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Unveiling 12 Memorable Sights: Walking Tour of Colombo Fort District

Walking Tour of Colombo Fort District, lemonicks.com nisha , Vasudevan Cargills building Sri Lanka

Join us on this enriching Walking Tour of Colombo Fort District to uncover more than just history. Immerse yourself in the bustling Pettah markets, where vibrant colors and local flavors create a sensory delight. Our in depth guide here will reveal stories of Colombo’s transformation over the centuries, from its colonial past to its modern-day hubbub. Whether you’re drawn to Portuguese, Dutch or British Colonial architecture, or intrigued by local culture, or simply seeking an immersive cultural and travel experience, this tour offers a perfect blend of education and fun. Discover the heart of Colombo with us and create lasting memories of this dynamic city.

A Brief History of the Fort Area of Colombo

Centuries ago, Colombo Fort was a strategic hub for trade, attracting merchants from around the world. The Portuguese were the first to fortify this area in the 16th century, followed by the Dutch and eventually the British. Each colonial power left its mark, from the Colonial architecture of the buildings to the layout of the streets.

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Colombo Fort and Pettah Area to suit all pockets

Pettah, meaning a suburb or a small district, started expanding on the eastern side of the fort , touching the port giving livelihood to its inhabitants and migrant workers. In time Colombo became a center for trade and administration and saw tremendous construction activities which resulted in the some of the most beautiful buildings in these parts.

Now the Pettah Market consists of a maze of open-air bazaars and shops, where wholesale and retail trade thrive and is a melting pot of cultures, with diverse ethnic and religious communities.

As we delve deeper into Colombo’s history, let us do a tour of Fort and Pettah areas and uncover the hidden gems and vibrant history of Colombo.

Exploring Colombo Fort and Pettah Area on Foot

Walking through Colombo Fort and Pettah District, you’ll encounter an eclectic mix of colonial-era buildings interspersed with contemporary skyscrapers. The Old Parliament Building stands as a poignant reminder of British governance, its neo-classical facade a stark contrast to the sleek glass structures nearby. Nearby, the clock tower, erected during the British era, still chimes faithfully, echoing the city’s colonial heritage.

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Walking Tour of Colombo by Klook

So, let us focus on our self-guided walking tour down the memory lane and start our tour with the symbol of democracy, the Old Parliament Building.

Old Parliament Building

The next stop is the Old Parliament Building. As part of this self guided Walking Tour of Colombo Fort District, we suggest that you appreciate the architecture from the outside as you maybe stopped by the security guards. Sometimes they even stop from taking photos. If that happens, just cross over to the other side of the road and take the picture.

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Old Parliament Building and now the President’s Secretariat, Colombo

This spectacular Neo Classical style building, with its grand columns and wide steps, was built in the year 1930 and it was the Legislative Council of Sri Lanka before its independence and after that it graduated to the Parliament Building. This was where all legislative affairs and Governance of Sri Lanka took place. In the year 1982 , a new legislative capital was built about 15 KM from this place and in the middle of a lake, the New Parliament Building was inaugurated. Now it houses the President’s Secretariat and a few government departments.

One look at it and it reminded us of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai Town Hall, which is also in a fort area, of Mumbai. Don’t miss out on this piece of Colombo’s rich heritage!

Colombo Lighthouse at Galbokka Point

When the old Clock Tower-Lighthouse had outlived its utility, a brand new lighthouse was built at Galbokka Point in 1952. The lighthouse itself is just about 15 meters and it is on a 12-Metre high platform, making it a total of 27 Meters. The platform is further embellished by 4 lions at each corner of the platform.

New Lighthouse at Fort, Colombo at Galbokka Point
New Lighthouse at Fort, Colombo at Galbokka Point

Cannons are mounted on the platform which are used for gun-salutes during national events or when top foreign dignitaries visit Sri Lanka. When it was built it was next to the ocean but now, due reclamation and construction of a spanking new Colombo Port City, it is now landlocked!. Maybe lighthouses are vestiges from the past and not much used nowadays.

