Elephant Sanctuaries, Orphanages and Parks Around the World That You Should Visit – Yoga, Wine & Travel

Elephant Sanctuaries, Orphanages and Parks Around the World That You Should Visit

Growing up, I loved all kinds of animals, but I’ve always felt especially drawn to these gentle giants. They are intelligent and social, soft but protective, statuesque yet unostentatious. After I graduated from college (bear in mind this was almost a decade ago!), my friends and I went on a trip to Phuket for some R&R, and somehow found ourselves at one of the “cultural theme parks” there. The theme park has one of the largest shows in Asia with trapeze artists, pyrotechnics, and of course – performing animals. The minute we sat down I could feel my heart sink. What had we gotten ourselves into? As soon as I saw the elephant trainers force them to stand on their two front legs it hit me and I just couldn’t stomach what was to come: I had to get the hell out. To this day, I still deeply regret patronizing that establishment.  

But look – I am not here to lecture or preach.

Without sounding too cliché, the more you know the better equipped you are to make a sound decision, one that’s right for you and your family. There are so many wonderful places around the world where you can support and nurture the growth and survival of elephants, and I would encourage you to look into all the different options. I will say this though, I have since visited the Yala, Udawalawe and Kaudulla National Parks in Sri Lanka and witnessing elephants in their natural habitat is pretty darn incredible. I also finally visited Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, a rescue and rehabilitation centre, and absolutely loved the opportunity to spend some quality time with elephants that had been rescued from street begging, the logging industry, circuses and riding camps.

If you are researching places to interact with or observe animals, there are a few factors that you should bear in mind. According to the World Animal Protection organization, “If you can climb, ride, hug, hold or touch an elephant, chances are the elephant has been subjected to cruelty and is living in poor conditions.”

From the WAP’s Research Report on the conditions for elephants used in tourism in Asia: “A true elephant-friendly venue is purely observational for visitors, where the safety of visitors and wellbeing of elephants is not affected by the need to constantly control the animals. The elephants would be managed in humane ways through the mahout who allows a maximum of freedom or through advanced ‘protected contact’ techniques.”

There are some great articles that I’ve linked to below from travel bloggers who have taken the time to share their experiences at some of these places, and the World Elephant Day website is another fantastic resource for information on foundations, trusts and projects dedicated to elephant conservation, protection, research and education! Love and want to contribute to the well-being and conservation of elephants? Here are a number of ethical elephant sanctuaries, orphanages and wildlife parks around the world that you should visit ASAP!

A big thank you to the Instagrammers below who were kind enough to let me share their photos! I encourage you to take a look at the rest of their Instagram feeds for more beautiful pictures.

1. David Sheldrick Orphanage, Nairobi, Africa

A photo posted by Sarah (@guttertoglobe) on

2. Yala National Park, Sri Lanka / Yogawinetravel.com: Discover Yala National Park in Sri Lanka – What You Need to Know

3. Amboseli National Park, Kenya, Africa / Wander With Jo: To Kenya, With Love

4. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai, Thailand / Time Travel Blonde: Choose Ethical Tourism and Care for Our Gentle Giants

5. Tarangire National Park, Tanzania, Africa / Safari Junkie: Tarangire National Park

A photo posted by Nina Zara (@safarijunkie) on

6. Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand / Here & Air: The Harsh Truth About Riding Elephants in Thailand

7. Nairobi National Park, Nairobi, Africa

8. Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary, Chiang Mai, Thailand / Intentional Travelers: Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary + Hill Tribe Homestay

9. Kruger National Park, South Africa

10. Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka / Yogawinetravel.com: An Epic Elephant Safari in Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka

11. Surin Project, Surin Thailand / Eclectic Trekker: The Life of a Surin Project Volunteer

12. Nagarhole National Park, India

13. Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe, Sri Lanka / Yogawinetravel.com: Visiting Orphaned Baby Elephants at the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe, Sri Lanka

14. Minneriya & Kaudulla National Parks, Sri Lanka

Have you visited an elephant sanctuary, orphanage or wildlife park that you loved? Please share your experience with me in the comments section!

Yogawinetravel.com: Elephant Sanctuaries, Orphanages and Parks Around the World That You Should Visit

Yogawinetravel.com: Elephant Sanctuaries, Orphanages and Parks Around the World That You Should Visit

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  1. Sophia says:

    WOW this is amazing and such a great idea! I definetly bookmarked your blog and will be coming back often in the future to check out all your new and awesome ideas! I really can’t express how much I love this enough!

