Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is world renowned as a sanctuary for retired, abused or orphaned elephants. At times, there are also some small babies who have been rescued or born into the herd. The daily highlight is the walk from the Orphanage to take the herd down to the river so that they can bathe. It's amazing to watch an entire herd splashing around and rolling in the river, just a few feet in front of you!

There are a few elements combined on this programme, making it a very interesting, varied and satisfying project, including assisting in teaching monks and disadvantaged children at a local school.

This project is fabulous and if you love elephants, like me - book. Seriously, BOOK NOW! Jo Packer


Hi, I'm Karen, Project Coordinator for Sri Lanka, and I'll be working with you to arrange your ultimate experience here, so if you've any questions, please contact me:
+44 (0)1903 502595,
or email: info@travellers
Price: £895 (approx. US$1,125) for 1 week
Then £300 (US$375) for each additional week.
Excludes flights. Please see Full Price List & prices in other currencies
Duration: From 1 week to 12 weeks or longer, you choose your start and finish dates.
Start Dates: All year round - you choose your start and finish dates.
Requirements: Minimum age 18. No qualifications needed, just a big heart and lots of enthusiasm.
What's included: Arranging your Programme
Full pre-departure support and assistance
Payment Protection insurance
Meeting you at the nearest Airport
Transfer to your accommodation
Accommodation and food
Food (excluding lunch)
Local in-country team support and backup
24-hr emergency support
Certificate of Completion
What's not included: Flights, Insurance, Cost of Visas, Return transfer to the airport.
Who is this
Programme suitable for?
SOLO travellers or travelling with friends.
GAP YEAR BREAKS from School or University.
GROWN-UP GAPPERS, career breakers and retired.
ANYONE interested in animal welfare and working with wildlife
Also suitable as a summer placement or short break.
Open to all nationalities.


  • An exciting opportunity to travel, see the world and experience a foreign culture first-hand.
  • New skills, more confidence and invaluable personal and professional development.
  • An understanding of the plight of elephants in Sri Lanka and the important contribution it is making to its wildlife.
  • The enormous satisfaction of helping these awesome animals and knowing that you made a difference to them
  • An opportunity to take a break from the traditional academic track or your current career path in order to gain life experience and global cultural awareness
  • An entry on your CV or Résumé that will enhance your career opportunities and make you stand out from the crowd.
  • Make friends, form relationships and build memories that will last a lifetime.
  • Opportunities to enjoy some exciting adventure and cultural activities while on your programme.
  • And best of all ... an unforgettable experience!


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Volunteer washing an elephant in the river at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka
A Volunteer washing an elephant in the river. Elephants really love being washed!


This project is an elephant experience, rather than elephant conservation ... and it is an awesome experience! There are a few elements combined on this programme, making it a very interesting, varied and satisfying project. You’ll participate in the following:

  1. Working with the elephants at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in the mornings, during the week,
  2. Bathing the elephants in the river in the afternoons, during the week
  3. Helping to teach disadvantaged local children and monks at a local school. This will take place one afternoon a week, but could be more or less during the time that you there because it is as needed.

Your Work at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was established 1975 by the Sri Lanka Wildlife Department. Today Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is under the Department of National Zoological Gardens and provides home to approx 90 orphaned elephants. The Orphanage receives lots of tourists each day

As most of the elephants are not particularly tame, the majority of your work is more ‘behind-the-scenes’ than it is ‘hands-on’ with the elephants themselves, although you will have the opportunity to do some hands-on work. The type of work you will be involved in will include:

  • Mucking out the elephant enclosures in the morning (this is hard, muddy work!)
  • Helping to hose down the elephants (where necessary). This is a lot of fun and the elephants really enjoy it.
  • Helping to feed the elephants
  • Going out into the jungle and foraging for food for the elephants
  • Keeping the project site clean and tidy
  • While the mahouts are bathing the larger elephants, you will be able to relax by the river, chat to the mahouts and watch the elephants play and interact with humans and each other. This is an absolutely beautiful sight and being around these serene animals in such a beautiful setting can have a very calming effect!
  • There may also be the opportunity to do other things around the orphanage, however this is subject the amount of work available at the orphanage at the time of your project.

Washing the Elephants

In the afternoons you’ll go down to the river to wash the Elephants. The centre is approx 200m from Pinnawala. There you’ll be able to wash the elephants hands-on, using corn husks, etc. You’ll get down and dirty in the river with them – and it’s an amazing experience!

You’ll spend an hour with these elephants, starting at 3.00 in the afternoon, when it’s cooler for the elephants and thus avoiding the full heat of the midday sun.

Your Work at a local School for Monks and Disadvantaged Children

Once a week you’ll help teach Monks in a local Buddhist Temple or disadvantaged children in a rural house in the area. The children are between the ages of 5 and 13 years and classes usually range from 10 to 15 students. You will teach for about 2 hours in the afternoon usually from 3.30pm or 4.00pm depending on the morning activities.

Lessons tend to be informal and you can teach them English through the medium of games, music or using a question-answer style, etc.

The school is very bright and cheerful and the work you do with them will be beneficial to them and very satisfying to you. Volunteers generally love the opportunity to mix with the children in the local community and knowledge is a two-way street as you teach them and they educate you on their culture.

I wanted to end this year by thanking you, and all at Travellers, for making this year so special. As you know, my passion for elephants runs very deep and has done for as long as I can remember, and you were able to help me make my lifelong dream come true, and for that I am so eternally grateful. Jo 'The Elephant Lady' Harris

I've been so wrapped up in baby elephants that I haven’t been on the internet at all! My stay so far has been really fantastic, all the staff are lovely ... I’m feeling so blessed and thankful for your organisation, as it has given me one of the best experiences of my life. Laura Crilly (Australian)

A couple of little tips from a previous participant for anyone wishing to do this extraordinary project...

