Riding elephants in Sri Lanka

Having your eyes set on a top attraction when traveling is often a good idea, but it can backfire. My son was resolved on riding an elephant during our vacation in Sri Lanka, and had been talking about it for months. But finding an elephant to ride in the south coast of Sri Lanka was actually more difficult than imagined.

Every time our conversation turned to our upcoming Christmas vacation to Sri Lanka, my five-year old would happily pronounce that he was going to ride on an elephant. Our preliminary research suggested there was quite a few elephants around, so we didn’t think that this would be a problem while sightseeing, going to the beach and generally lazing around while avoiding the hustle and bustle of Christmas in Norway.

The lovely pool view at the Frangipani tree hotel, Thalpe, Sri Lanka

The lovely pool view at the Frangipani tree hotel, Thalpe, Sri Lanka. Would you rather be here, or stuck at your aunts Christmas party while it’s blowing gale forces in the cold and pitch dark Norwegian day?

However, it turns out that most of the Sri Lankan elephants live up in the hill country, around Kandy, or in national parks. The Pinnawala elephant orphanage apparently has the largest number of elephants in captivity anywhere in the world. Trouble was that after a few days in Colombo we headed south for Galle and Unawatuna to lick sun at the beaches, and not north or inland.

People in Sri Lanka are incredibly friendly, their beaches are stunning and the weather amazing. Everybody was keen to help find an elephant without having to spend a full long day in a car, but nobody seemed to know of any elephants nearby.

When we saw elephants decorated in hundreds of lights marching in the parade amongst dancers and musicians at the Galle New Years festival, hope again soared. But alas, they couldn’t be ridden.

As our vacation neared the end, finally our hosts at the Frangipani tree had managed to locate a place where it was possible to ride an elephant. Spirits high, we jumped in a hired car and spent an hour driving to a place called Water for elephants.

Devastated, my son tried to make a proud face to hide the disappointment when the place turned out to be closed, and nobody could tell us when or if it opened again. That’s the problem with setting too specific goals. It’s terrible if you don’t reach them.

Resident iguana

One of the two resident iguanas at our hotel lunging around the garden. Wild wildlife in Sri Lanka. Lots of exciting impressions for children of all ages from Scandinavia.

Luckily there were so many other exciting things around. Just driving a tuk-tuk around in traffic, seeing wild monkeys in the trees and going to the fish market are sure to make lasting memories for many years. With perfect daytime temperatures around 27 degrees celsius, and swimming and snorkeling every day this was coming up as one of the best holidays ever regardless. Sri Lanka is simply wonderful.

Just as we were about to make travel arrangements to make the long drive to go up to the hill country the last day of our trip, we were told Water for elephants had reopened. The hotel double-checked. We called ahead ourselves and triple-checked. And decided to make one last try. Best holiday ever for the young boy? Certainly.

Elephant feeding

An euphoric son feeding bananas to a friendly elephant near Galle, South Sri Lanka. Mission accomplished.

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