When I was there, a few weeks back, it had just stopped raining and the gentle sea breeze was quite invigorating. You are allowed to take photographs here, although it is very close to Naval Establishments.

Also Read : You may want to read about Walking Tour of Innsbruck, Austria

Sambodhi Chaithya, Colombo Fort

Sambodhi Chaithya Walking tour of Fort Area and Pettah district colombo
Sambodhi Chaithya, Colombo
By Rehman Abubakr, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45285620

It is also called Sambodhi Pagoda Temple or Buddha Jayanti Chaithya. It is a unique design with two intersecting arches rise from the ground and the pagoda is built on top. The arches themselves are open to traffic! It is quite photogenic and a good place for selfies as long as you are clear of the road.

From a certain angle, it looks like rocket attached to a launch tower ready to lift off!!!

Our next stop is the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, the heart of the country’s financial system. It’s fascinating to see where the nation’s money and finances are managed and its history.

King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe’s Prison Room

Prison Room of the Last Kandyan King Walking tour of Fort Area and Pettah district colombo
Prison Room of the Last Kandyan King , Colombo

The prison room of the last Kandiyan King, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe’s Prison Room, is a small room which you may miss if you walk fast. 🙂 Although it is quite close to Sambodhi Chaithya, you will have to retrace your steps right upto the Old Parliament House, your starting point, as the direct route is full of government offices and owing to security concerns tourists may not be allowed to use this road.

King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, also spelt as Sri Vikrama Rajasinha by the Tamils, was the last King of Kingdom of Kandy. He was a descendant of the Nayak Dynasty of Madurai, India. Kandy is located in a valley surrounded by hills with very few entry/exit points which made it quite secure as the British Army could hardly pierce the Kandiyan Forces.

However, the British were able to gain trust of the Pilimatalauwa, the Adigar (Prime Minister) of Kandy, and worked with him surreptitiously to depose King Wickrama Rajasinghe.

The British brought him to Colombo and placed in a small room, which served as a temporary holding cell, at the intersection of Bank of Ceylon Road and the Queens Street (now called Janadhipathi Road). There are other accounts which say that the King was imprisoned in a building near here and this yellow-red structure was only a guard room. The King, his mother, two queens and probably some of his relatives, were eventually taken to Vellore Fort in South India, located between Chennai and Bengaluru. The King died as a prisoner here.

The small yellow room with a red scaly roof is unmistakable and is presently located in the parking lot of Ceylinco Insurance Building.

Also Read : A walk down memory lane in Zakopane, Poland Krupowki Street

Colombo Old Lighthouse and Clock Tower at Fort

On way to the Old Lighthouse and Clock Tower, you will pass by a huge impressive modern building, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. These guys are responsible for the currency policy, banking rules and regulations and in general anything to do with money, including actually minting money!

The first light house was built in early 19th century on one of the bastions overlooking the ocean. Once decision was taken to remove all of the ramparts and fortifications, the light house had to be moved. In the year 1865 CE, under the Governor Ward’s watch, his wife Lady Elizabeth Ward designed and built the Clock tower with a light house on top.

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Old Clock tower and light house, Fort, Colombo

The Tower is 29M tall. At the top is a glass dome which initially housed oil light and later replaced with an electric light, which could be see, from more than 25 KM away on a clear night.

The clock is said to have been manufactured by the same people who manufactured the Big Ben. In time taller buildings started coming up in the vicinity and the light house had to be moved again and is now called Colombo Galbokka Lighthouse, in a way, redefining old Colombo.

Tourists are not allowed to climb to the top, because of security reasons, as it is near Naval establishments and the President’s house. Once in a while, people are allowed into the precincts of the President’s house, so ask around.

Economic History Museum of Sri Lanka

The Economic History Museum of Colombo, situated in the colonial Central Point building next to the Colombo Old Lighthouse and Clock Tower, is truly an interesting place. The museum offers a deep dive into Sri Lanka’s economic journey. Visitors are greeted with exhibits showcasing old currencies, banking tools, and stories of financial milestones.