"1) When washing an elephant that is lying down in the water, watch out for their trunk as they like to tickle your feet when you're not looking!
2) When sitting at the river edge: My favourite Elephant, Saboo, is very loveable and likes to stand with you. She loves to be tickled and stroked. Make sure you tickle the roof of her mouth - she LOVES this!

You will see some amazing sights here as Elephants really are clever and each have amazing characters and traits. A few funny things I saw were an elephant trying his best to balance a log on this head, the little ones play fighting by nudging each other off the rocks they were trying to balance on, the little ones also playfully charging at one another, the females chasing a very handsome looking male elephant, not to mention the sight of them all putting their trunks in the air and rumbling, trumpeting and even squeaking!" Sarah Ellie

Volunteer and mahoutwashing an elephant in the river at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka
A Volunteer and a Mahout giving an elephant a good old scrub in the river!
Volunteer in the herd giving a juvenile elephant and snack
A Volunteer in with the herd and giving a juvenile elephant a snack.
A group of Volunteers having a photo opportunity with elephants in the background while on their project
A group of Volunteers having a photo opportunity with elephants in the background while on their project.
Foraging for food for the elephants
One of the responsibilities when volunteering with the elephants is to collect food for them. It's hot work, but very necessary.
Community work - teaching in a local school
As part of the community work, these two volunteers are teaching monks and children in a local school. Teaching and community work in general is very highly appreciated!
Patting a baby elephant
It's impossible to resist giving the baby a pat as you walk past.


Accommodation has been arranged for you at a privately-owned Guest House, close to the village of Pinnawala. This is a privately run guest house belonging to our Organiser, with clean but basic facilities. It is very conveniently located because you are close to the project and also close to Pinnawala Village, which is a local hub of food shops, restaurants and banks.

You'll share a bedroom (with one other volunteer). Each bedroom has access to a private Western bathroom, but there is no hot water and the showers are cold water showers, which are very refreshing when you've spent a hard day in the Sri Lankan sun. (The climate is predominantly hot and humid for most of the year.)

There is a communal living area which is available for you to use, it has a TV and DVD player, as well as a CD player which you can relax in during the evenings.

Wi-Fi / Internet: There is Internet available in the Guest House, but no telephone.

Pinnawala Village is a short distance from the accommodation (3 kilometres) if you are looking for entertainment. It has restaurants and bars, food shops, as well as an ATM machine and banks. There are buses and taxis within walking distance of the accommodation, which you can catch into Pinnawala. Alternatively, you can walk into the village during daylight hours

The owner and his staff are very friendly and will ensure that you feel at home!

Food is provided (3 meals a day) and consists of typical Sri Lankan dishes, except for breakfast where there is a Western choice. The guesthouse can cater for special diets and a packed lunch can be provided if you want to stay out all day.

Meals are served in the dining room.

Accommodation on the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage Project
The exterior of the accommodation on the project.
Accommodation on the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage Project
One of the bedrooms at the accommodation.


Read important information about the Support & Backup you receive before you leave and during your programme.

Read about the Safety and Security measures we take to ensure your safety and wellbeing while on our programme.

Once you have applied for a placement, we'll contact you and send you our Welcome Pack. You'll also receive Log-on details and password for our Volunteer Extranet where you'll have access to all the documentation and information which we've put together to facilitate preparations for your adventure! Your Project Co-ordinator for your country will liaise with you throughout the arrangements process, as well as while you're on your placement and on your return home.

The documents you'll have access to also include a Country Factfile, Safety Guide and any manuals that may assist you on your particular programme (e.g. Teaching Guide, Sports Manuals, Enrichment Suggestions for Animal Care, etc.). We do all we can to make your stay one that you'll never forget. This is a truly awesome, elegant and beautiful country.

On Your Arrival: When you arrive you will be welcomed at the airport and taken to your accommodation where you'll be introduced to everyone. The journey from the airport to the accommodation is approx 2 hours in a car or minivan. You will then have the rest of the day to settle in and to take some time out to recover from your journey.

During your first few days you'll be given an induction so that you can learn about the country and its culture, as well as other useful information, like how to use the transport system, banks, safety issues, tipping, and lots more.

The Elephant Orphanage is a sanctuary for rescued, injured or abused elephants and attracts visitors from all over the world to view these magnificent animals. Around 80 elephants have found homes at Pinnawala, including some small babies who have been born into the herd.

Elephants are orphaned for a number of reasons. Habitat destruction and fragmentation is one of the main causes resulting from irrigation projects, development of industries, agricultural projects and human encroachment. Elephants have lost over 30% of their natural wild habitat.

Other reasons for elephants becoming orphaned include hunting for tusks (although there is little of this in Sri Lanka compared to other countries around the globe), humans catching wild elephants for taming and domesticating and lastly due to the Human - Elephant conflict, which is rife in Sri Lanka. This occurs when elephants encroach on farm land to find food. The result is that 150-200 elephants are killed a year and around 60 people die.

The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage helps this Human-Elephant conflict by giving the orphaned elephants a wonderfully happy and healthy life, including allowing for natural social behaviour, good medical treatment and food satisfaction.

The Orphanage is reputedly one of the largest centres of its kind in the world, with one of the most successful captive breeding programmes for Asian elephants.

