The Curl-crested aracari is but one of hundreds of characters we met on our visits to the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. He’s from the Amazon rain forest, and in all likelihood, we would never have met if it weren’t for the zoo.
Truth be told, I’m ambivalent about zoos. I feel a vague unease when I think about any wild creature being caged for our vicarious viewing pleasure. But I also know that most zoos nowadays do an amazing job of education and conservation. The sad truth is that without the advocacy, breeding programs and protection that zoos provide, we would be losing species at an even faster rate than we are now.
The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are possibly two of the best zoos in the world. The animals live in luxury in beautiful habitats, created to replicate their native environments as closely as possible. They have plenty of room to roam (or fly or swim) and engage in enrichment programs to keep them active and happy. The San Diego Zoo has wildly successful breeding programs for a number of creatures, including many endangered species such as the California condor and Harpy eagle. They are actively involved in protecting tigers, and shelter one of the four remaining Northern white rhinos in the world.
We were fortunate in that our family gifted us with guest passes for both the zoo and the safari park. The parks are not inexpensive ($48 each, or $86 for both). We enjoy walking, so we didn’t opt for expensive tours. The tram tour at the Safari Park, however, is included with admission, and takes you into the otherwise inaccessible veldt. Both venues are all day affairs, and you’d best get an early start. It’s a good idea to avoid weekends and holidays. And summer. And school vacations. Take plenty of water, wear good walking shoes, and pack a picnic (the food offerings are expensive and not very appealing). The bottomless iced tea is a bargain, though. It’s fresh brewed, and for $5, you can get refills all day long. We got our money’s worth on that deal at both parks.
Given our dislike of driving in big city traffic, we planned our visits according to where we were staying. The San Diego Zoo is in Balboa Park, and we went there while staying just a couple of miles away at our B & B in North Park. We visited the Safari Park while staying in Poway—it’s in nearby Escondido (and close to Dos Picos County Park campground, which by the way, is a great park for visiting that side of San Diego. It has spacious shady sites, partial hookups, good Verizon coverage, and is close to excellent hiking trails).
We’ve gone to both parks many times over the years, and found on this trip that they’re both better than ever. If we had to choose…. hmmm…I don’t think we could. If you can’t visit both, go wherever is easiest to travel to. It’s cool to see the animals roaming free range at the Safari Park. But the zoo is wonderful, too, and has miles of beautiful shaded walking trails that meander through the park-like settings. It’s delightful to see the koalas curled up in the trees, the elephants at play in the water, the orangutans and their antics. But our favorites are always the birds. At both parks, we had the opportunity to see birds that we’ll probably never see in the wild, and it’s a thrill to watch them flying free in the various aviaries. (I still wish I could have taken that aracari home with us. I think he would have loved RVing.)[portfolio_slideshow]