Central Point Building Economic History Museum Walking tour of Old Colombo
Museum of Economic history of Sri Lanka, in The Central Point Building, Fort, Colombo. By A.Savin – Own work, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=87209315

The Economic History Museum includes interactive experiences that illustrate the evolution of economic activities in Colombo, providing insights into its historical importance as a trading hub, making it a valuable resource for understanding Sri Lanka’s economic history.

The museum showcases currency from the 3rd century BC, including Anuradhapura (3 BC – 107 AD), Polonnaruwa to Kotte Kingdoms (1017 – 1597 AD), and coins from the Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonial periods. It also features modern-era and commemorative coins and notes, highlighting Sri Lanka’s rich monetary history.

Cargills Building and Other York Street Colonial Buildings

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Cargills Building, Fort, Colombo

The Centre Point Building is just one of the colonial buildings, we saw in Chatham Street, in the previous section. Once we reach the York Street and Duke Street, you will see more such colonial buildings in this historical precincts but each one is different than the other.

Cargills Building: The 100+ years old Cargills Building is a historic landmark that housed and still does in its modern avatar. Cargills (Ceylon), a pioneering British trading company. The unmistakable brick red building was built in the late 19th century, and stands as a testament to the city’s colonial-era architectural heritage. It served as a hub for trading activities, particularly in commodities like tea and spices, which were integral to Sri Lanka’s economy. Today, the Cargills Building is recognized for its distinctive colonial architecture and is often visited for its historical significance in shaping Colombo’s commercial landscape.

Lankem Plantation House: Lankem Plantation House, situated in Sri Lanka, is another historic estate known for its role in the country’s plantation industry. Originally established during the colonial period, the house served as a central administration and residence for managing the plantation’s operations. It stands as an example of British colonial architecture, characterized by its spacious verandas and sprawling grounds. The estate played a crucial role in Sri Lanka’s tea and rubber industries, contributing to the economic development of the region. Today, Lankem Plantation House remains a symbol of the country’s plantation heritage, attracting visitors interested in its historical and architectural value.

The Lankem Plantation House, boasts a striking white and red-brick facade, which is quite unique. Once part of Sir Thomas Lipton’s tea empire, it now houses offices for travel and airline companies.

Plantation house colombo, Walking tour of Fort district and Pettah
Lankem Plantation House, Fort By A.Savin – Own work, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=87208222

Grand Oriental Hotel: The Grand Oriental Hotel is a distinguished colonial-era hotel overlooking the city’s historic harbor. Originally an army barracks, it was rebuilt in the mid-19th century into a hotel. Since then GOH has played a significant role in Colombo’s social and commercial life. Originally known as the “Hotel Taprobane,” it was frequented by early traders and colonial administrators. The pure white Grand Oriental Hotel offers a blend of Victorian charm and modern amenities, catering to travelers seeking a taste of the city’s rich heritage. With its panoramic views of the bustling harbor and elegant interiors adorned with period furnishings, the hotel continues to attract guests looking to experience Colombo’s maritime history and colonial ambiance.

Gafoor Building: The Gafoor Building, is a significant landmark with a rich historical background. Constructed in 1915, it stands as a testament to the city’s commercial heritage. Originally commissioned by the Gafoor family, prominent jewelers, the building served as a hub for trade and commerce. Its architecture blends colonial and local influences, featuring intricate detailing and spacious interiors typical of its time.

The building looks like a squat, potbellied cousin of Fifth Avenue Flatiron Building, NYC. 🙂

Next in line is just a red facade of Walker Sons and Company, the company which many of the buildings in this historical area including the clocktower – lighthouse!

gafoor building colombo @www.lemonicks.com Colombo Walking tour of Fort region
Gafoor Building, Fort, Colombo

Pettah Market

Pettah is the name given to the area just outside the Eastern Wall of the Fort. There are many explanations for the origin of this name, but I prefer this one. Pettai in Tamil means a suburb. This is where everyone except those who were allowed to live inside the fort , were living and plying their business.