Video on Pinnawala by the BBC


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Volunteer Paul White with elephant in Sri Lanka
Volunteer Paul White taking time out to get up close and personal with an elephant!
Volunteers on the beach, sitting in a palm tree in Sri Lanka
It's not all work - there's lots to do and see, like these volunteers spending some free time on one of Sri Lanka's glorious beaches.


Make the most of your time there! To help you do that, we've put together some exciting activities, courses and tours that you can add to your itinerary. These are designed to be fun, but also to enable you to learn, and expand your personal and professional development enjoyment ... but mostly for your enjoyment! :-)

Body and Mind: Meditation and Yoga in Sri Lanka

Price: £495 for 1 week
£795 for 2 weeks
includes food and accommodation, transfers.

The Body and Mind week combines Yoga and Meditation with Ayurvedic treatments to work on a fitter, healthier and more positive you. Located in a beautifully set-up spa, Body and Mind Week will help you to gain psychological and physical well being, will help you to understand the basics of Yoga and Meditation and also educate you about the human body. In addition, you'll enjoy the luxury of Ayurvedic treatments which will deal with any physical aches and pains you may be experiencing at the time.

During the program, you will be taught the Surya Namaskar, commonly known as the Sun Salutation. This contains 12 consecutive postures or Asanas. It is essential for students to master this before moving on to the second stage of Yogasana.

Meditation is the art of focusing your mind, restraining your thoughts and looking deep within yourself. Practicing it can give you a better understanding of your purpose in life and of the Divine. It will also provide you with certain physical and mental health benefits.

PROGRAMME SCHEDULE - Monday to Friday:

  • Early Morning Yoga
  • Breakfast
  • Meditation
  • Head massage. These messages will change every day and include foot massage, back massage, front massage and full body massage.
  • Meditation - Walking meditation
  • Lunch and a relaxed afternoon

This schedule can be changed and/or amended depending on weather conditions, local conditions and unforeseen circumstances.

Book Now

An Elephant Experience at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka

Price: £595 for 1 week
includes food and accommodation, plus transfer to and from the Elephant Orphanage.

The Elephant Orphanage is a sanctuary for over 80 retired, abused or orphaned elephants. Visitors from all over the world come to see these magnificent animals. At times, there are also some small babies who have been born into the herd. The daily highlight is the walk from the Orphanage to take the herd down to the river to bathe the elephants. It's amazing to watch an entire herd splashing around and rolling in the river, just a few feet in front of you!

This project is an elephant experience, rather than elephant conservation ... and it is an awesome experience! You'll have about 3 to 4 hours manual work each day and you'll also get to wash and hose down several Elephants. In the late morning or afternoon, you'll usually go down to the river and spend about 3 hours amongst the Elephants. You can watch them relaxing, play with them and sometimes help to bathe them. Your main duties will include:

  • Mucking out the elephant enclosures in the morning (this is hard, muddy work!)
  • Participating in bathing some of the smaller elephants.
  • While the mahouts are bathing the larger elephants, you will be able to relax by the river, chat to the mahouts and watch the elephants play and interact with humans and each other. This is an absolutely beautiful sight and being around these serene animals in such a beautiful setting can have a very calming effect!
  • You'll also have up to two opportunities per week to feed the beautiful baby elephants.
  • There may also be the opportunity to do other things around the orphanage, however this is subject the amount of work available at the orphanage at the time of your project.

Book Now

Terms and Conditions apply for Add-Ons, please see here.




We cannot BEGIN to tell you how beautiful this paradise island is! Nor how cheap to live and get around. It is almost too good to be true! But it is true.

Towering Pagodas, Hindu temples and ancient fortresses to holy rivers and sacred mountains. The local people are very welcoming and friendly, especially in the rural areas. The tea plantations are a must, the lace making, monuments and architectural splendours, etc., but the most appealing is the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala. Not to be missed! It's an emotive sight that you'll never forget!

During the day Kegalle bustles with people and street markets. The evenings are quiet with the Sri Lankan culture favouring early mornings and early nights. There are always a few volunteers on this placement together, so there is a very sociable atmosphere in the house. However, do keep the quietness in mind and be prepared for slow-paced evenings.

Climate: In the lowlands the climate is typically tropical with an average temperature of 27OC in Colombo. In the higher elevations it can be quite cool with temperatures going down to 16OC at an altitude of nearly 2,000 metres. Bright, sunny warm days are the rule and are common even during the height of the monsoon - climatically Sri Lanka has no off-season.

Sri Lanka has miles and miles of amazing beaches. Some of our favourites are:

MIRISSA: Perhaps a contender for the most beautiful beach in the world. Long, deserted and hot. You know you have got away from it all as you sit and watch the sunset over this horizon…The snorkelling is also incredible here.

NEGOMBO: To the north of Colombo lies Negombo, a busting fishing town with golden beaches and a pallet of colour provided by sails and boats against the deep blue of the ocean.

UNAWATUNA: A sleepy peaceful cove with deep still water and a temple overlooking the bay from the protecting cliffs.

HIKKADUWA: A long stretch of beach with plenty of hostels, restaurants and some nice bars, not forgetting the impromptu beach parties held on the beach front bars blaring Bob Marley, Eric Clapton, Led Zeplin and many other classics! Sri Lanka is a conservative island brimming with culture and Hikkaduwa offers an exciting opportunity to holiday for the odd celebratory weekend! Many a volunteer birthday has been seen in over Hikkaduwa cocktails. You can also body board and even surf on this beach.

ARUGAM BAY: This tiny fishing village is Sri Lanka’s newest hot spot and hosts the best surfing and an easy going happy party atmosphere. With its wide sweeping beach in front of the village and year round gorgeous swimming it is no surprise that this bay has developed into a low budget travellers haunt.

