Pinnawela Elephant Sanctuary in Sri Lanka

Pinnawela Elephant Nursery

Pinnavela is a small town in the central part of the island of Sri Lanka, which is home to the country’s most famous elephant nursery. A large number of tourists come to this place year after year. The Pinnavela elephant sanctuary is a must visit for anyone traveling in Sri Lanka.

Photo: elephants swimming in the river

The Past and Present of the Pinnawela Elephant Sanctuary

The Pinnavela Elephant Sanctuary in Sri Lanka began in 1975 and for over 40 years now has been attracting tourists from all over the world. The history of its foundation is connected with the great number of wars on the island and the unstable economic situation.

The main objective of the Pinnavela Refuge is to preserve the population and increase the number of elephants, which in Sri Lanka in the mid-20th century there were more than 30 thousand.

In the 20th century, locals, who had to survive somehow, were forced to kill elephants and sell their tusks. As a result, the population of these animals has greatly diminished. In order to prevent elephants from disappearing from Sri Lanka completely, the Pinnawela was created. For several years now, there has been peace and order in Sri Lanka, but the reserve still exists.

Photo: elephant without a leg

Today the Pinnavela elephant nursery contains 93 Indian elephants. Some of them were born directly in the shelter, which shows the favorable living conditions of the animals. The shelter workers also take care of the physically challenged and orphaned elephants.

The nursery is financed by the local authorities, but Sri Lanka is not a rich country, so a large part of the maintenance money comes from tourists.

A female tourist feeds an elephant.

Some of the animals are donated to zoos, and the rest are left in the country for transportation and to participate in Buddhist ceremonies.

Pinnavela in Sri Lanka is one of the most famous nurseries in the world, where you can not only see but also touch and feed the elephants. You can do this while they are bathing in the river or at lunchtime. In one day elephants eat almost 7000 kg of leaves and several kg of bananas.

Good to know! There are 20 National Parks on the territory of Sri Lanka. Four of the most interesting and visited are described here.

Opening hours and costs

Photo: elephants bathing in Pinnavale

  • 8.30 – opening of the nursery
  • 9.00 – 10.00 Breakfast (elephants feed with fruit and baby elephants with milk)
  • 10.00 – 12.00 – bathing the elephants in the river
  • 12.00 – 13.45 – Elephant lunch
  • 13.45 – 14.00 – lunch at the elephants
  • 14.00 – 16.00 – elephants bathing
  • 17.00 – 17.45 – dinner at the elephants
  • 17.45 – 18.00 – dinner with elephants
  • 18.00 – Closing of the Elephant Camp

As you can see the elephant day is not very varied, but it is good for tourists, because in one day you can feed the animal 3 times and watch them in the water.

Note! After heavy rain, bathing can be cancelled as the water level in the river rises significantly.

The Pinnavela Elephant Sanctuary staff will sometimes charge you 200 rupees extra for going to the river, but be aware that this service is already included in the price of your ticket, so feel free to ignore the dishonest workers.

Recreational Activities for Tourists

Photo: Tourists observing elephants.

Near the Pinnavela elephant sanctuary in Sri Lanka, there is another one, a small private nursery of the Samarasinghe family, that can offer tourists:

A standard tour of the private nursery lasts 4 hours. During this time you will feed an elephant, see how the adult animals bathe in water and learn a lot of new and interesting from the guide. The cost of the tour is 6,000 rupees for adults and 3,000 rupees for children.

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If you want to take care of the elephant yourself (feed it with bananas or wash it), you have to pay an extra 300 rupees to the shelter staff.

Elephant riding

In contrast to Pinnavela, you can ride elephants in the Samarasinghe family nursery. The cost is 2000-3000 rupees for adults and 1200-1500 for children.

This is, perhaps, the entire list of possible activities. Usually Pinnavela Elephant Sanctuary is limited to 4 hours, so if you come to this town for the whole day, you have to look for other places to entertain: hotels, restaurants, or just in the streets.

You should take care about your accommodation beforehand: there are only 3 hotels near Pinnavela and their prices are not the most budget hotels in Sri Lanka (one room costs about $40 per night).

Prices on the page are for April 2020. Check the shelter’s official website – http://nationalzoo.gov.lk/elephantorphanage – for up-to-date schedules and prices.