  2. Diana says:

    I am obsessed with elephants and I love this post!! I’m hoping to go to the elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai in the next year or so. I would actually just love to volunteer in an elephant sanctuary for an extended period of time… that would be the life (:

  3. Beautiful pictures. I rode an elephant years ago when I first went to Thailand and before I knew any better, but it breaks my heart to see people doing it now. Posts like this are so important to show people how much more majestic elephants look in the wild without the chains and bull-hooks. Great write-up!

    • Flo says:

      Thanks so much lovely! I had a lot of fun putting this piece together. I have also ridden on elephants before and I just didn’t have any clue about the process behind “taming” the elephant. I’ve also seen the swaying action that a lot of elephants exhibit when they’re chained up from birth, and it just breaks my heart.

  4. Rachel says:

    I visited an elephant orphanage in Kenya. They were SOO cute, and it was so sad that most of their Moms had been killed by ivory hunters. 🙁 Luckily they get rescued and rehabilitated so they can go back into the wild. R

    • Flo says:

      Have you seen that people have been staining an elephant’s tusks to render it useless to ivory hunters? I hope it continues and works!

  5. Courtney says:

    Great post! Drawing attention to issues like this in tourism is important. I have bookmarked some of the blog posts you linked to so I can read more!

    • Flo says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Courtney! I think it’s so important to arm ourselves with all the information we can before making a decision about where to spend our money.

  6. This is so lovely, Flo! I feel insanely strongly about animal cruelty and tourism, especially because it still seems like people just aren’t aware (or worse, they know and still don’t care!). Elephant riding seems like a no brainer now, but I still log on to occasionally see random Facebook acquaintances talking about it! It’s never, ever okay! Thanks for sharing all these photos 😀

    • Flo says:

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read through, Samantha! I think most of the time it comes down to a lack of awareness. In the past, I too have ridden elephants because I just didn’t have any idea about the cruelty behind the practice. Hopefully we can do a small part in increasing awareness on the issue!

  7. I’m excited to find another blogger who values ecotourism! I used to love going to zoos and places like that until I realized the traumatic lives these animals live. I’m definitely doing more research and gaining awareness in the activities I participate in when I travel.

    • Flo says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read through, Brooke! I think it’s all about research and awareness – hopefully we can encourage people to make an informed decision!

  8. Amazing post! Love of the idea of using Instagrammers posts on a particular subject as the photo content; the photo of the elephant in the wing mirror of the car is especially ingenious. We’re actually in Chiang Mai at the moment and we are hoping to get a chance to see some elephants so will definitely check out the link. Thanks! Love C and D x

    • Flo says:

      Thanks guys! Honestly Instagram is where I turn to for my travel inspiration so it only made sense! I would definitely recommend that you check out the rest of these IGers’ feeds! 🙂 Have fun in Chiang Mai, I would love to hear how your visit goes!

  9. Great collection of photos! Elephants are so majestic. I once visited a touristy elephant park an Phuket years ago, and it makes me sad now to think about it 🙁

  10. Kim says:

    Thanks heaps for this Jo! We’re currently in Sri Lanka and have been debating visiting Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. I read mixed reviews on the treatment of animals here, so will continue my research before making a decision. Your pictures are amazing though – thanks for sharing your love of these beautiful creatures!!! X

    • Flo says:

      Kim, that’s exactly why I haven’t been to Pinnawala! Super mixed reviews. You should look into Minneriya, Yala or Udawalawe National Parks if you want to see elephants in their natural habitat!

  11. Natalie says:

    This is awesome, I’m actually hoping to go volunteer at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai later this year.

  12. Kana says:

    Flo this is amazing! I’ve always wanted to visit Elephants and it’s so important to go somewhere fair that treats their animals well. Gorgeous collection of the beautiful giants! Thanks so much for joining us on FlyAwayFriday again this week! xo

    • Flo says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read through, Kana! Elephants are such an important species for so many reasons, I just hope we can collectively do something to raise awareness about their treatment!

  13. What magnificent photos of the elephants! Great collection. These are such special creatures it is a shame only now people are waking up to the harm that is done through some tourist operations though. They are such beautiful animals.