White Water Rafting:
Sri Lanka’s boulder stream rivers are the ideal setting for white water rafting. This is the best way to see the stunning environment what this region has to offer. Many tours are available and many begin with days of action, rafting the white waters. This high adventure is suitable for fish time ‘go for it’ rafters and experts alike. Rafting has become a very popular exciting yet safe adventure sport option.

Rock Climbing and Mountaineering:
Mountaineering is an adventure sport that requires skills and levels of fitness that few other adventure sports can match. The mountain ranges in Sri Lanka offer breath taking, enthralling, climbing routes. Climbing is all about discovering the natural world around and with you.

Hiking and Trekking:
There’s no better way to explore the natural scenic beauty of this island with diverse climatic zones. Trekking is an excellent way to explore a country, people, their traditions and beliefs. Paths and campsites have been set up to give nature lovers the experience of a lifetime. All possible steps are taken to ensure local community benefit and nature conservation in keeping with all international camping guidelines.

Canoeing & Kayaking:
This relatively new sport is rated as the most adventurous of all adventure sports. It involves descending a stream as it drops over waterfalls and boulders. In Sri Lanka they have low waterfalls for beginners and some as high as 700 feet for the very experienced - all surrounded by breathtaking scenery.

The driest and best seasons are from December to March on the west and south coasts and in the hill country, and from May to September on the east coast. December to March is also the time when most foreign tourists come, the majority of them escaping the European winter.

The coastal stretch south of Colombo offers palm-lined sandy expanses as far as the eye can see. The Kandyan dances, a procession of elephants or the masked devil dances. Then there are the ruins, ancient and inspiring architecture in the cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa to satisfy any archaeologist.


Read about Travel arrangements and what happens when you arrive in your new country.

King coconuts being sold from a stand in Sri Lanka
King coconuts are for sale everywhere in Sri Lanka. They're supposed to quench all thirst. Hmmm. I prefer their pineapples. The best in the world. Seriously!
Tuk tuks are the main form of quick and easy public transport when you're dashing around the local areas. They're lots of fun!
Volunteers taking in the views in Sri Lanka
Volunteers taking in an incredible view in peaceful serenity. Wish I was there :-)

Teaching Children in Schools in Ja-Ela
Plus Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage Experience

Wow – where do I start?? I have just had the most amazing experience of my life, the only bad part was that it had to come to an end. Sitting at my desk, now back in the boring routine that I once left behind, I ask myself why on earth did I come back??! I would give anything to be back out in Sri Lanka, playing volleyball with the orphan-boys, washing the elephants in the river, taking Tony the Chimp on a walk around the zoo, or even just lying on a paradise beach somewhere – I’m not fussy, any of them would do.

Well for the past three months that was my life, not something that I wanted to give up and I hold such strong memories of all the experiences that I came across. I would recommend this experience to anyone. I was lucky enough to have a friend to share the adventure with, as it turned out, we found that we were extremely compatible travelling partners (three months in each others pockets and not one argument – pretty impressive ay?!). All the other people we met out there had come on their own, but we all soon became one big happy family in the house. It was so nice to have the support and companionship of the others, it certainly gives you the confidence to do things you might not feel comfortable doing on your own.

One important fact that I learnt from this trip is that the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. It may sound an old cliché but it is so true. You can join in as much or as little as you want to. And being the type of people that Nat and I are – we took full advantage of every opportunity!

We were both really worried, no I’ll rephrase that, we were both petrified about teaching to start with, I mean, how am I going to teach English to a bunch of Sri Lankans when I don’t understand a word they’re saying? Thankfully the fear disappeared as soon as we stepped into the classroom. Nat and I ended up taking the majority of the adult classes, we built up a strong relationship with the students and their English is amazing – they improve so quickly its frightening!

We also taught at the schools, which we enjoyed immensely, it can be daunting at first, as a lot of the schools have many classes in one hall, so you can imagine the noise, you do need a loud voice at times! The children are just amazing though and they will all remember your name for your next visit, which makes you feel kind of special.

Anyone wanting a taste of the celebrity life style – I highly recommend this to you. I don’t know how many photos I had to pose for, how many autographs I had to sign, people will point and stare at you, at first its quite off putting, but funnily enough you soon get used to it and now that I am back in England, I have to admit that I miss all the attention!!

I have to mention that one thing I was quite worried about was the choice of food out there, being a veggie, I was rather worried that I was going to be stuck with nothing but rice and curry. Don’t get me wrong, I did eat my fair share of the stuff, and I actually quite like it now, I wasn’t a fan before.

The general routine out there is that you work during the week and then you have the weekends free to explore the island. This works out perfectly, so every Friday afternoon we would venture off to different parts of the island. We did everything. From the rain forest to the beaches, Adam’s Peak, the Ancient Cities, the Elephant Orphanage, the Zoo, the tea plantations, the waterfalls, I could go on! We certainly made the most of the time we had there.

Nat and I used to play a lot of Basketball, but since we’ve been working, we never had the opportunity, so it was great for us being able to play everyday. So we convinced Roshan to buy us some bikes so we could cycle to the school every morning, it worked out brilliantly, you have to play before the sun comes up – otherwise it just gets too hot!

We always played with some guys from our adult class and we had an audience of about 300 students watching us, they were fascinated to see that girls could play physical sport!

Now back at my desk and back into the same old routine that I once left behind, I cannot wait to go back out there – it has certainly left me hungry for more. Like I said before, I would recommend this adventure to anyone. I owe a lot to Travellers, as the knowledge that I gained cannot be brought, only experienced.

