All flights to Sri Lanka will arrive at Colombo Airport, or as it’s official name Bandaranaike International Airport. The airport is very small, with just the one terminal servicing arrivals, departures, and transit passengers. The size of Colombo Airport in Sri Lanka makes it swift and easy to navigate.
Although Colombo Airport’s official title is Bandaranaike International airport, it can often get referred to as Katunayake Airport or Colombo International Airport. The airport was named after a former Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike, and is located in Negombo, which is about 20 miles from the capital of Colombo. The main airline to Sri Lanka is SriLankan airlines, but other such airlines as Emirates, Qatar and many more arrive and depart on a daily basis.
Tips on navigating Colombo Airport, Sri Lanka
Duty free was a surprise, on my first visit, I have never seen anything like it. I will explain in more detail later.
Any traveler will first arrive at Colombo Airport, as you exit the plane, follow the signs to arrivals and transit. The signs in the airport will be in Sinhala, and then English. The walk from the gate to immigration, is a short distance.
The easiest way, is to just follow this walkway right to the end, before turning left into immigration. On the plane you would have been provided with a landing card, which you must complete before proceeding through immigration.
A local sim card can be purchased from the Dialog booth located just prior to immigration. If can’t find the booth, proceed to the arrivals hall, and locate the Dialog Booth there. Please note your phone must be unlocked to use the sim. This is a foreigner’s sim, which is ideal to keep in touch with friends and family as you travel.
If you haven’t already obtained a visa, then you can obtain a visa on arrival. Just visit the visa on arrival office just off from the immigration officers.
Depending on the time of arrival, immigration can get busy, with queues building. Unfortunately, Sri Lankans are very impatient, and will try and jump the queue. You will need to get use to this, as it happens all the time in Sri Lanka.
The immigration officer will only require your passport and landing card.
After immigration, this is the interesting section, duty free!
As you walk in, we are sure you will notice the usual things, such as alcohol, cigarettes, chocolate, and perfume. But I certainly wasn’t prepared to see washing machines, cookers, fridge freezers, and other electrical items being sold in Duty Free. We even saw a local taking their recently purchased fridge freezer home with them.
I just couldn’t understand why people were purchasing such items, but it is quite clear. The cost of these appliances, are far cheaper in duty free than in the local shop, so locals on their return trips, will purchase these items for that reason. For us travelers witnessing this, it can be a surprise to start with.
This is now your time to have a look and see if you would like to purchase anything from duty free. Once you have done your shopping head towards the baggage carousel, to claim your baggage.
There are plenty of signs confirming which baggage carousel to claim your baggage. Once you have claimed your baggage, proceed to declare/nothing to declare channels. As you exit the relevant channels, you will enter the large arrivals hall.
This is where you can change your currency, meet someone if they are greeting you at the airport, purchase a new sim card, or order a taxi. If you need a taxi, check with the taxi firms for a fair price. Many will try and increase the fare because you are a foreigner, so try to bargain with them. Public transport can be found just outside the parameters of the airport.
If you are only transiting through Colombo Airport, before heading to your next destination, just follow the arrival passengers along the arrivals and departure area, but at the end of the long walkway, turn right, and you will enter the departure lounge.
Check out the boards for the relevant departure gate as you would normally in any airport. Once you have found your gate, head back the way you came, walk along the arrivals and departures walkway to your gate. In the departure lounge, there are a few places for food and drink, or to pick up on any duty free.
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To depart Sri Lanka, you will be dropped off at the departure doors. Walk through the doors, in to the departure hall, and find the relevant drop of point for your check in bags. Once you have checked in your bags, locate security (there is likely to be a large queue).
The same rules apply at security as it does at any airport, such as liquids cannot be more than 100ml, which must be in a small see-through bag, take out any electrical items such as laptops, iPad etc.
Once you have proceeded through security, you will enter the departure lounge. There are a few shops, duty free, somewhere to eat and drink etc. Just follow the same process as you would in any airport, find out what your gate number is, before heading to the gate.
There are plenty of signs to the gate, but the first thing you will see, when you proceed to your gate, is that it is the same way you came when you arrived at the airport. Follow the walkway down to your gate, and sadly this is where you wait for boarding of your plane, and your trip ends in Sri Lanka.
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Have you visited Sri Lanka? How did you find navigating the airport? Did you find anything different that you wouldn’t get back in your home country? We would love to hear from you, just leave a comment below.
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