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Pinnawala and Hotel Elephant Bay, Sri Lanka

Elephants are widely spread around Sri Lanka and if you spend enough time in the country, you will most likely stumble upon a few of them in the wild!

But there is one place in Sri Lanka, where you can see dozens of elephants all at once and that’s in Pinnawala! However they are not wild elephants as they belong to the local orphanage.

We have booked a one night stay in the Hotel Elephant Bay, which we only paid 28EUR for. We have booked this hotel on purpose because it’s built on the riverbank and has an amazing view not only of the river, but also the elephants!

These elephants come here everyday to take a bath, play in the water and roam around the river from the nearby elephant orphanage. We haven’t visited the elephant orphanage itself, so can’t tell you anything about it or how ethical it is (we hope it is), but from what we’ve seen from our hotel, they were roaming free around the river. People were just looking at them playing in the water. But again, we can’t tell you much as we haven’t visited the orphanage ourselves. We just watched them from our hotel pool.

Waking up and seeing these beautiful creatures roaming around the river was an incredible once in a lifetime experience!

As the orphanage has many elephants, they split them into 3 groups when they bring them to the river. The first (small) group of elephants comes at 8:30, the next big group at 10:00 and the last group at 14:00. Like this you have multiple occasions of seeing these beautiful creatures 🙂

Another beautiful thing that we have witnessed is when 6500 bats flew out of the nearby cave across the river after the sunset! That was something that we hadn’t expected but surely will remember for the rest of our lives! What a beautiful memory to end the day! We have managed to record it and we shared the video on our Instagram stories. You can find it in the highlight “Pinnawala” 🙂 .

TRANSPORTATION

TUKTUK RENTAL

In our opinion, the best way to travel around Sri Lanka is with your own TukTuk! We have rented ours at https://tuktukrental.com. To drive around Sri Lanka, you will need a local Sri Lankan driving license called Sri Lankan Recognition Permit. Your international driver’s license unfortunately isn’t sufficient to drive here.

We got our license sorted by our tuktuk rental company. We sent them all the documents needed and they got it ready for us for an extra fee. Otherwise you have to go to Automobile Association of Ceylon located in Colombo and get the license there.

However from April 15th 2024 tourists are able to apply for the local Sri Lankan license directly at the airport after arrival.

NOTE: You can’t drive with a tuktuk on the highway (so make sure you set your google maps on “avoiding motorways”) and the maximum speed you can drive at is 40km/h. This means that when you are planning your drives, you have to add some extra time to the time it shows you on google maps. We have noticed that with a tuktuk it took us around 20min longer per each hour of the drive. So if google maps shows you 1h drive (car drive) it will be around 1h20min with a tuktuk. If it shows 2h, it will be around 2h40min and so on!

We were driving to Pinnawala from Colombo and it took us around 3,5h.

You could also rent a scooter if you don’t feel up for a tuktuk! You will still need to obtain the Sri Lankan driving permit though!

PRIVATE DRIVER

We understand that driving a tuktuk is not for everybody as it definitely can be stressful at times. If you want to travel around Sri Lanka completely stress-free we would recommend you to hire a private driver. If you would like to explore Sri Lanka with a professional private driver here is a contact on our local family friend Treshan (+94 77 354 2191). You can contact him via WhatsApp and plan your holidays together. He can take you and show you all around Sri Lanka so you will have the perfect hassle-free holidays!

Another perk of travelling with a local is that they aren’t just drivers but also tour guides! They know all the best spots, hidden gems and off the beaten path places. So other than all the tourist sites, Treshan can take you pretty much everywhere and show you places you’ve never heard of!

For taxi service the price is around 0,45$/km but of course if you want to plan the entire holiday with him so he takes you all around the island, you can work out an itinerary all together and make a final price. 0,45$/km is just a rough estimated price for you to have an idea.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

If you are on a tight budget, you can try to reach Pinnawala with public transportation. There are multiple daily trains from Colombo heading that direction. The nearest train station to Pinnawala is Rambukkana Railway Station (10 min drive from Hotel Elephant Bay) and the second closest is Polgahawela Railway Station (40 min drive from Hotel Elephant Bay). So after arriving to one of these stations, you will still need to catch either a taxi or a tuktuk to arrive to the hotel.

If you are coming to Pinnawala from Kandy, there are multiple daily buses going to the bus station Molagoda, which is then around 15 min taxi/tuktuk drive to the hotel.

GROUP TOUR

If you are tight on time and can’t stay overnight, you can also visit Pinnawala on a day group tour either from Colombo or from Kandy. Here are some tours you can choose from:

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BEST TIME TO VISIT

Even though Sri Lanka is an all year round destination, generally the best period to visit Pinnawala is between December and March. I said Pinnawala and not Sri Lanka, because thanks to the two different monsoons that hit the island, the country has inverted dry and rainy season between the two coasts.

So the best time to visit the west, the south and central Sri Lanka (including Pinnawala) is from December till March, while the best time to visit the east and the north is from April to September.

The most touristy part of the island with more things to visit is the west, the south and the central part of the island. So generally we would suggest to visit Sri Lanka from December-March. We have spent 1 month in Sri Lanka from January 11th until February 9th and only had 1 day of rain during the entire stay!

CURRENCY

Sri Lanka has their own currency – Sri Lankan Rupee.

1 EUR = 319 LKR

1 USD = 297 LKR

1 GBP = 374 LKR

We used Bank of Ceylon (BOC) for all of our withdrawals, as it didn’t charge us any commission. But that also depends on your bank. We usually use Revolut when we travel outside EU.

We recommend you to carry cash with you everywhere, as you won’t always be able to pay with card.

TRAVEL INSURANCE

We recommend to book a travel insurance for every trip as you never know what could happen. It’s not easy to deal with any kind of problems when you are abroad, so it’s definitely worth it to be covered and travel with peace of mind. 

We use IATI travel insurance and you can book yours through our link and receive 5% discount. 

Book here if you are from EU: https://www.iatitravelinsurance.com/en-eu/?r=96181493877707

Book here if you are from outside EU (rest of the world):  https://www.iatitravelinsurance.com/en/?r=96181493877707

CONTINUE READING OTHER TRAVEL GUIDES FROM SRI LANKA

We hope this blog post was helpful to you and you are gonna have a great time while exploring Pinnawala. For more pictures and videos check out our IG story highlight (Pinnawala) and our reels/feed posts. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to comment bellow or contact us via email or even better via Instagram @borntotraveldiaries. Thank you for your time and stay tuned for our next diary page 🙂.

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