Elephant Orphanage Project in Pinnawala, Sri Lanka
The best part of the whole experience for me had to be working at the Elephant Orphanage. Oh my god, what an opportunity, those sorts of experiences don’t come along everyday.

Work in the morning was ‘hard-work’, but great fun at the same time, but you get your reward in the afternoon when the Mahoots let you go in the river and wash the elephants. They had to drag me out of there everyday, as I didn’t want to leave. I built up a close bond with one of the elephants ‘Sapu’ – a seven-year-old female. The Mahoots taught us the commands, and I was over-the-moon when she actually obeyed me!! It was such a good feeling.

It was just so amazing to be up close with these animals, not many organisations let you do that these days. So for that, I am eternally grateful.

Turtle Conservation in Ambalangoda in Sri Lanka

I spent 2 months in beautiful Sri Lanka, working as a volunteer with 3 different placements. Having recently retired gave me the opportunity to do something exciting. Last year, my granddaughter had a gap year and went travelling. I loved following her adventures; when I was young, few people were able to have that kind of experience. This year she looked after my house and cat while I had my turn.

I'm not an experienced traveller and would not have had the confidence to go solo backpacking, but did not want to just experience a tourist, hotel based holiday. Volunteering with Travellers Worldwide enabled me to gain a far richer experience, learning about the country and culture, working with local people and feeling I was making a useful contribution, as well as having a great holiday and meeting other volunteers and travellers from many countries.

My Most Memorable Moment: Two little elephants who clearly loved the way I smelt after cleaning elephant sheds, exploring all over me with their trunks and wrapping them around me.

A conversation with a young Mahout, who was passionate about his friendship with the elephants and his belief in the value of Pinnawala.

My Biggest Achievement: Working through initial disappointment, tackling aspects I felt were lacking and finding ways to be involved that enabled me to enjoy the experience.

My Most Positive Impact On The Project: The situation at Pinnawala is controversial: wearing a volunteer shirt meant that other visitors sought me out talk about the elephant's welfare and ask my views. Perhaps the administration need to be aware that we have a public relations role and take more active steps to have us onside!

The situation at Pinnawala is controversial, many visitors make negative comments, and the chained elephants are a very sad sight. Undoubtedly not what was intended when the orphanage began, but ideas about how to manage conservation change over time? It is to be hoped that the proposed wildlife park will go ahead. I do feel that the information Travellers provided gives a fair idea of what to expect. I'm glad that I had the experience (yes, young elephants are extremely endearing, so many enjoyable times too) and felt that the balance of spending a short time here before moving on to a very different placement was right for me.

The Elephant Experience Project at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Sorry to be contacting you with feedback this far into my placement, but I've been so wrapped up in baby elephants that I haven’t been on the internet at all!

My stay so far has been really fantastic, all the staff are lovely.

Driving has been an exciting experience, and I’m feeling so blessed and thankful for your organisation, as it has given me one of the best experiences of my life.

I would especially like to say how wonderful Nirangela [Travellers Assistant Organiser] has been throughout this entire trip. She really is lovely, and so knowledgeable about the area. She has made the time away from home much more durable!!!

The Elephant Experience Project at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

This is the perfect introduction to volunteering as it can be done for as little as one or two weeks or as much as wanted. Not only was it a good experience living with local Sri Lanka people and getting involved in their culture (and cooking!), everyone was extremely friendly and we felt we really bonded as much with our poo boys (the lads who helped us in the morning cleaning up the elephant dung) as with the mahouts who went out of their way to give us lots of memories with the elephants.

The best part of the whole trip was going out with the vet- so much so that I would recommend all volunteers should go with him at least once! He is very informative.

Twice Steve and I accompanied him on his rounds. It was very interesting. One enormous elephant had an abscess on his ear which needed to be cleaned out and disinfected every day. When his mahout told him to lay down on his side so the vet could reach he kept laying down on the wrong side - the mahout said it was doing it on purpose as it knew when it laid on the right side there would be pain!

Another elephant has broken its leg. Pinawala is a pioneer in medical treatment of elephants (not a lot of people know that!). So instead of putting down a 5 ton elephant it is hoisted into a cradle for about three months and then put into a cage with a tree trunk under its stomach to stop it laying down. It could never get up if it did go down as it couldn’t take the weight on the bad leg. From experience they now know it takes about 6 months before the elephant can join the others in the river again.

I feel that in such a short time we were privileged to learn so much from so many people (both volunteers and staff) - all there to do their best to look after these amazing creatures.

Really pleased we did this!

The Elephant Experience Project at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Overall I gained a unique experience and amazing memories. It was a great opportunity to be so close to the elephants and observe their behaviour. I cleaned up elephant poop, which is not something I ever thought I’d do! I was able to experience a new country and culture. I met some lovely people, including the locals and some of the other volunteers.

I would definitely recommend this placement to other people. It would suit anyone who is looking for a fun and unique experience. Elephants don’t necessarily have to be your favourite animal, but you will definitely have a soft spot for them when you leave.

Working as a volunteer and going to the river each day, you realise how much more you are able to experience than by visiting as a tourist. Mucking out is like a healthy work out and you always have a shower and lunch to look forward to. This is an elephant experience, so be prepared for chilled out, relaxing afternoon.

This placement would suit someone who wishes to experience a new culture and very different way of life. There is lots of time to socialise and opportunity to arrange weekend trips, so it suits friendly people who are keen to explore the country

My favourite parts of the placement:

► Washing Raja and some of the other elephants – a surreal experience. An elephant’s skin is not as hard as I expected; more spongy and hairy. It was wonderful to grab a coconut, wade in to the river, dodge the floating elephant poop and give the ellies a scrub. It didn’t matter being half soaked for the rest of the afternoon, as not many people can say they’ve washed an elephant before!

