Sri Lanka’s capital is changing, and new Shangri-La Colombo is emblematic of that. It offers comfort, a splash of local culture and an exhaustive array of facilities
When I first started researching Sri Lanka, I was instantly captivated by the jungles, the beaches and the undeniable beauty of the country...that I completely overlooked its capital Colombo. I knew we would be flying in and out of Colombo, but other than that it was off my radar. So after going down the rabbit hole of Pinterest and Instagram, we decided to stay for several days in Colombo before catching our flight out and it was so worth the stop!
The city’s tourist center is wedged between the beach, Beira Lake and the harbor. A good portion of it is made up of a district known simply as ‘Fort’ as this was where Portuguese and Dutch colonizers build their walled base. Next to this is bustling Pettah, while directly south is Galle Face - an area defined by its beachfront boulevard. This was where our hotel was located. At first it feels a little disorienting. There is a lot of construction taking place, and like everywhere else in the city the bustling traffic feels slightly chaotic. Stroll over to the beach and it is soon obvious why this has been chosen as Colombo’s tourist hub, and you start to get an idea of how it might feel in a few years’ time.
Like so many others around here, our hotel, the Shangri-La Colombo was brand new. The Shangri-La Group owns over 100 hotels around the world (the bulk being in Asia), and rather than applying a set formula to each of their properties, they go out of their way to bring local culture to each one. This one had lotus flower motifs dotted around for example, and the walls re decorated with paintings and objects which illustrate the heritage of Sri Lanka. The design when taken as a whole is elegant, and its style is perhaps encapsulated best by the beautiful chandelier in the lobby.
When it comes to the rooms, Shangri-La certainly doesn’t lack choice. There are seventeen different room types, suites and apartment available...so really whatever you need, they’ll have you covered. The one bedroom apartment best matched our needs as we were travelling with Axel and needed to do laundry (hey when you travel as much as we do, laundry is super important). The extra space gave us exactly what we needed and having a kitchen, a washer and a dryer was very helpful. Kids can be messy, and being able to wash baby clothes and blankets without leaving our space was a huge plus.
The apartment was a lovely place to call home, and was very tastefully decorated. During our visit we discovered that you can lease the apartments on a long-term basis. We weren’t staying for an extended period, but if we had been we probably would have ended up doing that as we liked ours so much.
Something that is definitely worth the extra cost, is access to the Horizon Club, and if you stay at Shangri-La we recommend you do it. Club access allows you into enormous lounge located on the rooftop, and includes drinks and snacks all day, quiet spaces to work or socialize, and beautiful views of the city below. Sitting on the Horizon Club rooftop you can see the entire city spread out below while you enjoy the drinks and snacks available at any time of day. Cocktail hour is also a must in the lounge! We would come up before dinner, relax with a cocktail and watch the sun go down over the Indian Ocean.
As with the rooms, dining is another area where this hotel has got things covered. You can sample local food at Kaema Sutra, eat steak from the grill at Capital Bar, go for Chinese at Shang Palace or have a light snack at either the poolside bar or the Sapphyr Lounge. There is also an international buffet named Table One, and of course the Horizon Club does canapes as well. With that much variety, we hardly ate outside the hotel.
Our favorite if you absolutely had to pick was Shang. Focusing on the food of Southern China, they really go the extra mile to make eating there both authentic and an interesting experience. Duck is one of the first things most people think of when it comes to Chinese cuisine, and Shang have installed a specialized oven for cooking the delicious birds. The artistic skill and attention that goes into good Chinese food is unbelievable, and here they make that into part of the experience. They make their dim sum out where guests can watch, and if you order tea it will be served by a specially trained member of staff who pours it according to traditional ritual methods.
Besides eating, there is plenty to keep you occupied within the hotel. There is a beautiful stretch of beach located directly in front of the Shangri-la Colombo which is worth a look, but you might find yourself drawn in by the hotel’s swimming pool instead. It is a beautiful spot and provides a welcome retreat from humidity. We spent many content hours there lounging in the cabanas and attempting to teach Axel how to swim. There is also a spa with gym attached, and a huge complex of conference rooms (Horizon Club members get to use these free for 2 hours a day, which is handy if you need a space to get some work done).
While it can be tempting to stay in at Shangri-La thanks to all the comforts it offers, it is worth getting out. While I suspect that visiting Colombo will be a completely different experience in a decade’s time, it still has plenty of things to see right now thanks to its long history and vibrant culture. The best way to see the city is to do as the locals do and take a tuk-tuk -- It's a great way to dart through the narrow streets, and it saves you from working up a sweat wandering around on foot. Tracking one down and directing its driver to the different attractions can be a little intimidating however, so the hotel makes it easy by offering their own tuk tuk tours, complete with driver/guide.
We stopped at the Gangaramaya temple which offered us a window into local Buddhist culture and was a quirky highlight of our time in Sri Lanka. We wandered around admiring the myriad of statues and paintings, and were also given blessings by the monks there. Next up was Independence Hall – a grand monument celebrating the beginning of home rule in Sri Lanka. Finally we were taken to wander the busy streets of Pettah. This district is where you should go if you want to experience the chaos of South Asia in a safe environment. It is home to large open air markets selling all sorts of interesting things, and is a hive of activity. Nearby is the Red Mosque – one of my favorite stops – with its strikingly decorated façade.
The city of Colombo is quickly becoming a tourist friendly place. Construction is happening everywhere, hotels are popping up, restaurants are booming and there is an energy about the place. It feels like change is coming, and it looks like that change is for the better. If you were wondering whether it was worth carving out some time to stop in Colombo, this hotel will make the decision a lot easier. It has everything you need, and provides a wonderfully peaceful environment to counteract the hectic streets outside.
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