The Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage

Established in 1975, the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage has become one of the most popular touristic destinations in Sri Lanka, for reasons that should be obvious. What, you need it spelled out? Fine: Orphan Elephants. Baby Orphan Elephants. Lots and lots of baby orphan elephants, that want to cuddle with you, and then frolic and play in the water. What kind of person could say “no” to that? Honestly, who could be like, “Nah, that sounds dumb”.

Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage

We had an amazing time during our visit, as we knew we would. The elephants were remarkable. Beautiful, utterly friendly creatures, who’ve been lived their whole lives in the orphanage and are completely comfortable with humans. The day’s only negative was provided by the people working at the park. The “guards” who, from the moment we entered to the moment we left, were looking for money. Tips for petting an elephant. Tips for feeding, tips for pictures. Tips, just ’cause. Their wearisome greediness never abated. If an elephant approached you, a guard would appear like magic, angrily shooing it off with a pointed stick. Then, he would turn to you with a smile. “You like touch elephant?”

Happy Elephant Sri Lanka

But this was a minor annoyance and it was hard to stay angry, surrounded, as we were, by at least sixty elephants. Besides, try as they might, the guards couldn’t keep up with everything. Once, a baby elephant the height of my chest waddled up to Jürgen and I, with its trunk extended. He squeezed my hand, and then pulled me close alongside his body. I figured he wanted a hug, so I gave him one. We had a full minute alone with this little guy, and it was a minute I’ll never forget.

The day’s highlight was bathing time. The elephants were led in a giant procession to the nearby river, where they were allowed to splash and play for two hours. The little ones rolled around in the water, while the adults sprayed water onto each other and cuddled. I could have watched them bathe all day long. So many elephants congregated in one place — I’m sure it’s possible to see something similar in the wild, but this was truly a special experience for us.

So we wholeheartedly recommend a trip to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. The money-grubbing guards are annoying, but as long as you’re prepared to ignore them, you’ll have an unforgettable experience.

Location on our Sri Lanka Map

Pinnawela herding Elephants
Muddy elephant
Cute elephant baby
Hello there baby elephant nice to meet you
Elephant skin close up
Elephant art photograph
Pinnawela Elephant river
Elephant river Sri Lanka
Pinnawela Indian Jones
Bathing elephants Pinnawela Sri Lanka
Trunk ahoy elephant
Big elephants Sir Lanka
Elephant cuddles
Elephant trunk splash Pinnawela
Elephant snack
Elephant shower
Happy Elephant
Elephant bull
Brave baby elephant
Elephant twins
Elephant baby twisted trunk
Pinnawela. Sri Lanka
Elephant mouth
Elephant eyes
Elephant buddies
Crazy elephant trunk

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. jenny@atasteoftravel

    So true- cute baby orphaned elephants- how could you not love them! I’ve never forgotten the sight of the elephants coming down through the village for their swim in the river. Your fabulous photos have bought back beautiful memories

  2. Angela

    Love those elephants. Looks like you guys are having a blast!

  3. elpariente

    Great place and great photos You are missing yet the “White Elephant”Keep on like this and you will improve your previous travels!!!

  4. Dani

    Love these pictures – aren’t elephants the most adorable animals?? 🙂

  5. jan

    Beautiful, Beautiful, and so MANY!

  6. Kylie

    Love them! You’re very lucky to have been able to go there.

  7. Dutch

    I was planning on going, but have read some things which have changed my mind. Increasing concerns have been raised the past few years about the treatment of the elephants, one of the concerns being about one of largest male elephants dying in 2011 due to maltreatment. From what I have gathered the guards are more interested in money than in the elephants.I get that it’s cute and all, I really wanted to go and experience elephants up close. But I feel that where animals and money are mixed, you should always check if the animals are cared for properly before spending your money there and supporting whatever they are doing.

  8. Alyse

    ‘Dutch’ is right. I found this place to be masqauerading as an orphanage but really about money making. When I was there, elephants were cajoled and moved about for the tourists, (and tips) herded together for photos and handling. We saw one animal hit hard for trying to roam outside the small stretch of river they are taken to twice a day to bathe in. One three-legged elephant was the first out and hobbled as fast as possible up the hill back to the park; the reason why becoming clear on her return. She was ravenously hungry, scouring the ground constantly for any scrap of food. All the time people were very close, even walking amongst the elephants, which I thought could have posed real danger. People love these animals and want to get close to them but this was not right. The animal charity Born Free has been aware of the problems here for some time. Their website shows photos of elephants, including a huge blind one, with deep, open sores on their legs, caused by being chained for up to 20 hours a day. There are suspect ‘training’ methods; one elephant, also photographed, had noticeable injuries to its head. Animals are also taken from here to other places reknowned for poor standards of care. The elephants are breeding but should not be kept as what I would describe as glorified ‘pet’s. Born Free funded the Elephant Transit home near Udawalawe which returns every orphaned elephant that can be returned, to the wild. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this place, knowing that they funded it.  I want to discourage tourists from visiting Pinnewala but for the elephants to be cared for properly or rehabilitated and released to the wild where they should be.

  9. Hashini


  10. Hashini

    Beautiful……..& Awesome……!!

  11. Travel Underwriters

    It sounds like an amazing experience. It is a bit saddening to hear that the guards come across as money hungry opportunists. Then again, it is a tourist attraction, so perhaps it should be expected… not saying that it is acceptable though! Regardless, it’s nice to see that these orphaned elephants have some place to call home. Must also say that you have taken some incredible pictures of these beautiful, intelligent animals! They all looks so cuddly and happy, and we hope it stays that way!

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