With the northeast of the country mired in conflict, there's always an outside chance of encountering a bomb in the Sri Lankan capital but serious shoppers know the boutiques of Colombo are just about worth the risk. Most visitors to this idyllic isle bypass the frantic, colourful city, heading north for cultural tours or to southern, sun-kissed shores. Do both, then head back along Galle Road, trodden by visitors for centuries, to strategic shops around town for bits and baubles that make unique gifts ... should you wish to share this beautiful booty. Barefoot (below, left and right; 706 Galle Road, Colombo 3, tel: 94 11 258 0114) offers a warm welcome. This Colombo institution supports local communities with piecework sewing that comes together here alongside soft cottons woven into everything from palm-sized stuffed elephants (US$5) to silk evening wraps (US$55). Visitors have been inspired by the bold fabrics that line the walls to redo their houses entirely. Those who plan to stick to carry-on items can pick up cheerful change purses (US$3), soft-cover notebooks (from US$3), bold beach cover-ups (US$30) and traditional sarongs (US$17), as well as patterned cotton bags (from US$15) in which to carry everything home. When exhausted, refuel on homemade chocolate or banana cake in the cafe at the back. Replenished, ask your tuk-tuk or taxi driver to head inland to Paradise Road Studio (12 Alfred House Gardens, Colombo 3, tel: 94 11 250 6844), where local style-maker Shanth Fernando shares his unsurpassed taste for elegant, understated interiors. Burmese monks' bowls (from US$100), vases (from US$6), cushion covers (US$8) and inspiring design books (from US$25) have been known to turn holidaymakers into decorators. Then let your attention wander across the street to Rithihi (19 Alfred House Gardens, Colombo 3, tel: 94 11 258 1988). The lower level looks like a sari museum, with shimmering textiles hung between well-lit mirrors that draw self-admiring glances from women of every age. Nip into the spacious dressing room with piles of Indian kurtas (from US$25), shawls (from US$15) and embroidered blouses (from US$20). Few females leave without one fabulous new frock. Keep on trucking, this time over to Odel Unlimited (5 Alexander Place, Colombo 7, tel: 94 11 268 2712), an emporium of imports that have sneaked into Sri Lanka. Abercrombie and Fitch cropped khaki pants (US$12), Levi's slim low-rise jeans (US$40), Banana Republic skirts (US$9), sweet stuffed elephants (from US$2) and monkey-print T-shirts (from US$6) are among the goodies. Don't forget that Sri Lanka is a gem lover's paradise and there are plenty of places in which to splash out on souvenirs that sparkle. Go for something groovy, such as the funky chunks of glistening gems set in original silver and gold designs at Manika (Baurs Building, 5 Upper Chatham Street, Colombo 1, tel: 94 77 731 7299; by appointment only). Prices are quoted according to individual specifications.