Visiting Orphaned Baby Elephants at the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe, Sri Lanka – Yoga, Wine & Travel

Visiting Orphaned Baby Elephants at the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe, Sri Lanka

If it weren’t already completely and utterly obvious, I am obsessed with elephants. If you are also in love with these gentle giants, you need to visit Sri Lanka ASAP as it has one of the biggest populations of wild Asian elephants in the world. Over the years, measures to protect wildlife (and in particular, elephants) have continued to  improve in Sri Lanka, and a number of facilities have been created to ensure the survival and wellbeing of animals. One such facility is the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe, Sri Lanka. (“Udawalawe” may sound familiar to you as it is home to one of the most popular national parks in Sri Lanka.)

What is the Elephant Transit Home?

As the human population continues to grow in Sri Lanka, humans encroach on elephant natural habitat for farmland, gem mining, timber and even trafficking. Human-elephant conflict is a major threat to the survival of elephants in Sri Lanka, with many elephants being orphaned or lost: this is where Elephant Transit Home comes in. The elephant calves are taken in, nurtured and cared for back to health. The elephants are free to roam around and are never chained – Elephant Transit Home ensures that human contact is kept to a minimum in order to maximize their chance of survival when they are returned to the wild.

What sets Elephant Transit Home apart from other so-called “orphanages” is that elephants are returned to the wild so that they can re-integrate with wild herds once they turn five years old; according to the organization, more than 110 elephants have been returned back to the national parks around Sri Lanka. You can read more about the work Elephant Transit Home does here.

Looking for more Sri Lanka travel tips and destination guides? Click here for everything you need to help plan your trip to Sri lanka!

When should I visit the Elephant Transit Home?

Udawalawe is in a hot, semi-arid environment and the annual average temperature is about 32 degrees Celsius. Every day, Elephant Transit Home is open during feeding time and visitors can quietly observe dozens of baby elephants drink milk and wander around the watering hole. Elephant Transit Home orphans receive milk daily, every 3 hours at 9 am, noon, 3 pm, and 6 pm, and the home is open to visitors during these specific times. Many people visit Elephant Transit Home before their afternoon safari in Udawalawe National Park. It is a 10-20 minute drive away from the entrance to the national park.

Avoid visiting during the weekend and during school holidays, as the crowds can be very unbearable, and make sure you arrive 15-20 minutes before feeding time as there is only 1 ticket booth, and so you can make sure you get a good spot on the viewing platform.

The ticket price for entry is 500 LKR for adults and 250 LKR for children (approximately 3 USD and 1.5 USD).

What can I expect from a visit to the Elephant Transit Home?

Dozens and dozens of baby elephants! This was a highlight of my trip to Udawalawe – while you tend to see many fully grown elephants in Udawalawe National Park, you don’t always see many calves. Elephant Transit Home is home to 30-40 baby elephants at any given time, and being able to observe them play with one another is absolutely incredible. Most importantly, as a visitor you are able to see elephants knowing that you are not contributing to abuse and not playing a part in perpetuating constant captivity.

“The primary objective of the Elephant Transit Home is the rehabilitation of orphaned baby elephants and their release back to the wild.” – ETH

The viewing platform is a good 8-10 meters away from the elephants and the facility does not allow any visitors to touch, feed or pose for pictures next to the elephants. If you want to take high quality photos you will need to bring a zoom lens – that’s how far away they are!

After feeding time, you can walk through the educational center to learn more about the Asian elephant and the threats that challenge their survival. You should expect to spend a total of 30 minutes or so at the Elephant Transit Home.

I can not recommend a visit to the Elephant Transit Home enough. If you are visiting Yala or Udawalawe National Park, there is no reason why you shouldn’t stop by for one of the feeding sessions to observe the elephants!

Explore other ethical elephant orphanages, sanctuaries and national parks around the world here!

How do I get to Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe?

The best way to get to Udawalawe is by car. If you are traveling from Colombo to Udawalawe be prepared for a 4-5 hour car ride. You do not have to pre-book your visit to Elephant Transit Home. There are plenty of Udawalawe National Park accommodation options if you are staying overnight: I booked myself into Eliyanth Udawalawe, a small hotel that offered incredible value for money. The rooms were spacious and clean with a private balcony overlooking the river, and the hotel can help organize your Udawalawe National Park safari as well. The one thing to note is that they only accept cash, but there are nearby ATMs that you can use. Click here to book your stay at Eliyanth Udawalawe!

Udawalawe National Park Sri Lanka Eliyanth Hotel 2
Udawalawe National Park Sri Lanka Eliyanth Hotel 1

Where should I stay at if I’m only visiting Udawalawe for a day trip?

If you aren’t staying overnight in Udawalawe and only have time for a day trip to the national park and Elephant Transit Home, your best bet is to stay in the Southern Province – but get ready for a long day ahead of you as the drive to and from the park can be 2-3 hours long. However, the southern coast has beautiful stretches of beach and you have tons of options for places to stay!

Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa and Anantara Tangalle are excellent five star properties with amazing restaurants and service in this area. If you’re looking for something more low key, check out Talalla Retreat, the perfect place for surf and yoga. All of these hotels are within 2-3 hours’ drive away from Udawalawe National Park.

