Experience a bit of the city in a day with YAMU’s Colombo Trails, a part-tuk part-foot tour of the city’s sights, smells and tastes. Our third in the series is the suburbs, spanning Dehiwala, Mount Lavinia, Rajigiriya, Kotte, Nawala and Nugegoda.
Colombo’s suburbs are a ruddy mix of tree-lined lanes and topsy-turvy dirt roads on which ramshackle houses and grandiose mansions coexist peacefully. While not as pleasant to walk around as Cinnamon Gardens, the ‘burbs have their own charm. In these neighbourhoods there is now a sense of casual rejection towards the idea that a trip into the heart of Colombo is a must to have a pleasant time or find something you need. While that might have been the case in the past, many suburban neighbourhoods have come up in their own right and present the perfect opportunity for a change of scene.
This is less a trail and more a recipe for whiling away hours across various locations in the ‘burbs. Mix and match using a tuk-tuk to get from place to place for best results.
A weekday morning at the Dehiwala Zoo is one well spent. While not in the same league as the ones you find in San Diego or Singapore, the Dehiwala Zoo has a lot of animals worth seeing. The only problem is the entrance fee. 2000 rupees for foreign visitors is a large asking price and a better option (at least for the wallet) would be to skip the zoo and spend the morning lazing on the Dehiwala beach. You can duck into Lani’s nearby for lunch or check out Holhu Ashi next door which is one of the few Maldivian restaurants in Sri Lanka. If you stayed long enough to enjoy the sunset, stop by Burger’s Hut for dinner on the way back.
The centrepiece of this locale is the Mount Lavinia Hotel. A gorgeous specimen of colonial architecture that is over 200 years old, this mansion used to house the British governor of Sri Lanka. The poolside terrace at the hotel has a lovely view, but you are better off having drinks by the beach at Buba. The irony, though, is that while Casadi next door has far better food and service, it does not serve alcohol. Mount Lavinia’s beach, however, is generally busier than its counterpart at Dehiwala, but that also means there are a lot more places to unwind at after you see the sun go down. The famous Golden Mile, Lavinia Breeze and Boat House Café are all popular places – and truthfully quite expensive – but dinner by the beach is something worth forking out for once in a while.
Rajagiriya & Kotte
A round of golf usually means a drive up to Kandy or Nuwara Eliya, but for those without the luxury of a long weekend, the ‘burbs are home to some excellent courses as well. The Royal Colombo Golf Club on Model Farm Road has been a mainstay of the golfing scene in Sri Lanka, while the newer Water’s Edge features beautiful spaces such as The Boardwalk. Near Water’s Edge is the lovely walking path of the Diyatha Uyana, where you will also find stalls to buy plants and flowers and a weekly organic food market.
Down the road from Water’s Edge is Sri Lanka’s Parliament, an iconic Geoffrey Bawa design which sits on the waters of the Diyawanna Oya. You can either try out a boat ride on the lake to getter better view of the Parliament building or watch the competitive softball cricket played at Parliament grounds on a weekend afternoon. There are also two war memorials in the vicinity – the National War Heroes monument on the Parliament grounds and a memorial honouring Indian peacekeepers.
Sadly, there are relatively few restaurants in this area, so if you fancy a meal on your way back, the options are somewhat limited. However, you can check out Coco Citrine on Pannipitiya Road which serves Greek cuisine, while Alumka Food Cabin on the same road serves good rice and curry and is definitely a more affordable option. If you are not hungry and simply want a drink, stop at Rama’s Tea House instead.
Kotte also hides a lot of pieces out of Sri Lanka’s ancient history, which Savan has meticulously curated here. As he puts it, “Kotte doesn’t hold an exalted place in the national memory like the much more ancient Anuradhapura. But the complexities of historical judgment aside, searching for remnants of a lost Kingdom in a modern suburb makes for a great day out.”
Nawala & Nugegoda
The ‘burbs may not be an immediate choice for a meal out because of travelling time, but there are a number of places worth checking out if you get tired of the staple in Colombo. In Nawala, Naniyori does decent Japanese fare while Crossroads of Tasty Caterers fame has a menu stretching a few continents. Go to Chopsticks for Lankanised Chinese food or settle down for an evening at Machan to enjoy that unbeatable combination of Hot Butter Cuttlefish washed down with a Lion Lager.
Nugegoda has a little more to offer than just food. The recently opened Urban Wetland Park which robbed the flyover of its place as the prime attraction is a firm favourite with residents. If you are looking for lunch options nearby, Amro Vegetarian Café has good rice and curry. Alternatively, if you head towards Jubilee Post (tell your tuk-tuk driver Jubilee kanuwa) along Stanley Thilakarathne Mawatha, there is Pasta Hut which does decent Italian food and Jade at the kanuwa itself. Jade definitely passes the Hot Butter Cuttlefish test and has solid fried rice and generous portions. They even do dinner set meal packets, which are a rarity.