Visiting the Gentle Giants of Sri Lanka's Forests

My second stop on the Azamara Quest spice route was Sri Lanka. Their most popular attractions are elephants and leopards, and I was hoping to see an example of both! 

Sunrise in Sri Lanka with Azamara Club Cruises.

Sunrise in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has an extremely tropical climate which keeps it lush and green. Thankfully, the government is very protective of their beautiful forests, and it has even had a forestry conservancy in place since 1887! Today, over 50 percent of the country’s forests are protected by the Forest Department, and the other forests are managed by the Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Excited at the thought of seeing some elephants, I decided to go on a Cruise Global, Connect LocalSM shore excursions tour to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. It has the largest herd of captive elephants in the world—almost 90. They take in many of the orphaned wild elephants which are found in the forests of Sri Lanka, and was started by the Department of Wildlife Conservation in 1975.

Visiting orphaned elephants with Azamara Club Cruises.

Two elephants at Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage.

I suggest that you take the train to Hotel Pinnalanda and enjoy the serene and charming countryside during the journey. Make sure to try their excellent curry dishes, which are almost good enough to distract you from watching the elephants bathe and play while you eat. It really is a special treat. 

You can also buy bananas from the locals to feed your new friends. Where else can you get to do that? It’s an experience I’ll never forget.

Feeding orphaned elephants in Sri Lanka with Azamara Club Cruises.

Here I am, feeding my new friend!

We took the bus back on Kandy Road, where we saw the locals and the shops selling all sorts of colorful things, like pottery, fruit and tea. 

But more about the elephants! The Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage was created to nurture and conserve the many baby elephants found in the jungle without their mothers. Many of the elephants were abandoned by their mothers, and sometimes they fall into pits or ravines in their search for water during dry seasons. They’ve also started a successful captive breeding program—so far they’ve had over 80 births! 

It takes a lot to feed these elephants, as you might imagine. Each elephant is fed over 160 pounds of greens a day, plus 5 pounds of rice bran and corn. The orphanage is a very popular tourist attraction, both with Sri Lankans and international tourists, but they could use more. More visitors would help them sustain the good work they do at the orphanage. They really have done great work. Before the British colonial period, it is estimated that there were 30,000 elephants on the island. By the time the British colonialists left in the 1960s, the elephants were near extinction. Now, thanks to the orphanage, the number of elephants living in the forests is over 3,000.

After meeting these delightful, gentle and majestic creatures, I can see how worthy the orphanage’s cause is.

Sunset at sea on the way to Kochi, India with Azamara Club Cruises.

Cruising to my next port of call, Kochi, India.

Ann Tran

Ann Tran is a luxury travel writer located in Washington, DC. Ann has cruised with Azamara several times throughout Europe and Asia.

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