Rules of conduct in the kennel

  1. You must have your ID card with you at all times.
  2. You must keep a safe distance from the animals.
  3. It is forbidden to feed animals without permission.
  4. No teasing of animals.
  5. Smoking is forbidden on the premises.
  6. No noise, singing, playing musical instruments, or playing music loudly is allowed on the Pinnavel Kennel Club grounds.
  7. You must keep your ticket until the end of your visit.

On a side note. How to get to one of Sri Lanka’s top natural attractions Adam’s Peak and helpful tips before climbing are collected on this page.

How to get to Pinnawela from big cities

Pinnavela is most often visited on the way from Colombo to Kandy or from Trincomalee to Kandy.

The distance from Colombo to Pinnavela is 70 km, but you can drive it in at least 2 hours on winding Lankan roads.

It takes 5 hours to reach Pinnavela from Trincomalee.

From Kandy it takes 2.5 to 3 hours to reach the nursery.

  1. Take bus number 662 from Kandy to Kudallee. Get off at Karandumpona turnoff (please let the driver know beforehand). Change to Rambukkan bus (#681) and tell the bus driver to stop at the nursery.
  2. Bus #1 from Kandy to Colombo. The route from the station is to Kegalle Bus Station. Get off at the turn, as in the previous option. There will be another 10 km to Pinnavela, change to bus 681.
  3. The train starts its route from Kandy railway station to Rambukkana railway station (about 3 km to the nursery).

Please note! Details about Kandy city in Sri Lanka are collected in this article with photos.

  1. By express train from the city station to Colombo station. And from Colombo railway station to Rambukkana station . The distance from the nursery is about 3 km, you can take a tuk-tuk.
  2. By bus to Pettah station, and then by shuttle #1 to Kegalle bus station. Then see the second option “How to get from Kandy”.
  1. Take bus #187 (runs around the clock) to the station in Colombo, and from there take the train to the stop in Rambukkan.
  2. Take bus #1 to the Kegalle stop (from there about 10 km to Pinnavela).

Seasons to visit.

Monthly air temperatures in Pinnacle

Pinnavela is near the Indian Ocean and the climate is equatorial. Due to the warm weather (temperature during the day – +28 … +33º, at night – +18 … +22º), Pinnavela refuge in Sri Lanka can be visited all year round.

The best months to visit are from June to September and from January to March. During this time, there is the least amount of rainfall here.

Rainfall by Month

But from October to December and in April it rains often and quite heavily (but not for a long time). Therefore, be prepared for the fact that due to the weather, you will either have to cancel your visit or not be able to see everything you wanted to see.

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The Pinnavela Elephant Sanctuary is a place that is sure to make you feel good. If you are an animal lover and decide to visit Sri Lanka, make sure to check it out.

Visit Pinnavela, the hotel at the elephant sanctuary and the peculiarities of living there – in this video.

Author: Maria Protasenya

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Elephant Nursery in Pinnavel

I was one of those tourists in Sri Lanka who made it a goal to see elephants! I think these majestic animals are a must-see for any tourist in Asia, especially in Sri Lanka. After all, there are about 3,000 elephants in this country! Yet it is almost impossible to see them in their natural environment, even though their paths are often crossed by highways. They avoid humans, and their population has also declined dramatically over the past 20 years due to the bombing of the Tamil Tigers during the civil war.

However, let’s not talk about the sad stuff! The elephants in Pinnavel made an amazing impression on me – cute, kind, smiling! And, most importantly, the spectacles that this nursery offers. If you go there in the morning, you can feed baby elephants with milk from a bottle, and then walk together with the whole herd of 90 elephants to the river, where they are swimming and frolic. By the way, it is just a fascinating spectacle! The whole herd is led through the village to the river Maha Oya, where the baby elephants frolic and splash in the water, and the adults wash themselves with a raindrop fountain from the trunk.

For a nominal fee, I was able to feed the elephant, pet him, and look into his big good-natured eyes while being up close and personal with him. The Pinnavel Nursery provides unforgettable memories for every visitor!

A bit of history

The kennel was founded in the mid-1970s. Its main goal was to rehabilitate small orphaned elephants. Many of them had lost their parents because they had fallen into the mines left in the woods or into the deep traps set up by the opposition during the war.

Now the orphanage is home to about 90 elephants in three generations, who are meticulously cared for by about the same number of employees.

So how do you make the dream of visiting this place a reality? I will tell you about that a little later, because there are many nuances that are worth considering so that nothing marred your impression of the nursery.

How to get there

South of Pinnavela is one of the main highways of Sri Lanka – A1 which is also accessible by car every 30 minutes. And to the north of the nursery is the station in the village of Rambukkana, where trains arrive from Colombo and Kandy almost hourly. And now more about each of the routes.

