Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala, Sri Lanka
Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawela
from Colombo – 93 Km
from Kandy – 40 Km
from Colombo via A1 (Kandy Road) onto B199 on the way to Kandy by Car
an outing from Kandy via A1 onto B199 to Pinnawala
Chance to see elephants being cared for, taking a bath in the river and feeding of baby elephants
How much time do I need
Half a Day – One Day
Only place to get up close and personal with these majestic beasts
How do I reach Pinnawela?
The Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala is an easy detour from the main Kandy road. You can either choose to visit the orphanage while heading to Kandy (using a rented vehicle), making one of those memories that lasts a lifetime. Or, you can head to Kandy by train while enjoying the scenery on offer and make time for an outing from there, it could be on a free morning or afternoon, and return to Kandy afterward. Anyone visiting the orphanage needs to be aware of the timetable according to which feeding, herding, and bathing are conducted. The timetable is posted below for your reference.
The Time Table
Opens for the visitors
09.00 am – 09.45 am
10.00 am – 12.00 pm
Herd to the river
12.00 pm – 01.45 pm
02.00 pm – 04.00 pm
Herd goes to the river
Ticket counter closes
Closes for the day
I remember the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala was a common destination while we were in primary school and it is still a family destination with kids excited to see elephants up close. My last visit was with my cousins who were visiting from overseas. It was a day outing specifically to visit the orphanage and we drove there from Colombo in our vehicle.
Entrance & Tickets
Once you get to Pinnawala the road on either side is filled with many handloom and handicraft shops. I encourage visiting some of these, to purchase your souvenirs, as places such as these offer a much wider variety of products than what you might find in major cities or malls. When it comes to parking your vehicle, there is ample parking and you can do so safely for a very reasonable parking fee at the main parking area.
The whole experience at Pinnawala is divided into two main portions, one at the orphanage and the other at the river. As you enter you will first have to purchase a ticket. The tickets are divided into three broad categories. One for locals, the other two for visitors from SARRC countries and Non-SAARC countries.
The prices are very cheap for the locals and very affordable for SAARC tourists, which makes the other visitors raise an eyebrow. I must explain that this is very common among most tickets sold in Sri Lanka, as the local population purchase ticket at a subsidized price by the government. This may be attributed to the socio-economic status of the majority of the population, as well as the sheer number of local groups visiting. Although the disparity is prominent in local currency, many foreigners do understand the pricing and when converted into USD it is around 7-13 USD per person. The revenue from sales goes towards the salaries and maintenance of the orphanage.
The Main Compound
So the main compound consists of the portion past the ticketing offices, leading you to the area where the elephants are housed, fed, and allowed to roam freely in the open grazing area.
The baby elephants, in my opinion, are the star attractions with their youthful joy, scurrying about and hugging their mothers. Feeding them and observing milk being fed are part of main activities that visitors are allowed to take part in.
In the grazing open area, you could simply observe the herds roaming and devouring the vegetation. Depending on the time that you visit, this area maybe empty. Therefore, make sure your visit to the main compound does not conflict with the bathing schedule.
The highlight of any visit to Pinnawala Orphanage is to watch the elephants bathing in the river. So make sure to visit about an hour before the two allocated time slots (10 am and 2 pm). This allows you ample time to visit the main grounds and head back out to watch the elephants being herded towards the river.
on the road
The path to the river is a street filled with many Handicraft shops offering a large variety of local arts and crafts. People will scurry over onto the path to cement a good vantage point. This is important because once the herd is moving towards the river you are not allowed to criss-cross between places for the safety of everyone. You will have to hug the shops while these majestic beasts pass just inches from you and sometimes they might even startle you by reaching out. The policemen will form a safe parameter in anticipation of the elephants and you must get to your ideal location by then. The elephants are accompanied by their caretakers, the Mahuts, and they will guide these majestic animals up to the river. I must add that these animals have made so many visits to the river that it must be fairly routine for them.
Make sure that you have your flashes are turned off when taking close-up pictures.
At the river
Once at the river, the elephants will have their fun as we get a chance to observe them. Some will shower themselves by drawing water through their trunks and spraying water over their bodies, some will help others, some just lie on their side enjoying the coolness of the water. The mahouts usually help in the process and clean a close eye. The observation area might be a little crowded but there are several vantage points on top that you could move to grab those photographs.
This is a 2-hour affair and you could grab pictures under the watchful eye of the Mahut and then go on to enjoy a lovely lunch at the restaurants there.
Among this serene backdrop, you might be able to observe a breakaway set of “rogue” elephants that have another agenda on their mind, A glorious mud bath, and a session in the dirt. On the opposite side of the river, on the riverbank among the lush vegetation. This group will quickly head over there to enjoy their dirty play date. The baby elephants could be seen rolling and enjoying their new environment as much as they can until they have to return to the orphanage.
Once the fun is over herd has to return back and you will get some time to explore and grab some souveniers.
Points to consider
- Always carry your passport/ identity card
- Always keep a safe distance from animals
- Do not feed the animals
- Do not tease any animals.
- Do not pick flowers or damage any plants or trees
- Do not enter restricted areas.
- Do not make noise playing musical instruments, radios, tape recorders and singing etc.
- Pets are not allowed within Zoo premises
- Smoking is prohibited within the premises.
- Posses your ticket at all time within the premises
- Please quote your ticket number and the date of visit for any correspondence