Pettah Market in Colombo is a vibrant hub of activity and a must-visit for any traveler. Pettah market is a generic name given to the local market which made up of myriad roads and lanes full of shops, where you can buy a needle to an airplane (hahaha not really). If you plan to buy anything, put on your Asian hat and start negotiating the prices!

If not for shopping just wandering through the streets of Pettah, visitors can experience the rich culture and daily life of Colombo. Each alley has its own specialty, making it a fascinating place to explore. On one side of Pettah, is a fruits and vegetables market called Manning Market.

Pettah is perfect for those looking to soak in the local vibes.

Khan Clock Tower

Khan clock tower colombo @www.lemonicks.com Walking tour of Fort and pettah area
Khan Clock Tower, Pettah, Colombo

The iconic Khan Clock Tower in Pettah is not as old as the Fort Clock tower but still it is an important landmark.

When you are in Pettah, you cannot miss Khan Clock Tower.In fact this clocktower roundabout is the gateway to the “Pettah Market”.

More Indian connections. The Khan Clocktower was built by a Bombay based Parsi family, who had businesses both in Sri Lanka and India. This is now maintained by Wimaladharma brothers who are one of the most famous clock and watch companies of Sri Lanka. They call themselves “The time keepers to the nation!”.

Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque

Jami Ul Alfar Mosque colombo, Red mosque Walking tour of Fort district and Pettah
Jami Ul Alfar Mosque, also called the red mosque, Pettah, Colombo By A.Savin – Own work, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=87209009

The Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque, also known as the Red Mosque, is a must-visit in Colombo. This stunning mosque, with its striking red and white striped exterior, showcases unique historical architecture. Built in 1909, it stands out as one of the city’s most iconic landmarks.

Visitors are mesmerized by its vibrant colors. Located in the bustling Pettah market area, the mosque is easily accessible. It’s a perfect stop for anyone interested in exploring Colombo’s rich cultural and architectural heritage. Don’t miss this captivating piece of history on your city tour. It is as beautiful inside as it is outside.

Old Colombo Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct

dutch hospital colombo @www.lemonicks.com Walking tour of Fort Area and Pettah district colombo
Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct, Fort, Colombo

Sometime in 17th century, when Colombo was under Dutch occupation, probably later half of the century, a hospital was built here, close to the harbour, perhaps to treat the officers of the Dutch East India Company! Except for the fact that there is an account of it in an essay by a German who was in the employ of the Dutch, nothing more is known about exactly when it was built. At that time, this was the biggest hospital in the island of Sri Lanka.

It is not know when they stopped using it. The current building, as per a plaque here, has not undergone much change in the last 2 centuries! This fact is also corroborated by a painting of Colombo Dutch Hospital in Leiden Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies Museum, which apparently looks as it does now. This building was briefly used as a Police Station.

Since 2011, the hospital and the police station is no more and has transformed into a lively shopping place, especially at nights, with a lot of Cafes, Restaurants, Shops, Spas, and live music too! Of course, there is hardly any activity in the day time!!!

t-Lounge by Dilmah

The t-Lounge by Dilmah is a must-visit spot in Colombo for tea lovers. Ensconced in a building with charming historical architecture, it offers a serene escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. Visitors can indulge in a variety of Dilmah teas, each brewed to perfection and the perfect place to end our walking tour.

The ambiance is warm, cozy and inviting, making it a perfect place to relax and enjoy a cup of premium tea. Located in the heart of Colombo, it’s easy to include in any city tour. Don’t miss this delightful tea and cakes experience, where history and flavor blend seamlessly.

Thank you!

Also Read : You may want to read all about our Mumbai Heritage Walk

More things to do near the Fort area of Colombo

There are a lot more places to see and things to do around Colombo’s Fort and Pettah historical area within a distance 2 Km but they are not necessarily walking distance.

There are various options to explore these sights like booking a bus tour or hiring a car. However we suggest taking a Tuk-Tuk Safari, if you feel a bit adventurous for that extra bit of fun!