► Watching the elephants walk down to the river and then chilling out – it is a special sight to see around 70 elephants wandering past the shops down to the river. The babies get very excited and rush ahead. When it rains they enjoy crossing to the other side to slide down the mud banks. It is also great to see Sama walking, because even though she has only 3 feet, she is accepted by the herd and makes it down to the river with the rest of them.

I still find it amazing how the mahouts control the elephants by vocal command. Working elephants have been trained to put their own chains on and prepare the food. Sometimes they carry their mahoot’s stick. I saw one mahout say a command and the elephant bent its front knee and lifted its foot off the ground so that the mahout could climb up onto its back. As volunteers we were able to sit very close to the elephants; they are curious creatures and like to sniff you and say hello, and it is lovely to watch them interact with each other.

► New born babies – two babies were born whilst I was at Pinnawala. The first was born on a Saturday, so we saw him the following Monday; small, for an elephant, and very cute. His mum didn’t take to motherhood at first and had to be chained to give her baby a chance to reach the milk, but by the end of the week she seemed to be getting the hang of it. The second baby surprised us as it arrived on my penultimate night at 12:30am! We didn’t know that another elephant had been pregnant, and we saw this baby taking its first steps, when it was just 12 hours old; that was really special and such a unique experience. One elephant was pregnant with twins; she was huge! I wonder if they’ve been born yet.

► Making some great friends – this was a bonus; I was lucky enough to arrive with some great people and we had fun during the project and at the weekends whilst travelling. Some of the other volunteers who were just at the end of their stay were also really helpful and willing to answer any questions.

On my final weekend there were 5 of us (3 girls and 2 guys) who went for a beach weekend; we were all very excited and knew we’d have fun because we got on very well. We travelled to Hikkaduwa, on the south coast, and after a hectic couple of weeks of acclimatising, mucking out and taking in all the culture, we made the most of relaxing by the pool with a cocktail or two. This area had been affected by the Tsunami. It was an emotional experience because the people there are very brave and are rebuilding their lives as best as they can. They are glad for the tourism and the south coast is a beautiful place to visit.

We took some pencils and paper and walked down the street handing them to children – they were so happy and grateful. We also bought them some toys and jewellery from a near by stall. It reminds you how lucky we are living in the West and we really admired the people we met.

► Meeting the local people – praise and credit should go to the people who looked after us during our placement.

► The elephant shower at the Millenium Elephant Foundation – an amazing experience. Whenever I’ve seen pictures of people on elephant rides they’ve always been in a seat, but we rode bare back and went down to the river for an elephant shower! We got completely drenched, but it was worth it! Our elephant was wonderful; her name was Rani, which means Queen, and she had a flat back so she was comfortable to sit on. She was also not camera shy, which was good as I have some great photos. There is a small museum to look in afterwards, which has a lot of interesting information.

► The wild elephant Safari – whilst Pinnawala is a haven for orphaned ellies, I was glad to see these creatures in the wild. Our guides were great and pointed out every single elephant; solitary males and groups of females with babies. They gave us lots of information about elephants and also showed us other local wildlife.

► Climbing Sigiriya Rock Fortress – although it’s perfectly safe, some steps are narrow and scary! The views on the way up are stunning and I took some good photos of the frescos (wall paintings). It is an achievement to reach the top and fun to explore the ruins and appreciate the view.

The Elephant Experience Project at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Hi, my name is Terry, from Australia. My Daughter and I recently undertook a 1-week Volunteer placement at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka. It was an amazing experience.

To work amongst and enjoy these wonderful creatures up close, is something we'll never forget. The 2 to 3 hours of hard, dirty work, was made enjoyable by the friendly workers at the Orphanage. It is a wonderful refuge for the Elephants and the work done there, protecting them, is a credit to the Sri Lankan Government and it's warm and friendly people.

The late morning and early afternoon interaction we had with the elephants as they bathed in the beautiful river was truly a heart warming experience.

I would totally recommend this project to anyone who is young at heart, doesn't mind getting their hands dirty, for a great cause and loves animals. It was truly one of the best experiences of my life, at 53, it was wonderful to share it with my daughter.

Niranjala [Travellers Assistant Organiser] was very good on our Orientation, and the 1st work day she explained things well and made sure we settled in to our Project.

My Daughter and I were really happy with the Communication with Travellers and all questions and emails were answered very promptly. Information provided to us was very good.

The Elephant Experience Project at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

I am unable to find the words to praise the whole experience highly enough!! It was everything that I expected and far more. Everything was perfect. We spent a very pleasant evening at the house in Ja-Ela, and Niranjala [Travellers' Organiser] cooked us a lovely meal. The following morning, because we were awaiting the arrival of another volunteer, we had time to spare, and Naranjala arranged for us to go into Colombo by Tuk-Tuk with one of the other volunteers.

Once the new arrival had been collected from the airport, we set off on our journey to Kegalle. Although the journey was hot, the company was excellent, and the time passed quickly.

Our first day at the orphanage surpassed all expectations. Even before our induction, we were allowed to wash two elephants!! Induction completed, and uniform in place, we were taken around and shown the facility, including an introduction to Raja, a 72 year old “tusker”. Later we followed the small herd of elephants to the river, and were allowed to enter the water with them and wash them.

Because we had expressed a desire to ride on an elephant, Niranjela even arranged to take us to a local place to be able to do that.

