Asia Sri Lanka

That exciting first visit to an elephant orphanage

Ade has had an inexplicable love of wild elephants ever since he was a kid – it kind of explains our time spent in Africa chasing the big five. As best I can tell, his grandmother seems to be responsible, she instilled in him a love of elephants from a very early age, so while I said we did very little planning for our trip to Sri Lanka, one of the things on our must see list was the Elephant orphanage at Pinnawala.

We arrived in the morning and our driver dropped us off at the Millennium Elephant Foundation where he advised us to take an elephant ride before we were to head on to the orphanage.

We were keen to ride an elephant, well at least Ade and I were, my mother in-law was not so sure, but to her credit she agreed to give it a go. We’ve ridden elephants before in India and in Bali, but this was the first time we’ve ridden an elephant bareback, and with no trainer actually on the elephant itself. Our mahout walked alongside the elephant leading him along the well-beaten path with nothing but his words and a large stick.


The ride was bumpy. I sat at the front with Ade behind me gripping on to me. I had nothing more to hold on to than a chain drooped loosely around the elephant’s neck.

Did I mention how high up we were? I’m not afraid of heights, but I do like to be in control and somehow sitting on top of elephant’s back as he meanders through the Sri Lanka countryside feels like a definite loss of control. I surrender to it, what else can I do? And even manage to enjoy the scenery and the look on my mother in laws face as she comes to terms with this experience.

We opted for the short ten-minute ride, which was enough to get up close with the elephants without going overboard.

You can also watch the elephants bathing in the river here, feed them and learn a little more about the different types of elephants and the Foundation’s efforts to rescue and protect elephants across Sri Lanka. So we spent a bit of time learning more about these amazing creatures and feeding them.

No sooner had we finished feeding them than we were back on the road and headed for the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.

Once again our guide advised us not to bother with a guide here, and as it turns out he was allowed in anyway so helped interpret for us along the way. The orphanage provides a home and protection for elephants, particularly baby elephants, lost in the wild.

The elephant orphanage would have to be one of the best sites for elephants we have seen. There is a large area for the elephants to roam around freely. It is also worth joining the crowds and watching them feed the baby elephants – though be prepared to stand on tippy toes and crane your neck to get a view of the action!

It doesn’t take long to walk around the orphanage – while the elephant areas are large, there are not too many viewing areas so you really only need a couple of hours.

Be sure to keep your eyes open for other errant wildlife at the orphanage – we were lucky enough to see a giant monitor wandering through the grounds.

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