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Tuk-Tuk Tour by Get Your Guide

These are a few more attractions that are quite interesting which may be visited after negotiating with the tuk-tuk guy. Floating Market Pettah, Old Town Hall, Sri Muthumariamman Hindu Temple, Christian Reformed Church of Sri Lanka, Colombo Dutch Museum, Beira Lake, Old Post Office, Galle Face Green Waterfront, Lotus Tower et al.

Useful Information about Colombo Walking Tour

Tips about Walking Tour of Colombo’s Historical Sites

  • Duration – You should keep around 2 to 3 hours for this walking tour.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. If you are planning to enter religious places then please dress appropriately.
  • Keep hydrated, keep a bottle of water handy.
  • Difficulty level – Easy
  • Sunday is not a good idea as it can be very crowded.
  • Markets, shops and businesses are generally closed on Vesak Poya day, or for that matter any other Poya day. In fact on some of the main streets, you may see children playing cricket! It is best to ask around or the hotel people about the same.
  • Photography – Generally there are no restrictions on photography. However, it is looked down upon when people take photos with the Image of Buddha in the background.

Tours

This self guided walking tour can be done on your own. However if you feel that you may not have much time and would like to combine Colombo City Tour with the historical attractions, then there are several tour companies who can help you. We have given a couple of them below.

Top Indian Couple Blog by Nisha Jha and Vasudevan R - Unveiling 12 Memorable Sights: Walking Tour of Colombo Fort District

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Walking Tour of Colombo by Klook

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Tuk-Tuk Tour by Get Your Guide

Accommodation – Where to stay in Colombo, Sri Lanka

The erstwhile capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo offers a mind boggling choices of accommodations. We have been there twice and stayed at the Hilton and Taj Samudra. Both of them are well located and provide immense comfort and service. Having said that there are many hotels, guest houses and bed-n-breakfasts which are equally pleasant.

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Colombo Fort and Pettah Area to suit all pockets

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) about Colombo Walking Tour

What languages are the guided tours of Colombo Fort District available in?

Guided tours of Colombo Fort District are commonly available in English, as well as in other languages depending on the tour operator and guide availability. Some operators may offer tours in languages such as Sinhala, Tamil, or major international languages to cater to diverse visitor preferences. I have personally seen a guide speaking fluently in French!

Can I take photographs during the Walking Tour of Colombo Fort Area?

Yes, visitors are allowed to take photographs during the Walking Tour of Colombo Fort District. Capturing images of the historic architecture, bustling streets, and scenic views is encouraged, but it’s advisable to respect any restrictions at specific sites or attractions.
However if you are inside any religious place or the Government building, it is best to ask.

What is the Colombo Fort District known for?

The Colombo Fort District is renowned for its rich historical significance as the center of colonial administration in Sri Lanka. It houses many architectural remnants from the Dutch and British colonial periods, making it a treasure trove for history enthusiasts.
And, of course, you may partake in their rich culinary delights and shopping too.

Are guided tours available for exploring Colombo Fort Area?

Yes, guided tours are available for exploring Fort District Colombo. Knowledgeable guides provide historical context and share fascinating stories about the landmarks, enhancing your understanding and appreciation of the area’s cultural heritage. Please check Useful Information section above. Please click to book a Walking Tour of Colombo by Klook

How long does a typical Walking Tour of Colombo Fort District last?

A typical Walking Tour of Colombo Fort region lasts approximately 2 to 3 hours. This duration allows visitors to explore key attractions at a leisurely pace while learning about the historical and architectural significance of each site.

Is the Walking Tour of Colombo Fort Regionsuitable for children?

The Walking Tour of Colombo Fort Area is generally suitable for children who are interested in history and architecture. However, younger children may find the tour’s duration and historical content less engaging compared to older participants. Also it involves a lot of walking which may not be particularly suitable for children.

What should I wear on a Walking Tour of Colombo Fort District?

It is recommended to wear comfortable walking shoes and lightweight clothing during the Walking Tour of Colombo Fort District, especially in warm weather. Bringing sunscreen and a hat is also advisable to protect against the sun while exploring outdoor sites.
Please check Tips section above .

