There are few places left on this planet that allow us to witness animals in a natural environment without seeing chains or bars around every corner. Fortunately, in Sri Lanka this isn’t the case. Hidden in the centre of the island is a small village called Pinawalla, home to the Pinawalla Elephant Orphanage.
If you read my previous post on exploring Central Sri Lanka in 10 days, you’ll remember this was one of my highlights, though prior to the trip I was stuck in an ethical dilemma. I was worried about finding an ethical sanctuary and whilst the elephants here are photographed and fed by tourists, but they do not offer Elephant rides of any kind and the handlers were very respectful of the Elephants. It was actually my grandparents who convinced me to give this a go, having visited Sri Lanka many times before retiring for both volunteering and holidaying: their word was gospel to me when it came to this beautiful country.
Watching the elephants play around, especially with their young was a truly endearing experience, especially in the comfort of the hotel’s pool or hundreds of seated areas. And the quietness of it all, there is nothing worse than going to an overcrowded tourist spot and fighting for a viewpoint- visiting in May, off-peak season, did help but I was informed that the number of guests (which was no more than 30) was normal. I found that like every hotel, not everyone wanted to be by the pool or with the nellies at the same time so I spent hours working on my laptop with this mirage of a view without company.
Without a doubt, the Elephant Bay Hotel has the best view of the river home to the elephants from 9-11am and 2-4pm. It’s also where all tour guides take guests travelling from out of town to experience this once in a lifetime event. Getting to Pinawalla is like travelling anywhere in Sri Lanka, you’ll need a driver for at least 50% of travelling, though you can get a train halfway, a three hour taxi from Colombo will set you back around $40 AUD or £20 and save at least 6 hours of travelling- a small price to pay to interact with elephants in a hotel’s back garden.
I stayed for 2 nights but this was due to travel problems further down the line (I was supposed to be flying out to India in less than a week and the entire country was on shutdown because of storms and I needed to redirect my flight), but this was perfect. When you’re rushing from one place to another, it’s difficult to get any of the logistics involved in travelling complete (plus it’s more difficult to find wifi!) – if you find yourself wanting to hang around to take it all in or just to relax, this is the place to do it. But 24 hours in Pinawalla will give you more than enough time to have a look around, visit the main orphanage across the road and buy every kind of elephant related you could ever imagine- including recycled elephant dung paper!
My favourite store in Pinawalla is a small clothes store next to the local supermarket- I bought 5 pairs of genie pants (and a year later they’re all I live in!) that are locally made and so comfy- like walking in velvet on a pillow of clouds comfortable. Definitely give it a go!
I find it astonishing that Sri Lanka isn’t one of the top backpacker spots: it’s budget-friendly and the only place I find myself reminiscing in detail. If you are visiting Sri Lanka, I’d love to know if you visit Pinawalla and what you make of it! Tweet me or comment below x