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.) If you want to visit an elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka, read on for why I recommend the Elephant Transit Home!
Looking for more Sri Lanka travel tips and destination guides? Click here for everything you need to help plan your trip to Sri Lanka!
What is the Elephant Transit Home?
“The primary objective of the Elephant Transit Home is the rehabilitation of orphaned baby elephants and their release back to the wild.”
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. In 1995 Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife Conservation established the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home to care for these vulnerable elephants: 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 approximately 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 and here. The venue is also listed on World Animal Protection’s list of best practice elephant venues in Asia.
The best time to visit the Elephant Transit Home
Udawalawe is in a hot, semi-arid environment and the annual average temperature is about 32 degrees Celsius (approximately 90 Fahrenheit). 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).
How to get to the 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, but if you are already down in south Sri Lanka then the drive will take anywhere from 1-2 hours depending on which part of the coast you are staying in. You do not have to pre-book your visit to Elephant Transit Home.
The best place to stay in Udawalawe
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. Click here to book your stay at Eliyanth Udawalawe or click here for some other accommodation options in Udawalawe!
If you aren’t staying overnight in Udawalawe and only have time for a day trip to the national park and Elephant Transit Home, then your best bet is to stay in the Southern Province. The southern coast in Sri Lanka 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 or Zephyr Talalla, a beautiful boutique 4-bedroom beachfront villa serving up the best food & cocktails.
Independent travelers looking for a more intimate and quiet accommodation option can also consider Sam & Lola’s (my property) in Hiriketiya – there are only 2 standalone villas, each with their own private plunge pool. Book Villa Sam here, and book Villa Lola here. All of these hotels are within 2-3 hours’ drive away from Udawalawe National Park.
Booking tip: Not 100% certain of your travel dates? Choose a hotel that offers a flexible cancellation policy on Booking.com – click here for more accommodation options and current rates in Udawalawe!
What to expect from a visit to the Elephant Transit Home
Dozens and dozens of baby elephants! Visiting this elephant sanctuary in Sri Lanka 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 unless you’re lucky enough to visit during the right season when calves are born.
Elephant Transit Home is home to 40-60 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 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: the hallmarks of a true elephant sanctuary. If you want to take high quality photos you will need to bring a zoom lens (150mm and above) – that’s how far away they are!
The baby elephants are released into the feeding area in batches, and they prance towards the carers who have their milk ready for them – sometimes you can even hear their adorable little trumpets of excitement as they rush over for their grub. 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 45 minutes-or-so at the Elephant Transit Home.
I can not recommend a visit to the Elephant Transit Home enough if you want to visit a genuine elephant sanctuary in Sri Lanka. 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!
Headed to Sri Lanka? You might enjoy these other insider tips and guides:
- Don’t support the unethical treatment of animals in Sri Lanka. Click here for 15 things to avoid doing in Sri Lanka
- Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to see elephants. Here is my guide on where to see elephants in Sri Lanka
- Head on over here for my ultimate guide to visiting Udawalawe National Park
- Southern Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful places in the country. Click here for more ideas for what to do in Sri Lanka’s deep south
- Need help planning your trip to Sri Lanka? Click here for more Sri Lanka destination guides and travel tips
- Love elephants? Explore other ethical elephant orphanages, sanctuaries and national parks around the world here
You absolutely should stop by this ethical elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka! Have you been to Elephant Transit Home or Sri Lanka? What did you think? Share your experience with me in the comments section below.
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