmade soaps to household items is created with love and care. Pendi’s strength lies in promoting local designers and curating stunning collections. Tailor-made and unique – Pendi keeps you up to date with all local rates. It was our favorite lifestyle store. We even had an amazing evening with great local artists and designers to understand their philosophy and love for creativity.
Bouddhi Batiks by Darshi Keerthisena: You can’t leave Colombo without taking a piece of her heart, and you should know that Darshi Keerthisena, a local designer who works with batiks, brings art to life through her label. The old-fashioned batik artwork now resides in her quirky designed outfits, sarees and scarves. Darshi also showcased her work when she met Queen Elizabeth II. Well, it is a well known fact that Darshi batiks are the first choice among Sri Lankan brides.
LOVI Sarongs: On our first night in town, we received these gift bags with a very interesting welcome gift from LOVI, a brand known for its sarongs for men and women. A traditional wrap skirt that comes in chic designs and pockets, both traditional and modern. A great gift to bring home, these handmade wonders come in stunning colors and are easy to drape. Founder Asanka de Mel talks about merging authenticity with style, and that’s why they’re such a popular keepsake to take home.
The design collective: A well-known multi-brand fashion store owned by two friends, Binu Wickramasinghe and Shahili Gomes, is the first place to go if you want to see what local fashion designers have to offer. It features a mix of stunning casual outfits, cocktail dresses and jewelry, as well as a few knickknacks. Imperial College Business School graduate Shahili manages to find all the cool designers on the planet, makes sure the store supports local and Asian brands, and stays on top of trends. Binu, meanwhile, has worked in fashion from Delhi to London and brought her design expertise through the labels she displays in the store. Together, they bring a good price to their multi-brand concept store and create a showcase for young, less well-known brands.
Any other amazing choices to take home?
Basilur is Sri Lanka’s most popular premium tea brand and is available in most stores. Choose white tea or green tea.
Spa Ceylon, a Sri Lankan beauty brand known for its heavy use of local ingredients and healthy approach to beauty. If you are a beauty lover, choose their Ceylon Grapefruit & Rice Lip Balm or Ceylan Coffee & Cocoa Balm.
How to get around
Ditch Uber and opt for Tuk-tuk Safari. A tour on the coolest tuk-tuks with officially dressed drivers and a cooler full of coconut water, colas and Lion beer is how the gods intended us to enjoy Colombo. They are equipped with sunroofs and WIFI.
All images: courtesy marks; hero image: courtesy of Shutterstock