By train

The nearest train station to the nursery is in the neighboring village of Rambukkana, just 4 km from Pinnavela. The easiest way to get from the station is by tuk-tuk for 1 USD (150 LKR / Sri Lankan rupees) or by bus, which stops near the station, for 0.2 USD (30 LKR). The buses usually have the places they pass through written on them, but it’s always best to check with the conductor and driver. You can also ask someone at the station for advice on how to find that bus.

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From Colombo.

The earliest train from Colombo leaves at 04:40 and the latest at 23:00. A total of 20 trains leave from the country’s largest city for Rambukkana in a day. Only half of the trains have first and second class, which is what tourists in Sri Lanka mostly travel on.

First class is air-conditioned, in some cases the train has Wi-Fi. Second class differs from third class with slightly more comfortable seats and relative cleanliness, and because of the higher price you will have far fewer fellow travelers than if you buy a third class ticket. I only traveled in Sri Lanka in second class because I was saving money, plus in first class you can’t always take epic photos sticking out of the car: the doors are often locked.

The ticket can cost from 0,2 USD to 1,3 USD (30-200 LKR), depending on the class. It is better to buy tickets for the first class 1-2 days before departure, but for the other classes you can buy them the day before. Tickets are purchased at the ticket office at the Colombo Fort Station.

You will spend 2.5 hours en route, so it is best to choose a train that departs between 06:00 and 09:00 (I forget the exact time), then you will have enough time to explore Pinnavela and return home.

From Kandy

The trains from Kandy leave from 01:30 to 20:30, it will take you about 1.5 hours to get there. I strongly advise you to take the train to Pinnavela if you start from Kandy, as by bus or car you may well get stuck in traffic when you leave town.

Most of these trains have second class in addition to third class, and trains leaving at 12:50 and 4:05 p.m. also have first class. The fare will cost from 0.2 USD to 1 USD (30-150 LKR).

By bus

I wouldn’t advise you to consider this option if you can take the train. The climate in this region is quite hot and humid, the travel time is long and the buses are often crowded so that one cannot even breathe. The bus, of course, is cheaper than a second-class train. For example, the fare from Kandy to the Pinnavela turnoff will only cost 0.5 USD (70 LKR), and from Colombo it’s probably a little more expensive.

You will spend about 2-3.5 hours en route, depending on traffic. Note that from Kandy you will only get a bus that goes to Kegalle OR to Colombo, and from Colombo necessarily to Kandy. Ask the driver and conductor when boarding if they go to Pinnavela, they will remember you and tell you where to get off.

However, both of these buses will only take you to the stop in the village of Karandupana, which is 6 km from the nursery.

From there you can take the bus again for 0,13 USD (20 LKR) or take a tuk-tuk for 1,3 USD (200 LKR). You will need to find another bus stop, to do this cross to the opposite side and turn onto the road towards Rambukanna, just around the corner you will see a bench and a bunch of Lankans waiting for the same bus that you need. And it won’t take you more than 15 minutes to get to your final destination.

By car

Driving to Pinnavela by car is the most convenient, if compared with public transport, but also much more expensive. However, if you are not planning to rent a car and want to use a cab, it is best to arrange such a service either directly at the airport upon arrival (that is, arrange in advance), or ask about it in the hotel where you are staying. In many resorts on the coast is not difficult to find travel agencies that offer such excursions. I can’t tell you the exact price, but I assume that the one-way fare in a passenger car for three passengers will be about 40 USD (6,000 LKR) from both Colombo and Kandy.

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From Colombo.

From Colombo to Pinnavela you can get on the A1, the country’s main highway, but that doesn’t make it any wider or safer. There are a lot of buses going back and forth and you have to slow down to the right of way. It will take you 2.5 to 3 hours to get there, depending on the traffic outside of Colombo.

Drive all the way towards Kandy according to the signs, and then turn off at the right turn to Pinnavela. There is free public parking right next to the park.

From Kandy

From Kandy to Pinnavela it’s only 41 km, but you may well spend about 2 hours on the road. All because of the traffic jams that end only in Peradeniya, that is 15 km from Kandy itself, and also because of the narrow roads.

The first part of the way you have to drive in Peradeniya is on the serpentine roads, which you have to drive at a slow speed. You will have to drive on the same highway A1.

