Paradise Calling

Located on the west coast of Sri Lanka, the cosmopolitan city of Colombo is the largest city of the island and is known as its commercial capital. It’s often described as a ‘sum of its contrasting parts’, an island of contradictions. It’s a place where history meets modern living; where urban slums, and diesel fumed roads and street markets meet designer shopping malls. While Sri Lanka may have been overlooked on the traveller’s map in the past, in favour of perhaps more exotic destinations like India, Thailand and Vietnam, it’s certainly come into its own over the years and has become a popular destination for travellers. And rightly so.

For athletes who love to race in exotic destinations, Colombo will host Ironman 70.3 Colombo on February 25, 2018. With a fast, flat course, this is set to be the perfect race for athletes who thrive in warm, tropical environments, and who are hoping to qualify for the 2018 Ironman 70.3 World Championship.     

The weather

The average temperature in Colombo in February is said to be around 27°C (23°C – 31°C). February falls right between the two rainy seasons, so expect warm, but not too hot temperatures with low rainfall. Although, speaking to Sri Lankan local, Tisara Samarasuriya expect that “it’ll be humid so prepare to sweat.”

Getting there

The only way to get to Colombo, Sri Lanka from Australia is to fly –  you can get there from most major Australian cities. Check out www.skyscanner.com.au or www.cheapflights.com.au for hot deals!

Next up – getting from the airport to Colombo and your accommodation. The international airport that services Colombo, Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB), is about 32km north of the city. It is said that it can take up to 90minutes to get from the airport to Colombo, depending on the traffic, so you may want to factor that into your planning. An airport shuttle runs every 15 minutes from the airport to a nearby bus station, from where you will have to use public transport, which will connect you to Colombo. While this might be a cheaper option, it may be a logistical nightmare if you’re trying to juggle multiple bags and a bike bag. So, it might be better to opt for a taxi instead.   

Getting around Colombo

Once you’ve arrived at your destination, to get around the city or to get to and from the race venue, you have some options. One of the most popular and convenient ways to get around Colombo is in a tuk-tuk (a three-wheeled vehicle). NB: it’s recommended that tourists opt for metered tuk-tuks rather than trying to negotiate a rate with a driver as you may be over charged. “Tuk guys are always lying when they say their meter isn’t working,” warns Samarasuriya. A hot tip from Samarasuriya: “Start calling everyone ‘Machang’ [meaning buddy] and befriend your tuk guy – they will get you places fastest; they will be the best local guides, and they have an infinite supply of tuk-tuk quote wisdom.” Judging from that, it would be well worth the experience riding in a tuk-tuk, before and after the race.   

Outside of tuk-tuks, other modes of transport include taxis (again, probably most suitable when getting to and from the race venue), buses and a train system.

Where to stay

Colombo offers lots of accommodation options to suit all tastes and budgets. From plush hotels, Airbnb’s to hostels – there is something for everyone. When booking your place to stay, one thing I’d recommend is staying somewhere close to the race. And remember, while five kilometres out from the race might not seem far, when you’re in taper and meant to be staying off your legs days out from the race, the last thing you want to be doing is walking the extra kilometres to and from the race venue. It also makes things a lot easier, logistically, on race morning if you stay as close to the start as possible.

With that in mind, accommodation options located within one to two kilometres of Galle Face Green include the following:

  • Hilton Colombo
  • Colombo Courtyard
  • Cinnamon Grand Colombo
  • Taj Samudra Colombo
  • Shangri-La Colombo (the race host hotel)
  • Galle Face Hotel
  • Crescat Apartments
  • City Beds The Regent
  • Grand Oriental
  • Hostel at Galle Face

For most accommodation options you will be looking to spend around $100-200 per night unless you choose cheaper options like staying at a hostel. Check out the following websites for all your options – www.trivago.com, www.tripadvisor.com.au and www.booking.com.

It would also be worth looking at www.airbnb.com.au for cheaper, short-term holiday rentals.

Food and Drink

“Colombo is probably the food capital of Sri Lanka. From wherever you stay a short walk should get you enough food to last you the whole stay. All partner hotels have been informed of the carb load dinner,” informs Samarasuriya.

Sri Lanka, also known as the spice island, is famous for its diverse, rich, colourful and vibrant cuisines. Read a little bit about its history and it soon appears that almost every nationality has visited or traded in Sri Lanka over the years, and has left its mark. This is very much reflected in the menu options on offer at restaurants and cafes across the island – you will find dishes to suit all tastes. From traditional Sri Lankan curries to Portuguese, English, German and Japanese cuisines, there is something for everyone.

According to www.tripadvisor.com.au popular restaurants near Galle Face Green include the following:

  • Yumi Japanese, Sushi and Asian cuisines
  • LatitudeAsian, Indian
  • Sea Sprayseafood, Asian
  • The Bavarian German Restaurant Pub – German, pub/bar, European
  • The Poolside Bar and Terrace – bar, International, Asian, Sri Lankan
  • The LagoonSeafood, Asian, Sri Lankan
  • EchoItalian, Pizza, European
  • The Gardenia Coffee Shopfusion, Sri Lankan, International, Asian
  • BakedInternational, delicatessen
  • Graze KitchenItalian, Japanese, Indian, International, Sushi, Asian, Thai
  • Burgers King fast food, American.   

