Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is an orphanage, nursery, and captive breeding ground for wild Asian Elephants. It is located at Pinnawala village, part of the Kagalle District, which is 90km Northeast of Colombo. Should you go there? To be honest I didn’t do too much research on Pinnawala before arriving - Rookie error, I know! Pinnawala first appeared on my radar through Instagram. I follow a ‘Insta famous’ blogger who had been there recently. They seemed to have a really intimate experience with the elephants and I hadn't seen that before (through all my Instagram scrolling) so I instantly wanted to go and experience it for myself. There are a couple of other elephant sanctuaries and orphanages around the area as well, however we decided on Pinnawala. Overall I really enjoyed our time at the orphanage, and would recommend for anyone to visit if they had the opportunity.
I have noticed that there is a lot of talk on the topic of animal welfare regarding these elephant sanctuaries, and there are number of negative reviews on this particular place. I never witnessed any bad behaviour or cruelty towards the elephants. Yes, some of the elephants were chained to the rocks and I didn't like the look of it, but we were assured that they were the older elephants that had the potential to harm the younger ones. The chains were long enough for them to still play around and it was entertaining to watch. They looked like they were having a ball splashing around! Out of the 30-40 elephants that visited the river each day, only 2-3 required chains.
Getting There: We chose the easy but more expensive option and hired a car to take us to Pinnawala from Kandy. By car, the trip is supposed to only take an hour so we decided to stop off at a few places along the way. We went to a gem museum but it really wasn't that interesting so I won't bore you with details.
After that, we originally wanted to go to the Botanical Gardens but our driver convinced us to go to the Spice Garden instead. Which was a great idea because we got a free massage! You can read more about this in our previous blog post ELLA to KANDY.
As a more affordable alternative you can also get to Pinnawala via train or tuk-tuk. Scroll down for prices and more info!
Where we stayed: I booked accommodation at Hotel Elephant Park, which sits right on Ma-Oya river. We arrived at 2pm and were given a couple of options as to what we could do as we couldn't check in. Option one: Was to the purchase an Elephant Park ticket or option two; We could wait in the so called ‘cafe’ until 4pm. This was quite inconvenient for us but we chose to hang out in the cafe. We weren’t too interested in visiting the Pinnawala Zoo and there is literally nothing else you can do here at that time of day. We bought 2 coffees (which is a generous description as it is more like drinking hot sugar syrup with a dash of caffeine, you will find that all over Sri Lanka) to kill time until the hotel’s tuk-tuk came to pick us up.
Back to the Hotel Elephant Park! I thought it would be nice to splurge a little and stay somewhere with hot water and a decent bed! Our room did not disappoint, the shower head was amazing, as was the big soft bed! We had a balcony that overlooked the river which showcased the beautiful sunset each evening! Another reason I chose this room was so that we could see the elephants bathe all day long. The riverside gets very busy with tourists each day from 10am, so it was nice to be able to watch them in peace and quiet. Spending hours watching them play in the water has made our love for the elephants grow even stronger, they are such graceful, intelligent animals.
Although the hotel was great, it did have its drawbacks. With a lack of eating options nearby we were forced to eat at the hotel, which was very expensive compared to the rest of Sri Lanka. The food was good, but still overpriced.
Check out our price guide below.
- Accommodation: Approx $190AUD for 2 nights for 2 people (Balcony, river view & breakfast included) There are alternative budget rooms available. Please not: Check in here is not available until 4pm.
- Eating out: At the hotel we paid between $10-$15AUD per meal (Everywhere else in Sr Lanka we seemed to get a meal for less than $5AUD) One night we went to another nearby resort to eat dinner and it was slightly cheaper and nice to sit beside a pool overlooking the rice fields.
- Activities: Pinnawala Zoo adult entry fee is LKR2500 (approx $20AUD) Kids LKR1250 ($10AUD) Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage entrance fee is LKR2500 (approx $20AUD) although if you stay at Hotel Elephant Park you don't have to pay this. You can also do a tour where you can feed, bath and walk with the elephants but we did not do this so I am unsure of the exact costs.
- Transport: From Kandy to Pinnawala: 1 hour drive in a mini van cost LKR3500 ($30AUD). Catching the train is by far the cheapest! This option was just a little too chaotic for us as we had a lot of heavy baggage! Rambukkana Railway Station on the Colombo - Kandy line is the closest to Pinnawala, with trains running sporadically throughout the day. Your looking at around LKR120 ($1 AUD) each for a second class non-reserved carriage.
In Summary, Pinawalla is definitely worth spending a few days if you are visiting Sri Lanka. 2 nights was ample time for us to see the Elephants. We loved spending time with the gentle giants, despite our fears of animal cruelty. Pinnawala is conviniently located between Colombo and Kandy, which makes a 1-2 night stop over very easy.
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