Getting Up Close With Elephants

Dear Reader: We may get commissions for purchases made through links in this article, at no extra cost to you. This helps keep the site running and free for all. Thank you! ❤️

From Kandy City, we went on a day trip with a tuk-tuk to the Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka. Along the way to the Orphanage, there were numerous spice gardens and lots of handicraft shops selling leather goods and souvenirs.

The orphanage is government-run and was initially created to protect abandoned or orphaned elephants. It was set up in 1975 to rescue four orphaned baby elephants when they could no longer be looked after at Dehiwala (Colombo South) Zoo. Today it has become the home to the largest captive group of elephants in the world and is one of Sri Lanka’s most popular attractions, both among tourists and locals.

Elephant OrphanageElephant Orphanage

Inside the Orphanage there are about 80 elephants of all ages and sizes, walking around a fairly large territory.

Elephant OrphanageElephant Orphanage

For some extra rupees, you can feed the elephants fruits, like bananas and pineapples.

Elephant Orphanage

The elephants are controlled by their mahouts (keepers), who feed them and watch out so they don`t endanger anyone. They do however walk freely around the area and among the visitors most of the time.

Elephant Orphanage

The orphanage also houses baby elephants, which are really cute! Apparently, it is possible for visitors to bottle-feed a baby elephant if you paid extra. Everything cost extra!

What To Expect

The orphanage part of the park was a bit awkward and touristy, and not as nice as witnessing a wild elephant in the jungle as we did in Yala National Park.

But still, it`s safe to say that nowhere else in Sri Lanka are you likely to see that many elephants so close up.

Elephant Orphanage

We got to the orphanage around 9 o`clock in the morning, so we would be able to participate in the elephant bathing.

Each day from 10 to 12 in the morning, and from 2 to 4 in the afternoon, the mahouts take all the elephants down to a nearby river for bathing.

Elephant OrphanageElephant OrphanageElephant Orphanage

When we were there it was the dry season, so the water level in the river was low.

In the rainy season, when the river is at its maximum, they sometimes have to cancel the bathing due to strong currents.

Elephant Orphanage

Elephant Orphanage


There were quite a few tourists when we were there, but not too crowded. Next to the river were a couple of cafes/restaurants, where you can have a meal or a cold drink with a nice view overlooking the bathing elephants.

In this area, there are a lot of sellers! One Srilankan man came suddenly over to me, grabbed my hand, and started to read my palm. He held my hand so tight that I really had to struggle to free it from his grip. And of course, he wanted a lot of money for it! Very annoying!

There are a lot of souvenir shops along the road that the elephants and the tourists walk to get to the river. A very popular souvenir is paper made out of elephant poo. Yep, poo! 🙂 We went into a shop where they showed us the whole process. The poo is dried in the sun and boiled, and the resulting pulp is then used to make high-quality paper. The texture and color of the paper vary according to the elephant’s diet, while other ingredients like tea and onion peel are also added in order to get the required finish. They make really nice things out of this elephant poo paper, like notebooks, cards, photo frames, photo albums, and so on.


Notebooks and cards made out of elephant poo!

Elephant Orphanage

Elephant Orphanage Elephant Orphanage

Mixed Feelings About The Elephant Orphanage

This government-owned elephant orphanage is both loved and hated by people. Some think it is a nice opportunity to get up close with elephants, while others think it is a rip-off with no conservational value whatsoever. We had a mixed feeling about the place. It did not seem like the elephants were suffering, but we are no elephant experts.

Visiting the orphanage is of course far from the same nice experience as spotting a wild elephant in the jungle or in the national parks as we did in Yala National Park. This felt a bit like a zoo, though a fairly nice one with open spaces and areas for the elephants to walk freely about.

I think that if this project really does save and protect abandoned or orphaned elephants that otherwise would have died, then it may be doing some good. On the other hand, they do breed elephants for tourism and keep orphaned elephants in captivity for the rest of their lives with no intention of reintroducing them to the wild. There is also no denying that this is a money-making tourist machine, and I am honestly very divided in my opinion on this place.

You need to make up your own mind if you want to visit this place or not. We will not be visiting again as we prefer to see elephants in their natural environment in the many national parks in Sri Lanka.

Where To Stay In Kandy

Kandy offers a wide selection of accommodation for all budgets, and here you will have plenty of choices when it comes to finding the right place to stay. Kandy is a big city and the competition seems to be tough so you can find some excellent deals here.

Below are some of the best accommodation options in Kandy, including the address and price.

We stayed at Sharon Inn
Sharon Inn is located up on the hillside above the Kandy Lake. The road up to the hotel is a bit steep but we walked to Kandy Lake several times. Owned and run by a family where the wife is German. It is a decent hotel, and we were happy with the accommodation and the service, although it is a bit run down. It is recommended in the Lonely Planet.

Our favorite part of our stay here was the dinner buffet in the garden. Each evening they serve traditional Sri Lankan rice and curry with lots of different dishes, for only 7 us$. A very good value. The food was excellent, among the best we had in Sri Lanka.

We had one of the top floor rooms and had spectacular views from our balcony. The rooms are however quite basic, albeit with private bathrooms. It is a bit over-priced for this kind of room standard, but the location is great.
Click for latest prices

Viyana Boutique Hotel
This new boutique hotel is located within easy walking distance to the Temple of the Tooth Relic. The rooms are large and modern with comfortable beds and free WiFi. The staff is enthusiastic and helpful. Some of the rooms have views overlooking the lake.
Click for latest prices

Staying Outside the City Center

Kandy can be a busy and noisy city so it is worth considering staying a little outside the city center. Especially with transportation being so cheap and readily available.

