Shopping in Sri Lanka

Shopping in Sri Lanka can take many forms haggling with a handicraft-seller while sunbathing on the beach choosing fruit from the traditional village store, 'the kade' while side-stepping sacks of rice or checking out the bargain-priced latest international fashions (Sri Lanka is a major garment exporter) while enjoying the ambiance of a luxurious shopping centre in Colombo. And there’s so much in between! Visit a handicraft shop and familiarize yourself with traditional designs such as makara (a mythical animal, lion, swan, elephant and lotus which are most evident in brasswork (boxes, trays, lanterns, vases) and silverware (ornately carved and filigree jewellery, tea-sets) that make excellent souvenirs. In addition, ritual masks, lacquer ware, batik and handloom textiles, lace, and wood carvings are popular.

Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city is very colourful, vibrant and the commercial capital of the country. An interesting mix of modern life and colonial ruins, Colombo is located on the west coast of the island and adjacent to Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte.

North of the centre is the Fort district, the country’s business centre. South is Galle Face Green, a seafront expanse of occasional green. East of the fort is the pungent Pettah bazaar district. The city is home to over 600,000 people.

Colombo’s primary bazaar district is Pettah, located next to the Fort District. The narrow cobble-stone streets are lined with stalls and shops that sell a vast array of fabrics, clothing, handbags, jewelry, watches, electronics, shoes, books, household items, and much more, at really great prices. The goods are pretty much broken up by category. For example, music-related items are clustered around Malwatte Avenue, glass and mirrors are centered around Prince Street, and household items are likely to be found on Keyzer Street. Don’t worry about getting lost, because each lane leads back to the main street.

Where to Shop?

A notable shopping area if you’re looking for crafts is the Laksala Emporium. Run by the government, the goods here are more expensive, but usually top-notch. Selections range from painted wooden masks and lacquerware to Batiks and handloom cloth. For other high-quality items, check the Handloom Emporium, the Sri Lanka Gem & Jewelry Exchange, and the shops around the Cinnamon Gardens.

Larger scale shopping is available, too, at Crescat Boulevard and Majestic City, both on Galle Road . These larger malls features clothing stores, restaurants, supermarkets, and cinemas.

Many shoppers in Sri Lanka have their eye out for the famous Ceylon Tea. One safe bet is Tea Tang, with locations at Liberty Plaza, Galle Face Court, the World Trade Center, and the airport. Another good option is Mlesna Tea, with shops at Liberty Plaza, Majestic City, the Hilton, Crescat Boulevard, and the airport.

What to buy?

Batiks: It is a small scale industry that has risen to prominence in recent years especially among the tourists visiting the country. Batiks are one of the numerous local arts and crafts that employ individual design, talent and creativity.

Batiks incorporate many motifs and colors. Some are traditional and others highly contemporary and individualistic. Though it is seen that many display a vigorousness of design related to their origin. The material created by the batik-makers is used to produce distinctive clothing items such as dresses, shirts, sarongs and beachwear which are well-suited for tropical climes.

Many tourists at seaside resorts such as Hikkaduwa wear Batiks clothes throughout their holiday to keep themselves cool and light. Apart from clothes, tablecloths, wall pictures, beach clothes, pure cotton and silk, men’s and ladies’ wear and bed covers are popular as souvenirs of your visit to Sri Lanka.

Gems: Sri Lankan gems are world renowned for their amazing luster, beauty and quality. The name ‘Ratna Deepa’ (Gem Island) which was used to identify Sri Lanka in the ancient days is proof of the fame these gems had and still have. The name Gem Island is also a reflection of Sri Lankas cultural wealth.

Deposits are mainly found in flood plains of rivers and streams. It should also be noted that Sri Lanka has the highest density of gem deposits compared to its landmass anywhere in the world. Ratnapura contains the most gem deposits and derived its name from the gem industry. The name itself; Ratnapura means “city of gems”.

The blue sapphires from Sri Lanka are known as specifically known as Ceylon Sapphires. They are very unique in color, clarity and luster compared to the blue sapphires from other countries.

Wood works and Masks: Another prominent industry in the country, wood works and masks have been historically very distinct.The wood carving industry is believed to have first emerged from temples in Sri Lanka at the beginning of the 14th century. The most known place for Sri Lankan splendid woodcarving is Embekka Devalaya (Embekka Temple) which was built by the King Vikramabahu III in Kandy during Gampola Era (AD 1357 – 1374) and could be witnessed even today.

These unique works were assigned by the kings for a separate set of families who were skilled in making wood carvings. Later these works evolved up to present, inherited by generation to generation. Another sub category of the wood work industry is the mask industry. The wooden mask industry of Sri Lanka is seen as one of the most alluring and unique industries of the island. When considering the history of the wooden mask handicraft in Sri Lanka, it is apparent that this craft is thousands of years old.

Ambalangoda is a region that is extremely popular for traditional wooden masks of Sri Lanka and tourists from all over the world visit this area to find alluring and uniquely inspiring products to take home with them as a souvenir.

Ceylon Spices: If there’s one thing that has stood the test of time and yet still maintained its uniqueness and identity, it must be the legendary Sri Lankan cuisine. And whichever part of Sri Lankan cuisine it may be, it isn’t complete without Sri Lankan spices.

Known as the Spice Island, Sri Lanka was historically attractive to the Western nations for its wealth in spice resources. Spices grow in abundance all over the land due to Sri Lankas’ fertile and diverse soil types and varying temperature conditions. Spices such as cinnamon, pepper, cloves, cardamoms, nutmeg, mace and vanila grow abundantly.

56% of Sri Lankan agricultural exports consist of spices and essential oils. Cinnamon is the most important spice commodity among the spice sector. People in ancient Sri Lanka used Cinnamon for many purposes such as, medicine, spice, perfumery material & soft drink. Cinnamon is considered as unique product exporting from Sri Lanka.

With the increase of international demand for spices, and the island’s focus on enhancing and evolving its value added range, spices will continue to be a key facet of Sri Lanka’s export income.

Brassware: For centuries talented Sri Lankan craftsmen have been working on brass and creating some of the most amazing and distinct art pieces ever to put on metal. Pilimatalawa; a sleepy little hamlet close to Kandy, is a city that has a long heritage for amazing brass products.

Most of the designs engraved on brass and copper surfaces are not traced beforehand, but done spontaneously with expertise of the nimble fingers of the designers.

Traditionally, oil lamps, elephants, ash trays and vases are used for ornamental purpose as they add a touch of glamour, value and richness to any interior décor. Religious denominations like Buddhist and Hindus use brass statues of Lord Buddha and various Gods at worship.

Ceylon Tea: Popularly known as Ceylon Tea, Sri Lankan tea has become the front-runner of the industry and is much loved for its amazing quality and variety. The undulating land, sun and rain of the Island of Ceylon, as it was known then, presents the ideal climatic conditions for the cultivation of tea. Ceylon added a new dimension to tea by producing variations in taste, quality, character and appearance. Ceylon tea with its distinct taste and character has become every consumer’s favorite drink.