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Sri Lanka Elephant and Community Volunteers


Price above is guide only. Choose start date for your price.



Have you ever wanted to work alongside an elephant?

Well, at this elephant safari you'll be able to get up close to these majestic animals at a luscious site on the outskirts of Kegalle. Care for Asian elephants whilst helping to safeguard the future of these gentle giants, their keepers and the local community. Get to know what elephants like to eat, give them exercise, find out more about keeping them healthy and relax in the river with these magnificent animals.

Two afternoons a week you can help the local community children by teaching them, playing various games and sports, and just simply interacting with them. This will help to increase their knowledge of the English language and improve their self-confidence.

Trip Highlights:

·         Help care for Asian elephants

·         Discover the beauty of Sri Lanka

·         Experience the culture and learn to cook Sri Lankan-style

·         Support local children by teaching English

·         Spot kingfisher along the river banks

·         Help tend the garden which produces fruit and veg for the elephants

Fast facts

Project duration: 
Min 2 weeks - Max 12 weeks
Location of project: 
Kegalle in central Sri Lanka, about 2.5 hours from Colombo
Arrival airport: 
Colombo Bandaranaike (airport code CMB)
Various tasks needed to support the health and happiness of the elephants including feeding, bathing and exercising whilst also learning about the elephants and teaching English to local community children
Working hours: 
Monday to Friday, times will vary according to the needs of the project
Getting to the project: 
Accommodation is on site
Minimum age 18

What's included

Shared room in a volunteer house on site
Breakfast, lunch and dinner is included during the working week but you will need to budget for your own food at weekends
Airport pickup: 
Included on arrival date - ask us for details if you're arriving early. Return transfer is also included
In-country orientation
Pre-departure helpdesk, local in-country team and 24hr emergency support

What's not included

Flights, Insurance, Visas, meals at weekends, snacks and drinks, local transport to afternoon community projects


Day 1 (Sunday) - Arrive into Colombo International Airport (airport code CMB)

When you arrive at Colombo International Airport you will be met by a member of the in-country team carrying an i-to-i sign. From the airport (dependent on arrival schedules) you may be taken straight to the project in Kegalle, or you may be taken to the in-country team office in Colombo to wait for others to arrive.

Note: If you require an early airport pickup and accommodation before the project start date we can arrange this for you for an extra fee. You'll be taken straight to Kegalle and your accommodation will be at a homestay near the project. If there are multiple arrivals on the same day you may be taken to Colombo until everyone arrives and then head on to Kegalle. You will then transfer to your permanent accommodation on the project start day.

Day 2 (Monday) - Orientation

Today will start with a detailed orientation, explaining the project, an introduction to Sri Lanka, the teaching and the other trips that are scheduled. You will also have the chance to meet the other volunteers and the in-country team is always on hand if you need anything else.

After the orientation you will then head to Pinnawala to spend 3 - 4 hours walking around the elephant centre, watching the elephants bathe in the river and be amazed and their majestic size. You will also have an opportunity to do a bit of shopping.

Day 3 (Tuesday) - Kandy

This morning you will head off to Kandy, the cultural capital of Sri Lanka where you will visit the Temple of the Tooth, Buddha on the hill, Kandy Lake and in the evening watch a traditional Kandy dancing show. You will also visit the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniva as part of your tour of Kandy- where there are more than 4000 species of plant covering an area of 147 acres.

Day 4 (Wednesday) - Jungle trekking

Now that you have seen some of Sri Lanka’s cultural elements today you will be trekking into the local jungles for a chance to see some of the country's abundant wildlife such as monkeys, bird and insect species, many of which you won’t find anywhere else.

Not only will you have the great activities over these past few days but you will also be given lots of information about Sri Lanka and the basics of the language as you go.

Days 5 to 6 (Thursday to Friday) - Start work at the project

Thursday will be your first full day to really get involved at the project. You will start with the basics such as cleaning the elephant beds and washing the elephants before getting involved in other things. You will continue your time at the project; working in the garden, cleaning the elephant beds and working directly with the mahouts and their elephants.