Elephant Stables
Elephant Stables is a beautiful little hotel in a colonial style bungalow about 10 minutes drive away from Kandy center. There is a lovely pool and a nice view overlooking the green valley. It's a small intimate hotel where every guest is taken care of and made to feel exceptionally welcome. It is somewhat expensive but if it's within your budget then this comes highly recommended.
Click for latest prices

Elegant Hotel
If you want to get away from busy downtown Kandy then this small hotel is a great option! Located about 20 minutes drive from Kandy center it overlooks the valley and offers spectacular views of the area. It has a huge swimming pool and the friendly staff makes you feel right at home. If we ever visit Kandy again, we will for sure have a look at this! 🙂
Click for latest prices

Sky Pavilion
Wow, what a lovely hotel with spectacular views! Would definitely not mind staying here!
Click for latest prices

Kandyan Crown Hotel
This budget hotel offers good value for money and is beautifully located up on the hillside outside of Kandy!
Click for latest prices

Hover over the picture below, and press the green PIN IT button:

Elephant orphanage, Sri Lanka

What do you think about animal orphanages that are also big tourist attractions? Ok or not? We`d love to hear your opinion in the comment area below! If you like this blog post and find it useful, please share and like it on social media! Thank you so much! 🙂

Some of the above links are affiliate links, and we will earn a small percentage of the sale if you purchase through them at absolutely no extra cost to you! This helps keep our site running at no extra cost to you — so thanks!

Photo of author

Written by Maria Wulff Hauglann

Maria is a Norwegian travel nerd who has explored more than thirty countries on four continents. She holds a master's degree in Computer Science, as well as an MBA. In 2014 while on a year-long trip across South East- Asia, Maria co-founded the travel blog Nerd Nomads to help others get out and explore the world. In 2018 she left her day job permanently for a life of full-time travel. See our about page for more about Maria.


  1. We did a lot of research before heading to an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, and it wasn’t easy. At the very least, like you said, the elephants appear to be well treated at the orphanage you went too. Doesn’t seem like they put on shows, or are ridden by the tourists. Are you going to write about when you saw an elephant at Yala National Park? 🙂

    • Hi Katie! Yeah it is a dilemma. We thought a lot about it, wether we should go to this elephant orphanage or not. It is always a bit sad so see animals in captivity. We have never been to a an elephant sanctuary in Thailand.

      I have actually written a blog post from our Yala National Park trip, you can read it here: I have now linked to the Yala blog post from this post. I keep forgetting to link back to other older blog post that can be of interest to the readers. Thanks for reminding me! 🙂

  2. Love these photos Maria! I recently was in Botswana and was able to see quite a few African elephants in the wild. The ears definitely are smaller on their Asian cousins. 🙂

    • Thank you so much Kimberly! Yeah, I have heard that the elephants in Africa are much bigger, have unfortunately never been there.

      You pictures from Chobe National Park are amazing! I can`t believe you got so close to the animals. Must have been an incredible experience! Would love to go on safari in Africa some day!

  3. Nawwww they are just so cute. But oh-so-sad to see them like this. I wish people would just leave them be with their families and live without fear. Poor little dears.

    • Have to admit I had some mixed feelings during our visit. On the one hand, they are supposedly rescuing elephants that would have died otherwise, and yet these magnificent animals clearly belong in the wild.

  4. Hi Maria, I believe you are absolutely right to have mixed feelings about an orphanage/sanctuary that allows captive breeding and has no intentions to reintroduce these elephants back in the wild. Yes, rescuing orphaned elephants should be applauded, but that doesn’t give them cart blanche for more dubious practices.

    Bottle feeding baby elephants in a captive breeding facility should raise a big red flag. Are these elephants bottle fed because they are genuinely orphaned or are they taken away from their mothers, as happens with many lion cubs in South Africa, to create a money-spinning tourist activity?

    You say the elephants have a mahout, but what happens behind the scenes in terms of training?

    I know very little about this orphanage, but it seems to me that they have found a quick and easy way to bring in the tourists to make money rather than put the welfare of the animals first. Any self-respecting wildlife sanctuary will never allow hands-on human interaction and captive breeding.

    Thank you for raising your concerns – these difficult questions need to be asked, even if a facility is involved in wildlife rescue or rehabilitation.

    • Hi Louise,

      I totally agree with you, I am super sceptical towards animal orphanages and animals parks where they show off animals, and especially baby animals, like this. It feels like they are just doing it for the money, but then again, what would have happened to these elephants if they were not in this orphanage….maybe they were actually rescued? It`s really hard to say sometimes.

      I see that you live and travel a lot in Africa. Ah, I have never been to Africa, it is a big dream of mine to visit Africa and go on a safari. One day….. 🙂 Africa looks amazing, love your Instagram feed!

      Happy sustainable travels!


  5. Hi Maria, visiting Africa is rather ‘dangerous’, as it can be very addictive 😉

    Make your dreams come true and visit Eastern or Southern Africa now. I love this continent, despite all its shenanigans on political levels. It has so much going for it and so many amazing and talented people. Every time I visit a new region I am blown away by the strength and ingenuity of its people and the shear beauty and diversity of its scenery and nature. Safari is fabulous but there is so much more to this continent is what I am trying to say 😉

    Hope to be able to welcome you to South Africa soon!

    Louise xx

  6. Wonderful article about Pinnawala elephant orphanage. This is a famous tourist hotpot in the island. Most love to see the mega elephant bath. Truly a magical rare thing in a life time. Great post and image collection. Keep them coming. Cheers.

    • Hi Praveen,

      Thank you so much! Even though we have some mixed feeling about this elephant orphanage, it was great to see these amazing and huge animals up close. It is the first time I got to experience elephants this close and see them bathing and enjoying themselves in the river.

      Happy travels!



Leave a Comment