On our final day, after we finished work, returned to the house, showered and had lunch, it eventually hit me that I wouldn’t be at the orphanage again the next day. Although I am 67 years old, I confess, that I took myself off to a corner of the garden and cried!

Every day we experienced something new, and I can not speak too highly of all the staff at the orphanage, and especially Niranjala, Chaminda, Nish and Chandana. Whatever we wanted to do, they arranged!!

I am still in email and text communication with them all, and can’t wait to go again next year.

The Elephant Experience Project at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

It’s been over a year now from the trip, and I can still tell you that this program was the best experience of my life. I was going through a lot after my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college, and the Pinnawala Program changed my life. I honestly would not be who I am right now without having gone away by myself.

The elephants were so therapeutic for me. After going, I knew I had the courage for what it takes to move to New Orleans by myself. After the program, I knew I could go anywhere by myself and be not just okay, but thrive.

I know there were certain aspects of the trip that you really wanted to know about. It has been a year so I am going to try my best to remember everything.

I was in Sri Lanka with the program for a month, but as a group we decided that during the last week of my stay (I spent 3 weeks at Pinnawala) we would go to another elephant orphanage.

The second orphanage was a new Travellers project in Udawalawe that we were pretty much trying out… I love elephants so being around wild ones were amazing.

Pinnawala was such an amazing and enriching experience, and the workers there really loved the elephants. At the new orphanage, it was very cold, and it was obvious that this was just a job to many of the workers there. Working at Pinnawala on the other hand was truly life changing. I experienced a baby elephant dying because of a broken heart. I experienced the birth of a new baby. I experienced so much there.

Although it was amazing to see the contrast between elephants being born into an orphanage, and elephants being saved in the wild and leaving an orphanage at 5, I would suggest that people that sign up for this program just stay at Pinnawala.

The staff, besides Roshan [Travellers’ Organiser] on the trip were amazing. Narajula [Travellers’ Assistant Organiser] was beyond amazing.

I loved that in Pinnawala there were options on the weekends to go and venture out into Sri Lanka. Going into Kandy was unreal, and climbing Adams Peak was a milestone in my life.

I want to thank Travellers Worldwide for the best experience of my life. One that I will truly never forget. Thank you!

The Elephant Experience Project at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

I feel I have gained such confidence and independence from doing this trip, I surprised myself when I chose to do this but it turned out to be the best decision I could of made. I learnt so much about the elephants, the work the orphanage does and the Sri Lankan lifestyle. It really makes you appreciate what you have.

The elephants, 100%, were the best part of my placement. This has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl to have such contact and involvement with elephants. the best bit has to be sitting with the mahouts at the waters edge with Saboo, a female elephant, standing over me lapping up the attention. she loves the roof of her mouth to be tickled!

I would advise anyone to try this placement, it is a truly amazing experience especially for the elephant lover. its quite emotional and stunning when you first see the sight of 80 elephants bathing in the river.

The whole of my trip was pretty much perfect and I enjoyed living the 'Sri Lankan' way. I was extremely well informed of everything before leaving for the placement. it was my first time travelling alone but as it was so well organised I felt quite comfortable.

The Elephant Experience Project at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

I booked with Travellers on a whim after not having organised anything for my 6 weeks off from teaching. It was the best decision I've made! I have been obsessed with elephants since I was a little girl and so the Pinnawala elephant orphanage project was an obvious first choice. The whole 2 weeks which I spent in Sri Lanka and in Pinnawala were utterly amazing!

I was able to watch, wash, feed and stroke elephants on a daily basis- WOW! I still can't say that I love the smell of elephant poo in the morning but the afternoons more than made up for the hard work done each day.

This project is fabulous and if you love elephants like me - book, seriously, BOOK NOW!

I just hope that I am lucky enough to hopefully return to this beautiful country and get the opportunity to visit the gorgeous ele's at Pinnawala sometime soon!! Thank you Travellers - you have made my number one dream of working with and being close to elephants, come true!! :oD

The Elephant Experience Project at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

The last 3 months have been absolutely amazing. I have met so many great people, had so many great experiences and bring back so many great memories. Sri Lanka was an amazing place to spend 3 months. It’s a beautiful tropical country and the people are amazingly warm and welcoming. The pace of life is refreshingly laid back and one that I could (and in fact did) get very used to.

The elephants were fascinating creatures to be around. I am looking forward to seeing the herd again one day and seeing my favourite elephants grown up. They say an elephant never forgets - I like to believe that that’s the case. It’s great being back home again but I can’t say that I don’t already miss Sri Lanka. But as Arnold Schwarzenegger once said: “I’ll be back!

The Elephant Experience Project at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

I have a story to tell. My name is Lesley Rogers, I am the PA to Head of Legal for Virgin Mobile in Trowbridge. I have something amazing to share. Virgin have given me the funding to live a life long dream to wash an elephant. I hope you enjoy the journey too.

My journey started on the 21st July when I boarded the plane at Heathrow to fly 11 hours to the island of Sri Lanka. I had never been Far East before and had no idea what was waiting for me! I had to tell myself, I am now on the adventure of a life time, so get a grip and here we go. I arrived at lunch time and was greeted by one of the people who would be looking after me for the next 16 days. The journey to Ja-Ela House was scary they don’t seem to have any rules for the road it was like wacky races. Motorbikes every where, Tuk-Tuk’s all over the place it was quite chaotic.

