By Jo Caird
As Sri Lanka’s commercial capital recovers from decades of civil war that ended in 2009, rising investment makes this eclectic metropolis increasingly attractive.
A changing skyline
Colombo is changing fast, thanks to infrastructure projects, funded largely by Chinese investment. Luxury high-rise hotels and apartments are popping up along Galle Face Green, the city’s seaside promenade, and Port City Colombo, a massive land reclamation scheme inspired by Dubai, will expand the central business district and eventually dwarf the historic Fort neighbourhood.
Meanwhile Sri Lanka’s government is courting more and more diverse foreign investment to grow its export base, currently dominated by tea and textiles. The Asian Development Bank predicts 4.5 per cent growth in gross domestic product in 2019 and says the Indian Ocean nation could become an “upper middle-income country” in the next “few years”.
A convenient location
Sri Lanka’s location has attracted international business since the days of the ancient maritime silk route, when ships laden with Chinese and Roman goods stopped at the island’s busy ports. Today, business people can take advantage of frequent direct flights between Colombo and Dubai (five hours), London (11 hours) and Beijing (seven hours). The airport lies 33km from the city centre.
Sri Lanka’s status as a trading stop led to it being colonised by Europeans, starting with Portugal in the 16th century. Barely any evidence of Portuguese occupation remains in Colombo, though examples of later Dutch and British architecture abound, from the 17th-century Old Dutch Hospital — now an upmarket shopping and dining precinct — to the red-fronted Cargills department store, built in 1906.
The city has several highly regarded international schools. Elizabeth Moir School and Colombo International School follow the UK curriculum and have high teacher to student ratios. The International Schools of Sri Lanka membership body is a good starting point for parents looking for places for their children.
Colombo has a warm climate all year round and is close to seemingly endless stretches of beautiful sand on the west and south coasts. A couple of hours’ drive on the Southern Expressway will take you to the boutique hotels of Bentota and top surfing spots such as Unawatuna.
Photographs: Getty Images/iStockphoto; Alamy; Dreamstime
This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that Colombo is not Sri Lanka’s capital. It is its commercial capital.