Tourist’s guide to Pinnawela Elephant Nursery

Pinnawela is a small town in the central part of Sri Lanka, where the most famous elephant nursery is located, where a huge number of tourists come from year to year. The Pinnawela Elephant Shelter is one of those places that everyone who travels in Sri Lanka must visit.

Photo: elephants swimming in the river

The past and present of the nursery

Pinnawela’s elephant nursery in Sri Lanka appeared in 1975, and has been attracting tourists from all over the world for more than 40 years. The history of its foundation is associated with a large number of wars in Sri Lanka and an unstable economic situation.

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

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In the 20th century, locals who needed to somehow survive were forced to kill elephants and sell their tusks. As a result, the population of these animals has been greatly reduced. In order for the elephants not to completely disappear from Sri Lanka, Pinnawela was created. For several years in Sri Lanka – peace and order, but the reserve still exists.

Photo: elephant without legs

Today, the Pinnawela Elephant Nursery contains about 90 Indian elephants. Some of them were born directly in the shelter, which indicates favorable living conditions for animals. Shelter workers also care for elephants with physical disabilities and orphans.

The nursery is financed by local authorities, but Sri Lanka is not a wealthy country, so tourists bring a significant part of the maintenance money.

Tourist feeds an elephant

Some animals are transferred to zoos, while the rest are left in the country to transport goods and participate in Buddhist ceremonies.

Pinnawala 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. This can be done while swimming in the river or during lunch. In one day, elephants eat almost 7000 kg of leaves and several kg of bananas.

Schedule and cost of visiting

Strange as it may seem, the Elephant Day in Pinnawel is almost minute by minute:
    Photo: bathing elephants in Pinnawel
  • 8.30 – opening of the nursery
  • 9.00 – 10.00 breakfast (feeding elephants with fruit, and elephants with milk)
  • 10.00 – 12.00 – bathing elephants in the river
  • 12.00 – 13.45 – lunch with elephants
  • 13.45 – 14.00 – lunch with elephants
  • 14.00 – 16.00 – bathing elephants
  • 17.00 – 17.45 – dinner with adult elephants
  • 17.45 – 18.00 – elephant dinner
  • 18.00 – closing of the nursery

As you can see, the day of the elephant is not very diverse, 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 canceled, as the water level in the river rises significantly.

Milk feeding elephants
  • Admission for adults is 2500 rupees
  • For children – 1250
  • If you want to feed an elephant, you will have to pay an additional 250 rupees

Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage staff sometimes require you to pay extra 200 rupees for accessing the river, but be aware that this service is already included in the price of your ticket, so feel free to ignore dishonest workers.

Entertainment for tourists

Photo: tourists watching elephants

Near the Pinnawela Elephant Shelter in Sri Lanka, there is another small private nursery of the Samarasinghe family that can offer tourists:


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

Animal care

In order to independently take care of the elephant (feed it with bananas or wash), it is necessary to pay 250 rupees to the shelter workers.

Elephant riding
Elephant trekking

Unlike Pinnawela, in the nursery of the Samarasinghe family you can ride on elephants. The cost is 2000-3000 rupees for adults and 1200-1500 for children.

Here, perhaps, is the whole list of possible entertainments. Usually, they spend no more than 4 hours on visiting the Pinnawel elephant shelter, so if you come to this town all day, you will have to look for entertainment in other places: hotels, restaurants or just outside.

Important! Accommodation should be taken care of in advance: near Pinnawela there are only 3 hotels and the prices are not the lowest in Sri Lanka (one room is about $ 40 per day).

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How to get to Pinnawela from big cities

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

The distance from Colombo to Pinnawela is 70 km, but on winding Sri Lankan roads you will pass this distance in at least 2 hours.

It takes 5 hours to get to Pinnawela from Trincomalee.

It will be possible to get from Kandy to the nursery in 2.5 – 3 hours.

Let’s consider several options for travel from Kandy
Bus station in Kandy
  1. Bus number 662 connecting Kandy – Kudalle. Get off at the turn of Karandumpont (you must warn the driver in advance). Then transfer to the bus in the direction of Rambukkan (No. 681), ask the driver to stop at the nursery.
  2. Bus number 1 from Kandy to Colombo. The route from the station is to the Kegalle bus station. Exit at the bend, as in the previous version. There is still 10 km to Pinnawela, transfer to bus 681
  3. The train begins its route from the Kandy railway station to the Rambukkana railway station (about 3 km to the nursery).
You can get from Colombo to the nursery in the following ways
  1. By express train from the city station to Colombo station. And from the Colombo train station to the Rambukkana station. The distance from the nursery is about 3 km, you can get there by tuk-tuk.
  2. By bus to Pettah station, and then by minibus No. 1 to Kegalle bus station. Next, see the second option “How to get from Kandy”
Photo: Colombo Fort Railway Station
How to get from Bandaranaike Airport to Pinnawela
  1. By bus number 187 (runs around the clock) to the station in Colombo, and from there by train to a stop in Rambukkan.
  2. By bus number 1 to the Kegalle stop (from there about 10 km to Pinnawela).

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Seasons to visit

Monthly air temperature in Pinnawel

Pinnawela is located near the Indian Ocean and the climate is equatorial. Thanks to the warm weather (daytime temperature – + 28 … + 33º, night – + 18 … + 22º), the Pinnawel shelter in Sri Lanka can be visited all year round.

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

Monthly rainfall in the town

But from October to December and in April, it rains often and is quite strong (but not long). Therefore, be prepared for the fact that due to the weather, visiting the nursery will either have to be completely canceled, or you won’t be able to see everything you wanted.

Pinnawela Elephant Shelter is a place that will undoubtedly give you pleasant emotions. If you love animals and decide to visit Sri Lanka, be sure to check here.

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