Day 1 - After a very restless night listening to all the strange noises and coping with the heat I awoke about 5.30. It was really quiet except for the noise of crickets, birds and the wild life. Later that day I was taken to Colombo to have a look at the capital of Sri Lanka. It was all so different and quite crazy really the shops seemed so disorganised but interesting. Naranjella (the house mother) asked if I would like to see the main Buddhist temple, of course I would, so off we went. When we arrived I asked if I could take some photo’s and when I was in the main part of the temple a monk approached me and he asked me to follow him. I followed him and outside was the most beautiful elephant. I was over come with emotion he was amazing - my first sight of a real elephant it was awesome.

Day 2 - Had a quiet day and just rested and lazed around the house, went to the local store did a bit of nibble shopping. Watched the chipmunks playing on the roof of the house, these are the local squirrels. Started my diary because I did not want to miss a minute.

Day 3/4 - We drove to the Kegalle House where I would be staying for the rest of my time in Sri Lanka. It is nearer to the Elephant Sanctuary in Pinawalla. I was so excited at the prospect of being so close the elephants. I was anxious as well because I was not sure what this would entail. We started by cleaning the elephants sleeping quarters, lots of ellie pooh, ‘Allo Betty’ it is called in Sri Lanka. We would clear all the leaves and tree trunks into a tractor trailer and off they would go. It would take about 2 hours of intensive labour and in the heat it was hard work, but most rewarding. Other travellers joined in the experience and it was great because all were like minded and adored elephants. It was wonderful.

Day 5 - I went down to the river and washed an elephant called Raja. What a treat that was! I was amazed at how hairy elephants actually are. I was handed a coconut shell and told to rub. It was so emotional for me I was crying and talking to this elephant like a burbling idiot and can confess so were most of the others, I was in heaven. How amazing this elephant is at 63 years old. Raja is blind, he had been shot by poachers in his head causing the blindness. They can not remove the bullets as they are too close to his brain. He is cared for by the sanctuary and has been with them for a long time. He is very happy there and I think enjoys the attention he gets. Quality of life is paramount.

This was what I have dreamed off since I was 8 years old, to have a childhood dream come true is amazing I can not tell it in words JUST AMAZING.

Day 6, 7, 8, 9 10, 11 - Working with the elephants in the sanctuary made every day an adventure. There was always something going on. We would clean out their night sheds for their arrival after their afternoon bathe. To watch 50 something elephants race back to their bedrooms was amazing.

I have walked with the elephants, fed babies, cleaned up after them, had an afternoon with the vet to talk about elephants, again I have been to heaven and back. I have watched them play and scratch, watched a baby get to grips with her trunk, it was hard work but when she finally picked up the twig she gave the biggest squeal of delight and went to show her mum.

To put the icing on the cake I rode an elephant. I am the luckiest lady in the world to have been given the opportunity of living a life’s dream. It was more than I could have imagined and has changed my life completely. I will be going back to Sri Lanka next year, I have left my heart over there and need to go back to pick it up.

Thank you soooooooo very much Virgin for making it happen and thank you to Travellers Worldwide for making it such a smooth experience with no travel/accommodation and visa problems whatsoever. It was amazing and I recommend it to anyone who wants an adventure.

The Elephant Experience Project at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Wow! Where do I start? Everything about this particular placement is amazing. I can honestly say I enjoyed every bit of my elephant adventure, from cleaning the sheds in the morning to watching the elephants bathe at the river in the afternoons to the fun and laughter enjoyed by the volunteers in the evenings.

I feel I have gained confidence in myself just by deciding to take on this adventure alone! I had never travelled alone before let alone to a country as far away as Sri-Lanka.

I also now have a greater knowledge and appreciation of elephants. Watching them bathe every afternoon is like watching mischievous children in the playground and a sight I will never forget.

I would recommend this placement to anyone of any age. Any person with a love of elephants would find this project amazing (Over 30’s – don’t think this is just for students, anyone from 18 – 80 would enjoy this project.

Can you describe a typical day?
A typical day starts with all the volunteers meeting round the table to a breakfast of either pancakes or rotti’s and toast. When the transport arrives at 8.30, you all pick up your rubber-gloves and put your trainers on, these are left outside for reasons that will become apparent if you choose to volunteer for this project!

The walk to the Philadelphia Sheds is different every day, sometimes there is 100’s of school children waving and saying hello to you, often there are some tourists who stop and ask what being a volunteer involves, sometimes you have a quick chat with the mahoots or just gaze in wonder at the site of over 70 elephants just roaming around without a care in the world!

There’s no point in saying the cleaning of the sheds is not hard work. It is. But it is all worth it, the shed cleaners are all funny and friendly and if your lucky they might even find you a hair from an elephants tail which is supposed to be lucky!After lunch break we watch the elephants take their walk to the river to bathe. This is a sight you will never tire of. The sight of 70 elephants making their way down the road to the river is just awesome.

The Chief Mahoot is an extremely interesting and knowledgeable man and sometimes you can sit with the mahoots and they will let you wash the elephants. He taught us all the elephant commands! Not that the ellies took any notice of us, apparently it takes 15 years or more for an elephant to learn all the commands.

The option is always there for you to go down to another part of the river and wash Raja the blind elephant. For me he was the most majestic of all the elephants at the orphanage. He is gorgeous! He goes down to a different part of the river with his friend Pondula. When the elephants return to the orphanage you may get the opportunity to feed the babies at feeding time.Dinner time at the house is a lively time with all the volunteers regaling stories of their day. I was initially worried about living on rice and curry for 3 weeks but I needn’t, the food is fantastic. It’s all healthy.

Evening times at the house are usually quiet but enjoyable affairs, with volunteers chatting over a glass of wine and eating sweets and crisps bought from the local supermarket before tucking their mozzy net under their mattress and drifting off to sleep wondering what adventure the next day will bring.....

PHOTO GALLERY: An Elephant Experience at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage