Visiting Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

I’ve always been fascinated by elephants but the first time I encountered an elephant in a non zoo environment back in 2013, when I rode around and washed them in Chang Mai, left me with beautiful pictures, however oddly cold feelings. It was my first big trip and everything around felt so exciting, including elephant rides. But if I had to choose now, I wouldn’t do it.

It’s my second time in Sri Lanka and I’ve missed the elephant part last time because I was mostly based down south. But this time researched it a bit more and read about Pinnawalla elephant orphanage, where you can get up close to elephants without subjecting them to slavery. I’ve suffered a bit of a moral dilemma about going to see them but after reading very mixed reviews, decided to check it out myself and make up my own opinion.

On the way to the Orphanage you can see many ‘Ride elephant’ signs, which are actually zoos, existing only to attract tourists, and definitely not for the elephants wellbeing. I hoped, Pinnawala won’t be the same, since it said you cannot touch or ride the elephants.

My first impression was ‘OK, $18 for looking is a bit too much’. Since I came just before 10am, I went straight to Oya river, where elephants being taken to bath twice a day to see them being washed and playing in a water.

And I can tell you, it did leave me sad. Some of them were chained, and the part ‘you cannot touch them’ proved to be right, unless you give a tip to caretaker, who is encouraging tourists with ‘you want to touch him?’

Overall, even places calling themselves Orphanages doesn’t convince me anymore that animals are having a good live there. African safaris, that’s where all of them belong, untouched by human hand and wild in their heart from birth.

Entrance fee for foreigners is 2500 LKR ($17/£13)

How to get there:

Pinnawala Orphanage is located 90km from Colombo or 37km from Kandy, close to Kegalle village.

From Colombo

Take train towards Kandy and get off at Rambukkana, then catch a bus towards Kegalle or take a tuk-tuk.

Or take bus from Colombo to Kandy and get off at Kegalle, then catch another bus towards Rambukkana.

From Kandy

Bus from ‘Good shed’ bus stand to Kegalle, Colombo or Negombo and get off at junction to Rambukkana (4km before Kegalle) and switch bus to Rambukkana. Total journey cost 58+20=88 LKR ($0.60/£0.40) and takes around 1.5h all buses run very frequently.

Take train to Colombo and get off at Rambukkana and take bus towards Kegalle.

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