Of course, while away on holiday it’s fun trying local cuisine (think: street food from local food traders); however, I’d say leave being adventurous with local cuisine for after the race.

For coffee lovers, fret not – Sri Lanka does have some quality coffee spots. The only catch is, most of them are located in the city centre, which is around five kilometres from Galle Face Green. Recommended coffee spots include, Java Lounge (www.javalounge.lk), Hansa Café (www.srilankacoffee.com), Coco Veranda (www.cocoveranda.com) and Barista (www.barista.lk).    

Do and See

“This is Sri Lanka,” says Samarasuriya proudly. “The country has so much culture and diversity. A few hours drive inland, and you get the beautiful picturesque mountains, cold climate and probably the best tea in the world. Kandy is the cultural capital of Sri Lanka, which is also inland and there is so much to see and do there. Ella and Haputhle for the adventurous, and then to Arugambay, Galle and Unawatuna for the white sand beaches. If you want to experience an empty beach though, travel to Passikudah, and you might get just that – a whole private beach to yourself. I would recommend going through a travel site to get the whole thing down since there is so much to do,” he adds.     

Trawling through travel websites and blogs, it soon becomes very obvious that there is so much to do in Sri Lanka. From parks and gardens, beaches, art galleries and museums, to temples and statues, and of course the Galle Face Green; there is something for everyone.

Some of the standout things to do and see include, walking through the Viharamahadevi Park, which is lined with palms and fig trees. It’s believed to be a great place to relax and people watch, and you might even catch the odd snake charmer in action. If you like the zoo and landscaped gardens don’t miss out on a visit to the National Zoological Gardens of Sri Lanka. For market lovers – head over to Diyatha Uyana. According to the Lonely Planet, this is Colombo’s ‘most happening public park’ – an ‘outdoor hub of cultural activity’. The Good Market, where you can find Sri Lankan crafts and healthy snacks, is held here on Thursdays. Speaking of shopping, if you crave some retail therapy during your stay, head over to Arcade Independence Square where you will find some major brands, along with food and entertainment (cinemas).

While in Sri Lanka another must-do item for your list is a visit to the temples. The Bellanwila Temple is one not to be missed. It is said to be ‘a real locals’ temple’, where you can truly experience ‘the authenticity of the Buddhist tradition’. It’s also known as a great place to meditate – perhaps a good spot to clear the mind before the race?

For the art lovers and those interested in finding out about the history of Sri Lanka, don’t go past art galleries and museums. The Paradise Road Galleries are popular with locals and tourists. Established in 1988 in the offices of Sri Lankan architect, Geoffrey Bawa, exhibitions change monthly and showcase leading Sri Lankan, as well as South Asian talent. For more, visit www.paradiseroad.lk. To learn about Sri Lankan history, the people that fought to preserve the Sri Lankan identity and their historic journey towards independence make sure you visit the Independence Memorial Museum, which is located in the basement of the Memorial Hall, Independence Square. Not only is it a great to learn about Sri Lanka’s history but it’s also said to be a beautiful place to relax and hang out. Visit www.museum.gov.lk to find out more.

And of course, while you’re in Sri Lanka you cannot miss out on spending the day at one of the stunning beaches. Mount Lavinia Beach is popular. It’s a 40-minute bus trip from the centre of Colombo, but it sounds like it’s well worth the effort as the sunsets here are believed to be spectacular.   

Leading into the race

If you want to do some last minute training leading into the race or if you want to tick the legs over and make sure everything works properly on the bike, it’s recommended that you ride before 6:30am, when the roads are relatively empty. Local athlete, Samarasuriya suggests riding early. “I wouldn’t recommend riding out during the day,” he says. “Part of the [Ironman 70.3] course goes over a local training ride course – Marine Drive. This is a very safe place to cycle,” he adds. “[It’s] good to get the legs spinning around here.”

Ironman 70.3 Colombo, 25 February 2018

Ironman 70.3 Colombo will take place in the heart of the city – at Galle Face Green, also known as ‘Colombo’s favourite promenade’. Galle Face Green is described as an ocean-side urban park, which is animated by bubble-blowers, bouncing beach balls and colourful kites. It stretches for 500 meters along the coast and according to the Lonely Planet is the place where street food traders congregate to serve Sri Lankan treats, including crispy egg hoppers and the island’s signature dish, Kottu (a grilled fry-up of chopped noodles eggs and spices).

The course is said to be a flat and fast, so it’s a great destination race if you want an Ironman 70.3 PB! The 1.9km ocean swim will be held at the historic Galle Face Green, followed by a well paved, flat and fast 90km bike course that will take you through the Port of Colombo.

The spectator friendly 21.1km run will pass some of Colombo’s landmarks and the Port of Colombo, and it’s sure to leave you with many great memories to cherish.

Perfect warm, tropical weather conditions, friendly and supportive locals, and 30 qualifying slots to the 2018 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, why wouldn’t you want to race Ironman 70.3 Colombo.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Margaret Mielczarek

Margaret Mielczarek is the deputy editor at Australian Triathlete Magazine and writes the web series 'Shenanigans of a Deputy 2.0'. She is a passionate age-group triathlete and four-time Ironman finisher - currently in training for Ironman number five!

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