15 hours in Colombo

Our journey out of Asia had us stopping in Sri Lanka for a 15-hour layover en route to Italy. That’s an incredibly long time to be in any airport. A transit visa (maximum of 2 days) is free and can be obtained online, so we decided we would escape the airport and check out Colombo.

Colombo sights

There are multiple methods available to get from the airport to the city. In doing some research, they discouraged taking the train due to an irregular schedule. The idea of an hour-long ride, or more, in a non-air-conditioned bus in tropical heat did not appeal to me, so we arranged for a taxi at one of the multiple desks in the arrivals area. These were the most annoying touts we encountered in Sri Lanka. We went to the center of town, and the charge was 2900 LKR (about $22 USD) for an air-conditioned taxi (you’ll be asked if you want AC or not).

If you aren’t used to rather . . . interesting driving, I highly recommend not sitting in the front seat. I’m used to highly erratic driving, and I was still clenching my butt muscles several times as we narrowly missed accidents several times.

This area of Sri Lanka can be easily described as “India Light.” The roads are extremely congested, and it will take at least an hour to arrive in the city.

There are a few different sights to see in Colombo; however, after hearing from others how much foreigners are overcharged we decided to forego those and just explore the area on foot.

The people were quite friendly, and it wasn’t too difficult to communicate. Most of the shops had employees who spoke enough English to make it work, and of course pantomiming can be quite helpful.

We encountered some great street food, and we stopped at a gelato place to escape the heat and take advantage of the WiFi while we cooled down.

Colombo street food

After doing some online investigation, I discovered the train does actually have a regular schedule, and it’s quicker than taking a bus or taxi, as well as being a LOT cheaper (360 LKR or about $2.75 USD). We decided to take the train back to the town where the airport is located. The train stop is located about 2 km from the airport, so you can either walk, grab a tuk-tuk (or 3-wheeled taxi), or flag a taxi.

Colombo really isn’t a place I would bother with unless you were in a similar situation. Sri Lanka has some really beautiful areas that would be much more worth your time if you’re planning on spending more time there.


  • The train is faster and much cheaper than taking a taxi. You can check the schedule online. The airport is located in Katunayake, and you’ll want to travel to Colombo Fort.
  • If you decide to get a taxi at the airport, make sure you shop around at the different desks. They’re competitive enough you’ll get a better deal this way.
  • Getting an airport transfer from the hotel will usually cost you more than arranging your own taxi.
  • If taking the train from Colombo Fort, get your ticket from window #10. It’s a 3rd-class train, so there are no assigned seats.
  • When flying out of Colombo’s airport, know that you won’t be able to bring water to the gate. Also, plan on extra time as you will have to go through a security check again, and they very closely inspect documents for each passenger. The process takes quite a while. Make sure to go to the bathroom before you enter the gate, too, or you get to repeat the process.
  • The city is fairly easy to get around on foot, but the tuk tuks are very reasonable. Make sure to grab one with a meter so you don’t have to deal with negotiations, etc. The average fee is 0.33 LKR per kilometer (less than a penny),
  • If you’d like an alternative, head to Negombo instead. They don’t have much other than beaches, but it might be more enjoyable to chill at the beach than go around the city.
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  1. I’m glad to hear that there is a train into the city from the airport—what an expensive taxi ride that was for this part of the world!

    We really want to visit Sri Lanka before we leave Asia, but it sounds like the countries charms lie well outside of its capital. We had a similar experience in the Philippines & Indonesia, only spending one night in their capital cities before heading elsewhere and that worked well enough for us!

    What is that amazing plate of food you picked up? Looks delicious!

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    • They’re supposedly working on a high speed train that would be express between the airport itself and Colombo, which would be great! The taxi took over an hour to get there, so the fare was reasonable. But when you take the train for 1/11th of the price AND get there faster. . .

      Definitely seems that Sri Lanka is better experienced away from its capital. Just like with many countries.

      The plate was a mix of things. Chicken, Biryani rice, daal, and I think a type of curry.

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  2. Before reading about your experience, I had envisioned Sri Lanka as an exotic equatorial island paradise. Now you have burst my bubble. 🙂 I’ll be going to Colombo for a couple of nights in March. It sounds like maybe I’ll be bored when I’m not singing karaoke there. Maybe I’ll take a day-trip to Negombo? At least I know I can look forward to good street food.

    Thank you for the tips on ground transportation — this will be very helpful.

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    • Sri Lanka itself is quite beautiful, but Colombo is just another large city. Yes, the food definitely was not a letdown. And there are many attractive Sri Lankans for eye candy, too. 😉

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