If you want to visit the orphans at the Elephant Transit Home (ETH), here are some tips to make the most of your visit:
We think that the best way to visit the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) is to combine it with a visit to Udawalawe National Park. This provides the opportunity to see the orphans being fed, and also to see wild elephants in a stunning setting. In fact, you may even see some animals that were rescued by the ETH now roaming in the park.
The orphans at the ETH can only really be seen at feeding times, which are 9am, 12noon, 3pm and 6pm. Entry is charged at LKR500 (around US£5) per person. At these times they can be watched from the viewing platform for about twenty minutes while they are given milk. The rest of the time they spend in the National Park, out of view of people, in preparation for their return to the wild when they are about four years old. As the ETH is a very basic facility, there is not much else to see at this time - so far Born Free has focussed on providing essential resources behind the scenes, mainly building a veterinary hospital and providing veterinary equipment. This means that half an hour is normally quite long enough for a visit.
The ETH is less than half an hour's drive from the entrance to Udawalwe National Park, which has one of the highest densities of wild elephants anywhere in Sri Lanka. This is, at least in part, due to the fact that the predominant vegetation is grassland rather than forest, which also makes viewing the animals much easier. Bear in mind that the park can only be entered in an officially approved jeep, driven by a recognised guide, so you will have to pay for this service when you arrive as well as the park entry. The drive to the park, over the dam road for the Udawalawe reservoir, is quite spectacular, as are the views from the granite outcrops in the park. Combining this with the extremely high likelihood of seeing elephants makes this a very satisfying trip, and one that compliments a visit to the ETH perfectly. If you do see any elephants wearing collars, the chances are that these were orphans rehabilitated by the ETH and returned to the park. The collars are there so that the animals can be followed and their behavior monitored, to confirm that they are adapting properly to their life in the wild.
The best times for visiting the park are just after dawn and just before dusk, so a good schedule can be to visit the ETH for the 3pm feeding and then go to the park for a two-hour evening safari. This gives the morning to get there and check in for lunch at your chosen hotel. Alternatively it is possible to arrive at the hotel in the afternoon or evening and go to the park first thing in the morning, then visit the ETH for the 12noon feeding - then move on, or go to the park again in the afternoon. Visiting the park during the middle of the day is possible, but often animals are not so visible, and it is likely to be very hot.
As for accommodation, there are several acceptable hostels very near to the ETH, an international standard hotel about 10 minutes drive from the park and another about 30 minutes drive away in the town of Embilipitiya. Of the nearby hostels, we have had good experience of the Kinjou Walawe Safari Village, which is clean and provides mosquito nets and good food. We have also enjoyed a pleasant stay at Kalu's Hideaway, near the park, which has a swimming pool, TVs in rooms, and other facilities. The nearest large hotel is the Centauria, which boasts a swimming pool, TVs in many rooms, and a laundry service.We cannot comment on any of the other establishments in the area, which may also provide good value.
Arrangements for transport should be checked on the ground. A bus service from Colombo to Embilipitiya also passes through the nearby town of Barrier Hundia, from where a three-wheeler can be hired to go to the ETH or a local hotel. Although there are no other major attractions in the area, Udawalawe is conveniently situated between Colombo and Yala (Ruhuna) National Park, not far from the Sinharaja Rain Forest, and about an hour and a half from the South coast (two hours from Tangalle or Hambantota).