After leaving the port where your cruise ship awaits your return, Fort district
lies at the heart of old Colombo,
occupying (as its name suggests) the site of the now-vanished Portuguese defences. Under the British, Fort developed into the centrepiece of the colonial capital,
adorned with handsome Neoclassical buildings
and boasting all the necessities of expatriate life in the tropics, right down to the inevitable clock tower and statue of Queen Victoria. East of Fort, the helter-skelter bazaar district
of the Pettah
is Colombo’s most absorbing area, and feels quite unlike anywhere else in Sri Lanka
MSC Grand Voyages cruises
also offer excursions to Colombo’s great shrines. Ten kilometres east of Fort lies Colombo’s most important Buddhist shrine
, the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara – the Buddha himself is said to have taught at this spot on the last of his three visits to the island.
Various temples have stood on the site; the present structure dates from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Made from unusual dark orange-coloured stone, the exterior is richly decorated, with ornate doorways and pillars, plus entertaining friezes of galloping elephants and pop-eyed dwarfs around the base.
Some 100km south of Colombo, a good idea for another nature-inspired MSC excursion
is to visit the village of Balapitiya
and the Madu Ganga Lake
. Balapitiya is the starting point for interesting boat safaris along the Madu Ganga
, and a good place to spot water monitors and a wide array of birdlife, including myriad colourful kingfishers. No fewer than 64 islands
dot this stretch of river.