Days 7 and 8 (Saturday and Sunday) - Free time

Your weekends are free to either relax or explore more of this amazing country.

The project is located in the town of Kegalle in the picturesque village of Rambukkana. The locals appreciate the help of volunteers so you will see many smiley faces as you go about your day.

Rambukkana is a convenient location offering easy access to some of the country's historical sites and the scenic route starts from Kegalle. You can catch an air conditioned bus to Kandy to visit the famous Royal Palace, or head off by train to Nuwaraeliya for beautiful views of the tea plantations, also known as little England. The ancient royal city of Sigiriya or Ravana Falls (one of the world's widest waterfalls), the ancient ruins of Pollonnaruwa are a few other places you can easily reach from the project. Whether you catch the train, the bus or even a tuk tuk, Kegalle is a central location to most places.

Over a weekend you can also catch the fast train to Colombo and then a connection down the south coast for Blue Whale watching, take on the waves at Hikkaduwa or simply relax by the beach. Travelling up and down by the coast line is very easy and there’s lots to see there. Some of the must visit areas include Mirrissa beach, the Dutch fort in Galle and Unawatuna beach.

Wherever you want to travel to your local project coordinator will be happy to help you with advice.

Following weeks

By now you'll really be starting to get the swing of things at your project.

You will rise early to meet the mahouts and assist with elephant health checks before leading the elephants to the water for a quick bath. After breakfast you will help out in the garden where some of the food for the elephants is grown; you'll be picking food (if it's available) for the elephants and for the tourists to feed them, as well as planting and weeding.

After a well-earned tea break you'll help to clean the elephant beds and make them a nice, fresh bed for the night. You'll then stop for lunch. After lunch you will help out with the tourist activities which include elephant baths and showers around 3pm down in the river. Although not all elephants go there at the same time they usually end up together for scrubbing and water splashing which you will be involved in.

After the elephant afternoon activities you will go on to learn Singhalese or teach English to the local kids. There will be a weekly Sinhala lesson, Tuesdays and Thursdays will be teaching English in the community, Wednesdays are for Sinhala cooking classes where you will be able to eat your delicious self cooked food for lunch and then help teach English to the local kids in the afternoon and Fridays you finish early ready for the weekend. 

Please note: The aim is to keep you busy and entertained but please bear in mind that plans can change as they often have to when working outdoors and with animals! Remember, the more flexible you are, the more you will get out of the project.

Your last day (Sunday) - Time to go home

It will definitely be hard to drag yourself away from your new-found friends (that includes the people and the elephants). The in-country team will take you back to the airport to catch your flight home.


What does the project do?

This project has been set up to care for elephants whose previous owners could not afford to look after them. The well-being of elephants focuses on three key areas; their direct living conditions, their health and their mahout or elephant keeper. You'll work with the mahouts and help them to look after the elephants.

The project aims to continuously educate tourists (who visit the site to take an elephant ride), the elephant keepers and the community alike about better ways to look after the elephants and to understand the importance of protecting the species. The project aims to change attitudes towards elephants so that they are seen more of an asset than a nuisance.

Elephants cost a lot of money to keep. Most elephant reserves actually rent the elephants including mahouts and food supplies. To pay for keeping the elephants substantial funding is required. Traditionally this income is generated from offering elephant encounters to tourists which can include riding the great giants.

The project, just like many others, sees tourists visiting throughout the week. The money brought in from tourists helps greatly to sustain the project site and guarantee that the elephants have a better place to live than without these funds.

Two afternoons a week, you’ll support local children by teaching English and other useful skills in various settings. These could be at a school, disabled home or other community centre in the area. You will be able to provide the children with not only English and Maths lessons but also to help with confidence, leadership and 'life' skills. You'll need to use your initiative as you will often be flying solo.