Cost of visit

The entrance ticket for an adult costs 16 USD (2 500 LKR) and for a child from 3 to 12 years is 8 USD (1 250 LKR). Children under the age of 3 years are free. If you do not want to visit the nursery itself, and just want to walk with the elephants to the river, you can pay only 3.3 USD (500 LKR).

In addition, Pinnavel also offers paid entertainment such as:

  • Feeding an elephant from a bottle – 2.3 USD (350 LKR);
  • Bananas for treating the elephants – 0,6 USD (100 LKR);
  • elephant feeding – another 0,6 USD (100 LKR);
  • photo with elephant – 0,6 USD (100 LKR);
  • professional video – 10 USD (1,500 LKR).

Mode of the day in Pinnavel

Pinnavel has a certain daily routine, according to which visitors can take part in various activities that involve elephants:

Rules of Attendance

In order to make your stay at the kennel a safe and pleasant one, try not to break some rules:

  • keep your distance from the animals – firstly, it will anger the staff, and secondly, it is necessary for your own safety, after all, no one knows how the animals may behave;
  • don’t feed elephants food other than what the staff have given you;
  • do not tear any flowers and do not harm the plants;
  • no smoking on the territory of the nursery – punishable by a fine;
  • do not pass with your pets;
  • do not listen to music too loudly or make noise;
  • keep your ticket and passport with you at all times;
  • Children of all ages are allowed, but of course you need to keep an eye on them. The prices are a little less for children, but I wrote about that above;
  • you can take pictures of the animals, but to take a picture with an animal you will have to tip the mahout (elephant herder).

Pinnavela Zoo

If you are traveling with children, this place is a must-see as a great option for leisure and entertainment for the younger ones. I got that impression because I was probably expecting some kind of a spread from the zoo. After all, Sri Lanka is such a rich country with all sorts of critters!

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The peculiarity of this zoo is that it is open, and the way of life of its inhabitants is as close to natural as possible. This is the only such zoo in the whole of Sri Lanka, while the size of the zoo is in second place.

The zoo itself is divided into two parts: the Lankan and the world. At the entrance to the park there is a large stand with a schematic map showing and signed in English all the areas. Maybe now they have thought a little better about how to make the visitors’ visit easier and more pleasant, but when I was there, the map booklet was left out for me.

Of the inhabitants there, leopards are the most common, but besides them you can also see monkeys, lions, wild boars, deer and, of course, some elephants.

Pinnavela Zoo is within walking distance of the nursery:

The hours of operation and ticket prices are exactly the same as the nursery. Here’s a link to the official nursery website, and here’s a link to the zoo.

Millennium Park.

Upon arrival at either the bus station or the train station, the tuk-tuks will insist that you visit this particular place, which is 2 km south of the Pinnavela Nursery. The arguments are not bad: the price is lower – 14 USD (2 000 LKR), which includes a ride on an elephant for 15 minutes. BUT this establishment is the subject of real fraud and easy profiteering at the expense of poor elderly elephants!

And the thing is, the tuk-tuks there get paid a little money for each visitor. In fact, the elephants at the Millennium are terribly exhausted, miserable, and tired, even though there are only four of them there. Chains are put on their feet, and the mahouts (elephant herders, so to speak) beat them for disobedience. And riding an elephant is not much fun: the elephant shakes a lot, and the elephant looks like it’s going to throw down or run away somewhere. Mine did just that: rushed into the woods, and the mahout just shouted: No worry!, doing nothing.

This “park” is a private project of a Lankan entrepreneur who does not invest at all in the welfare of the animals of his, if you can call it, kennel. Obviously, the employees there aren’t paid much either, given the way they behave: our mahout managed to run a personal photo on the phone we gave him to capture our elephant ride, and the other employees were constantly rude to visitors.

Please don’t fall for this questionable entertainment! This is how you support the rude treatment of innocent animals. Of course, if you want to ride an elephant, this is the place for you, but otherwise I do not see the point in visiting “Millennium”. The emotions afterwards remain extremely negative, not to compare to a visit to Pinnavela.

Where to stay

If you want to spend a day or two here, spending one day at the zoo and another at the kennel, you can stay at one of the hotels in Pinnavela. It also makes sense to stay here overnight if you come with kids: they’re bound to be very exhausted from the day’s experiences, and the trip back won’t be easy.

The best of the few options in the village are Hotel Elephant Park and Hotel Elephant Bay – you’ll see elephants being led to bathe in the morning, and they’re not the cheapest options. You can check out the other options on Bookings.

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