    • Flo says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read through, Juliette! I feel like elephants have such emotive eyes. I just hope that collectively we can do something to raise awareness about their treatment!

  14. Becki says:

    I’m going to the elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai next April for my 21st and I can’t wait! Thank you for sharing this post, I think it’s super important that people realise how damaging tourism can be to elephants, and that there are places you can see them without harming them!!

    • Flo says:

      What a wonderful way to spend your 21st! Please let me know how it goes, maybe I’ll even see you there next April! 😉

  15. Chloe Hahn says:

    I love this post!! I love how you worded it and shared such a great message! So glad to see you again this week for the link up and can’t wait for next weeks! Xo Chloe

  16. Gina says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I’m starting to become more mindful and I wish there were more people like you in the world who talk to people and educate them instead of giving a holier than thou attitude. (Believe it or not, someone did that to me!) We all make mistakes when it comes to animals, (myself included) but it’s good to learn and get the message out there.

    • Flo says:

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read this, Gina! I think the key is to raise awareness: my parents used to take me to zoos all the time, and I’ve been to places that provide less-than-acceptable care to animals – we all make mistakes 🙂

  17. What an amazing post Flo! I had a similar experience in Thailand, that’s when I realised these beautiful animals deserve to be treated with so much more love and respect than what they are getting at these shows. It’s wonderful that you are able to educate others and raise awareness 🙂

    • Flo says:

      Thank you so much for reading this, Priti! I think the key is awareness – if people have all the facts at hand then they can make an educated decision 🙂

  18. Julia Dent says:

    This is such a helpful list! I would love to visit one of these places and see these elephants in person! 🙂

  19. I remember going to the circus as a kid and crying because I felt so bad for the animals.
    I think if you’re going to travel, be responsible. Don’t add to an animals torture.
    Elephant sanctuaries are incredible 🙂

    • Flo says:

      I think it’s all about education and awareness, Brooklyn! Many people are just unaware about the behind-the-scenes “training” and abuse 🙂

  20. Kelly says:

    What a great post. I love elephants and am grateful for posts like this so that I can make better decisions as to which organizations I support with my patronage. I also used to have a shirt that said elephants make me happy. 🙂

  21. Kirsten says:

    I’ve been looking for something like this!
    I’m heading to Asia and wanting to volunteer with Elephant Sanctuaries but I’ve read of so many scams!
    Will definitely save this post and get back to it when I’m in Thailand! They are such underestimated gentle creatures it so great to raise awareness of such places rather than paying for other atrocious acts :@

  22. Susanna says:

    Yay! I just LOVE this! I accidentally ended up in a place with unethical animal treatment as well, but got out as soon as I could. Instead of beating myself up about it, I always do a TON of research now before I go anywhere involving animals. Thank you for this amazing list. I hope I can visit them all some day!

    • Flo says:

      It’s all about awareness and having all the facts! I have yet to go to a “turtle sanctuary” because I’ve read SO many mixed reviews!

  23. C-Ludik says:

    Loved this post 🙂 I’m 100% with you: drawing attention to issues like this in tourism is so important ! I rode an elephant years ago when I first went to Nepal…¨but elephant riding seems like a no brainer now. We all make mistakes when it comes to animals, (myself included) but it’s good to learn and get the message out there. Gorgeous pictures collection of these beautiful giants ! Thanks for sharing.

  24. Petra says:

    I am like you an elephant lover. We have also been to Elephant nature park in Chiang Mai. It is incredible important what they do there. We have been to the orphanage in Nairobi. A little bit touristic, but they do good work. We have seen many elephants in Kruger NP and Addo elephant park in South Africa. Also Kenia and Tanzania has good NPs. We are going to Sri Lanka in August and there are still a lot of elephants used for working and tourist industry. I will not go to the Pinnawela orphanage we go to the Elephant transit home. And offcourse the best thing is to see them into the wild!
    What is your experience how Sri Lanka people treat the elephants?

    • Flo says:

      I have never been to Pinnawala as I’ve heard that there is mistreatment of the animals there, but I have heard that the government is hosting a training program to help the mahouts learn how to better care for the elephants. The elephants in the national parks look as they should – wild.

      Elephants are still used in religious processions and festivals in Sri Lanka, and some temples will have “resident” elephants chained on temple grounds. Unfortunately this is still common and a truly sad sight.

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