A love for animals and willingness to work and learn is needed for you to make the most out of this volunteering project. An open-mind and a relaxed attitude are also useful. You won't always be told what to do, you'll need to have a can-do attitude and accept that things run differently in Sri Lanka.

The community element of this programme does involve speaking English, therefore you will need to be able to speak English fluently.

Volunteers must be able to work independently. Patience and perseverance are essential, although above all enthusiasm and a willingness to accept another culture will mean you get the most from your volunteering experience.

The project is based in Kegalle which is close to all amenities.

Why does the project need volunteers?

On this project you will be immersed in elephant life by working with a mahout helping on the daily care essential of keeping these animals happy and healthy. You will learn the importance of caring for the welfare of the elephant and its mahout.

The project has a garden where it grows pineapple, bananas and other vegetation which is used to feed elephants. You'll get involved in this as long as it's not too hot!

As the project receives paying tourists as a key way to earn money for the elephants and mahouts, your role will be to act as extra members of staff assisting with the work of the mahouts when required. By the time you have finished your time at the project you should have a good understanding of the life of mahouts and their elephants. 

Things to bring from home

You don't need anything specific for this trip, but here are some general items that you may find useful:

  • Walking shoes
  • Flip Flops
  • A sunhat
  • Rain coat
  • Clothes. Long sleeve shirts and trousers are great. Remember to bring beachwear for beach time.
  • Clothes worn around the local community should be respectful of culture and long trousers and sleeved t-shirts, shirts should be worn
  • When visiting places of religious worship you should wear long white clothes
  • Antibacterial soap gel
  • Travel wash for clothes
  • Small medical kit containing plasters, medicine for diarrhoea, head ache tablets, anti-histamine cream and any medication you will need.
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Toilet roll 
  • High factor sun cream


What type of accommodation will I be in?

During your time at the project you will be staying in a volunteer house which overlooks the river on the safari site itself. The accommodation is purpose-built with a balcony to chill out on, shared rooms (max. 4) with access to shared bathroom (western-style toilets) and shower facilities. Toilet roll is not provided as it is not used by Sri Lankans normally and is considered to be expensive (so you may wish to bring your own). Bed linen and mosquito nets will be provided.

All volunteers are expected to help keep the house clean and tidy as part of regular duties.

There is an open living area with a TV, washing machine and internet facilities (although connection can be sporadic). In rural areas such as this there can often be power cuts so you should be prepared for this; there is emergency lighting so you'll still be able to see.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner from Monday to Friday is included but you will need to cater for yourself at weekends. There's filtered water available and a kettle for hot drinks.

Where is the accommodation?

The project is on the outskirts of Kegalle. Kegalle is a relatively short distance from Kandy. The local train station offers connections to some of the islands best sites as well as the fast train to Colombo. You will easily be able to get a tuk tuk or bus from the project site to Kegalle.

What you get

Next steps

Flights & insurance

Country information

I've done this trip. Write review >
Holly Smith gives this project
Here is what Holly had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
Getting to spend so much time with the elephants (especially the ride!); all the opportunities to travel around the country and see tourist sites.
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
Make as much time of your time off as possible. Talk to the people who you're working with to find out about the country. Take bug repellent and bite relief!
Roger Forbath gives this project
Here is what Roger had to say:
What were the highlights of your trip?
Close contact with the elephants was an unforgettable experience. The friendship of the local staff who welcomed me into their homes and treated me like a guest made a huge impact. The religious and cultural sites were unique and fascinating.
Do you have 3 top tips for future travellers?
1) Make the most of the company and continued friendship of other volunteers. 2) Be generous with the local people 3) Always have a plan B
Give Us Up To 10 Words That Sum Up Your Experience:
A wonderfull experience of unique variety and unexpected friendships.

We work in partnership with hundreds of established projects that are run by local communities. The information on our website comes directly from the projects and we work with them to ensure this information is as accurate as possible. However, due to the very nature of the projects themselves the exact details of what happens on a daily basis can change with little or no notice. If you have travelled with us and have any updates to this information, please let us know.