I've always wanted to see elephants in the wild. Sure, I've seen them in zoos, but it's just not the same. Seeing these enormous creatures in their own habitat has a definite appeal, so it was high on the list of things to achieve while in Sri Lanka!
After spending a week at surf camp, we continued along the South coast to Bundala National Park. We'd heard great things about Yala National Park, but unfortunately it was closed for wet season when we were there. So we drove towards Hambantota, and found a great little place to stay called River Island. Our host was worried about us driving out to the property as elephants had been seen wandering nearby... nice! We were also told not go near the river which flows right up to the foot of the house, as there were crocodiles... even better!!!
Our wonderful hosts cooked us some absolutely amazing Sri Lankan food, and also organised our safari for Bundala (you can't enter the park alone, you must book a safari tour, and pick up a local guide at the park entrance).
Among plenty of other wildlife including peacocks, monkeys, mongeese, and foxes, we saw our first elephant!! He was bigger than the high open-top jeep we were in, and had a definite odour about him!! We saw a couple more elephants on this safari, a great experience.
After getting our fix at Bundala, we spent some time in the Hill Country before continuing up towards Pinnewala. There is a well-known elephant orphanage here, but we chose not to go there as we'd had a great tip from a friend. We were told to stay at the Hotel Elephant Bay, across the road from the orphanage.
Twice a day, the elephants are taken from the orphanage down the road to the river, to cool themselves, get a wash and generally frolic in the water. We strolled up to the little boat ramp which gives the elephants access to the river, and watched the bulls being led down first. The bulls have chains around their ankles and draped over their necks, and have been trained to behave while wearing these chains. The mahouts will sell you bananas to feed them, (the elephants, not the mahouts) or get you in the river to help wash the elephants... for a fee of course.
After the bulls have had their fun, a policeman cleared the street leading down to the boat ramp, paving the way for a stampede of mumma and baby elephants - you should've seen them run to the water, pushing each other out of the way in their haste!!!
Hotel Elephant Bay is probably the best recommendation I could make if you visit Sri Lanka... watching the elephants enjoy the river is an activity all in itself, and we spent the whole morning sitting in the shade and watching them play.
If you are interested in Sri Lanka, don't forget to check out my post on the Hill Country!