Sri Lanka Shangri La Hambantota Rooms 1
Anantara Tangalle pool_small

Need help planning your trip to Sri Lanka? Click here for more Sri Lanka destination guides and travel tips

Have you been to Elephant Transit Home or Sri Lanka? What did you think? Share your experience with me in the comments section below!

This article contains affiliate links. If you choose to book using these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my website by using these links, I only recommend products or services that I have personally used & hotels I enjoyed visiting. Visiting Orphaned Baby Elephants at the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe, Sri Lanka. Read on for how to plan your visit to the Elephant Transit Home and support the conservation and protection of Asian elephants! Visiting Orphaned Baby Elephants at the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe, Sri Lanka. Read on for how to plan your visit to the Elephant Transit Home and support the conservation and protection of Asian elephants!

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  1. This is fantastic! I had no idea places like these could be visited. I was in a rescue centre in Chiang Mai, but it was for adult elephants. And OMG the hotel near the Sanctuary looks lovely!

  2. Caraol says:

    I’ve also visited the orphanage and was impressed. When possible, they work toward reintroducing the elephants back into the wild and a new herd. So this isn’t a zoo- it’s a true rehab facility.

  3. This place sounds fantastic! I adore Elephants too… (I mean who doesn’t)!! And while it would melt my heart to feed, bathe and play with baby Elephants – like many ‘Orphanages’ offer, that sort of experience is simply not fair on these wonderful gentle giants! This place, however, is doing it right – I’d much rather watch them play in the distance knowing that they’ll one day be back in the wild 🙂
    Thanks for sharing – I will add this place to my list x

  4. kate says:

    I have read once from a blog talking about some of the elephant orphanages in Sri Lanka to be a tourist trap, because they chain the elephants. I’m glad that there are some places there that is practicing responsible tourism that protects the elephants as well!

    • Flo says:

      Yes, there is a very famous “orphanage” in Sri Lanka that has received a lot of criticism. I’ll leave it to you to do your own due diligence, but the government has recently conducted additional training for the mahouts given the widespread negative feedback of that particular facility.

  5. Richelle says:

    It’s so nice to see another elephant sanctuary actually treating the elephants well. I knew about Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, but now I’ll have to put Elephant Transit Home on my list when I finally make it to Sri Lanka. I love how they actually release the babies back into the wild!

    • Flo says:

      I loved my short time at ENP! They are slightly different to ETH as they don’t return elephants to the wild (because their elephants tend to need lifelong medical care), but ETH takes in orphaned baby elephants with the purpose of re-integration.

  6. Melanie says:

    I went to a similar place in Kenya and loved every minute! I loved learning about the work they were doing to protect the elephants, as well as their efforts to get them released back into the wild. Elephants are the coolest creatures!

    • Flo says:

      Was that the David Sheldrick Trust? I’ve done a little reading on that centre and it seems like the family is doing some incredible work!

  7. These elephants are so cute. I love baby elephants especially because they seem so small but they’re actually about human height. The Elephant Transit Home is a really good organisation. The human/elephant conflict is horrible but I’m glad they’re being proactive about a solution and protecting the babies till they’re old enough to survive on their own. I would love to visit there one day.

    • Flo says:

      I just hope that this model can be used in other countries too! You can even sponsor an elephant and be invited to witness them being released in the wild (again, no touching/riding).

  8. Kay says:

    Looks like they’re taking good care of their elephants! I’m glad you were able to learn about how they are working with their elephants and their conservation. I’m so so happy to see more ethical places that actually take care of their animals!

  9. Mario says:

    My gf worked for more than a year in Bolivia for a monkey rehabilitation center. She came in contact with lots of animals that were kept as pets, some of them quite abused during their imprisonment having extreme disorders. Seing there are lots of other organisations out there, helping animals (such as elephants in this case) is great. Watching the process of an insecure, afraid animal get back on his own feet and be able to be released back into the wild and survive on his own makes me think that there are at least some people who care 🙂 *faith in humanity restored*

  10. Hey! This is so comprehensive! Love that you cater to all aspects of visiting the ETH.. in fact, I didn’t even know ther were transit homes for elephants! It’s also relieving to read that visitors aren’t allow to directly touch/feed the baby elephants… certainly a place I’d love to visit sometime! =)

  11. Cali says:

    Now I REALLY want to go to Sri Lanka. The baby elephants are so cute. I went to a place like this in Nairobi for orphaned baby elephants. It is fantastic to hear, even just in the name, that the plan is not for permanent captivity.

  12. Rachelle says:

    Oh, I love a feel-good story involving elephants! I had no idea that there was such thing as a transit home in Sri Lanka, but now I do and I’m so glad! I would love to have a visit and see all the “little” elephants running around!

  13. this is really great…. I love the concept that they are preparing them to be in the wild again. I read a lot about Elephant homes where they are chained or used for tourist attractions.. saw that a lot in Thailand and it was hard to watch.

    • Flo says:

      Sri Lanka has done a great job of animal conservation and protection – there IS one center here that claims to be an “orphanage” but has a pretty bad reputation. Last I heard, the government was working with that center to train the mahouts to better treat the elephants – a step in the right direction.

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