The Ultimate Colombo Stopover Guide
Colombo, Sri Lanka. Photo: Matt Graham.

The capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo is a cultural delight. It’s also a hub for Oneworld member Sri Lankan Airlines, which offers free transit accommodation in Colombo if you have a long layover.

Whether you’re just in transit or staying for a few nights, this AFF guide will help you to make the most of your Colombo stopover!

How to get from Colombo Airport to the city

By far the easiest way to get from the airport to Colombo is by taxi. There are plenty of taxis available – even if you arrive during the night – and the fares are fixed and inexpensive.

Alternatively, some hotels offer airport transfers for guests. Uber is available in Colombo as well.

Where to stay in Colombo

Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB) is located much closer to the city of Negombo than it is to Colombo. So if your Colombo stopover is just for one or two nights, you may prefer to stay in Negombo.

For affordable accommodation close to the airport, Henry48 recommends Jasmin Villa Ayurveda Resort.

It’s a fair way from the airport into Columbo city (~50 mins) , so we always stay in Negombo (~25 Mins) for transit stops. There are many options there but after a long haul flight wherever you’ve come from, we recommend the Jasmin Villa Ayurvedic Resort. Book in advance, and they’ll send a car for you. The accommodation is spacious, low key, well appointed and very affordable at around A$50/night, but the Ayurvedic treatments are outstanding. The food at Jasmin Villa is also excellent.

Other accommodation recommendations in and around Colombo include:

  • Pledge3 Hotel, Negombo (recommended by RooFlyer and Milboo)
  • Renuka City Hotel, Colombo (recommended by Henry48)
  • Galle Face Hotel, Colombo (recommended by 1963transtasman)
  • Summit View Guest House, Kandy (recommended by 1963transtasman)

What to do in Colombo

Attractions in Colombo include Galle Face Green, Pettah Market, the Dutch Hospital precinct and the colourful Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque. One member recommends a Colombo Walks tour for a good overview of the city.

If you’re feeling hungry, many hotels offer an excellent High Tea. There’s also no shortage of delicious Sri Lankan cuisine at Colombo’s restaurants and many street stalls.

If your Colombo stopover is a bit longer, also consider travelling further afield to the coastal city of Galle or the tea plantations near Kandy.

Sri Lanka's scenic tea country
Sri Lanka’s scenic tea country

Arrival and departure

Colombo Airport has an impressive duty-free section that you will pass through on arrival. Here you can buy just about anything – including a new fridge or television!

Here are some more tips from Milboo for your arrival:

ATM at airport – just before you head into arrivals (where drivers wait etc) there is a line of money exchange places – head to the far left and around the side is 2 ATM.

Otherwise, on arrival there are 2 places that you can queue for arrivals clearance. Don’t necessarily stop at the first one as the one behind (to the left) tends to be quicker.

When departing Colombo Airport, allow plenty of time to get to the airport and check in. Traffic can be heavy during peak periods. There are also several security checkpoints at Colombo Airport to pass through before boarding your plane, and the queues can be long.

For departures – there is a full security clearance to even get in the airport, with X-ray and wanding. And the most intimate of pat downs I’ve ever experienced! Departure queues once checked in can back up and tend to move slowly (around time of the SQ departure). Lounges are relatively basic (SQ access). There is a further security check at the boarding gate too.

The best Colombo airport lounges

There are a few lounges at Colombo Airport. The Sri Lankan Airlines Serendib Lounge is small but well-appointed with showers, buffet food, champagne and even complimentary massages available. But according to 1963transtasman, the best airline lounge at Colombo Airport is the Emirates Lounge.

Free transit accommodation for Sri Lankan Airlines passengers

Sri Lankan Airlines offers free transit accommodation to passengers with a Colombo layover between 8 and 24 hours. This is very handy, for example, if you’re flying with Sri Lankan Airlines between Melbourne and London. Half-day layovers are required in both directions, which could be an inconvenience for some or a welcome opportunity to break up the trip with some rest for others!

Sri Lankan airlines offers an inclusive overnight hotel stay on flight tickets with more than 8 hour break. You need to book it by e-mail ahead of time. On arrival you will be directed to a transfer desk. It will take about an hour or 2 from arrival to hotel bed. You’ll be given meal vouchers and a return transfer. Amazingly, it works.

According to Austman, Sri Lankan normally sends transit passengers to the Ramada Hotel. More details about the Stopover Paid By Carrier (STPC) offer are available on the Sri Lankan Airlines website.

Visa requirements for Sri Lanka

Australians need a visa to enter Sri Lanka. You can easily apply for Electronic Travel Authorization online before you travel, and in some cases it is also possible to apply for a visa on arrival. There is a small charge for tourist visas of up to 30 days, but there is no charge for transit visas if you’re staying up to 2 days in Sri Lanka. Check the Sri Lankan government’s ETA website for the latest information.


Do you have a great Colombo stopover tip to share? See more member recommendations and join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Colombo (CMB) Stopover Tips


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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]