Is Fort District and Pettah, Colombo, good for shopping

Yes, Fort District and Pettah in Colombo are excellent for shopping. The Fort District offers a mix of modern shopping centers and high-end stores, perfect for finding international brands and luxury items. Pettah, on the other hand, is known for its bustling markets and vibrant street vendors, where you can buy a wide variety of goods, from textiles and electronics to fresh produce and spices. The lively atmosphere and the opportunity to experience local culture make both areas popular shopping destinations in Colombo.

Are there refreshment stops or places to rest, available during the Walking Tour of Colombo Fort Area?

Yes, there are several cafes and restaurants located within and near Colombo Fort Area where participants can take refreshment breaks. These stops provide opportunities to relax, enjoy local cuisine, and soak in the atmosphere of the historic surroundings.
There are tea lounges scattered around and Dutch Hospital Shopping precinct is a great place for food, however most shops do not open during the day.

How do I book a Walking Tour of Colombo Fort District?

To book a Walking Tour of Colombo Fort Region, you can contact local tour operators, travel agencies, or check online platforms that specialize in cultural and historical tours of Sri Lanka. It’s recommended to book in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons.
You may also book via this link Walking Tour of Colombo by Klook.

Do I require Visa to visit Sri Lanka?

Yes, most visitors to Sri Lanka require a visa. You can obtain a visa online through the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system, which is the most convenient method. The process is straightforward, and you can apply for a tourist, business, or transit visa. Some nationalities are eligible for visa-free entry or can obtain a visa on arrival. It’s best to check the latest requirements based on your nationality before planning your trip.
Please note that Sri Lanka has a special policy for the citizens of India, China, Russia, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. That is, they will be allowed to stay for 30 days visa-free.
All you need is to show up at the immigration with your passport! Yes, as simple as that. This info is as on 1-July-2024.

Photograph Copyright

All photographs used in this article belong to the owners of this website www.lemonicks.com unless otherwise specified. Copying or using them without explicit permission is prohibited and will amount to copyright infringement.

P.S.- This article, Walking Tour of Colombo Fort Area belongs to Le Monde, the Poetic Travels, one of the top Indian Travel Blogs, published by the traveling couple bloggers, Nisha & Vasudevan. Reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited. If you are viewing this on another website other than the RSS feed reader or www.lemonicks.com itself, then that website is guilty of stealing our content. Kindly do us a favour by letting us know via Contact Us. Thank you

Vasudevan R

Vasudevan R, co-creator of **Lemonicks.com**, is a trailblazer in the Indian travel blogging community. Alongside Nisha Jha, he has traversed over 45 countries, sharing their journey with a blend of passion and perseverance., including trekking to Everest base camp at 56. From solo adventures at a young age to volunteering in distant lands, Vasu's narrative is rich with experiences that transcend mere sightseeing. **Lemonicks.com** stands as their award-winning platform, chronicling this duo's adventures and insights. It's more than a blog; it's a repository of memories, tips, and heartfelt stories that resonate with an engaged audience of fellow travelers. Updated regularly with fresh content and guest posts, Lemonicks.com invites readers to navigate through a world of travel experiences, encouraging interaction and community building among those who cherish the journey as much as the destination.View Author posts

9 thoughts on “Unveiling 12 Memorable Sights: Walking Tour of Colombo Fort District”

  1. Walking tours are always my favorite – we can see and experience so much more. Looks like this was quite the adventure! Thank you for sharing Colombo with us.

  2. oh wow! The history, the culture, this is breathtaking. I’ve never been to colombo and had no idea it is that beautiful…The fort district is stunning.

  3. Wow sounds like my kind of place to visit. So much history and lots of adventure, I would love to see some of their museums. I’m loving your images!

  4. We came to Sri Lanka last August and spent a day exploring Galle on foot. Your photos reminded me of Galle. Unfortunately we didn’t spend much time in Colombo as we were on an organised itinerary – regret not factoring a stop in now. Next time!

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