When it comes to San Diego, there's only one place I like more than the San Diego Zoo and that's the San Diego Zoo Safari Park located north of the city in Escondido. The park is home to 2,600 wild and endangered animals that live in free-range enclosures and has over two million visitors each year.
I'm particularly fond of the Safari Park and have six things I absolutely love about visiting this special place.
1. The Animals Have Room to Roam. I don't know about you, but I really don't like most zoos. Seeing animals that were meant to roam free in the wild in small cages or enclosures just seems cruel and I leave feeling sad. However, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is very different from the typical zoo experience and is located on 1800 acres in the San Pasqual Valley. The animals live in expansive outdoor areas and have room to roam in a way you feel nature had intended it.
2. An Africa Safari for a Fraction of the Price. Although Africa is on my bucket list, I may never get to go, but I can get a small taste of what it's like to go on safari here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. There are a variety of ways to explore the park to see lions lounging in the grasslands, antelope and giraffes mingling, and rhinos wallowing in waterholes. You have your choice of the Africa Tramride, caravan truck, cart, segway, zip line, and, of course, walking the paths, but the most popular is included with the price of admission to the San Diego Safari Park -- passage on the Africa Tramride.
The tramride is an incredible way to see the park and takes you to
the field exhibits to see wildlife from different parts of Africa. I recommend you take the tram first thing
when entering the park since more animals are out in the morning before the sun
heats up the journey. It may be the
next best thing to a trip to Africa and for a whole lot less.
Tip: Now, if you're looking for a more personal experience while you're visiting the park, consider upgrading to the Caravan Tour.
3. Meet and Feed the Giraffes and Rhinos on a Caravan Tour. The Caravan Tour is a unique experience and an opportunity to ride safari trucks into the field exhibits to meet giraffes and rhinos up close and even have them eating out of your hand. This tour is an additional $95 per person and worth every penny since how many times in your life will be able to feed a giraffe or a rhino and get to snap a great photo of the moment?
I think my biggest surprise on the caravan tour was how "cute" the rhinos were. I have never thought of rhinos as "cute" before but these sweet creatures actually had a smile in their eyes that gave a window into their soul and endeared them to me for life.
There are other great tours available for an additional fee including an opportunity to spend the night in a safari tent inside the park where you can experience safari camping without the trip to Africa.
Note: Our guides on the caravan tour asked that we help draw awareness to a troubling trend that the white rhinos are facing all over the world. Many Asian cultures believe that rhino horns have medicinal properties, from supplying super vitamins to curing cancer. Although no doctor has been able to prove these qualities, people still pay top dollar and poachers are murdering rhinos at an alarming rate. And rhino horn is the same material as human fingernails so the myth that rhino horn has special qualities is just that - a myth.
4. The Cheetah Run. The Cheetah Run is one of the most exciting events at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and a unique opportunity to see the fastest land mammal up close and personal doing what it does best - run. Every day at 3:30pm, weather permitting, you can watch a cheetah speed down a 330-foot-long track and see it go from 0 to 70 miles per hour in just four seconds while the cheetah chases a mechanical lure attached to its favorite toy. The body of a cheetah is uniquely designed to run very fast for fairly short distances so they can catch prey that other big cats can’t get. The Cheetah Run is located near the Lion Camp and is a must do when you visit the park.
Tip: In order to get a good position to view the cheetah, get to the location 45 to 60 minutes before the scheduled time (especially if you want to take photos).
5. The Lion Camp. Just like a domestic house cat, an African lion’s life is all about sleeping, napping, and resting and in fact, these big cats spend 21 hours a day just lying around. The Lion Camp is a delightful one-acre exhibit that is home to the park's African lions where you'll probably find them resting on an "abandoned" Land Rover. One side of the enclosure is dominated by an artificial rock which has a 40-foot-long glass viewing window. These very large felines are often seen relaxing in the Lion Camp on of their favorite acacia trees.
Tip: If you're an amateur photographer with a DSLR, make sure you bring a long lens to capture the cats since they're not particularly accommodating with the paparazzi.
6. Condor Ridge. Condor Ridge displays endangered California condors and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park was the key force in the recovery effort for these birds. This is one of the only places in the world where the public can see these rare birds in captivity and why it's so special.
Now there's a whole lot more to see and do at
the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and I've just hit on some my favorite
highlights. You could visit both the
San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park in one day if you're limited on time when
you're in San Diego, but I wouldn't recommend it. You'll want a full day to enjoy both parks because they're both
unique and different. You may also
want to look into the San Diego Go Card to save up to 55% on attractions in the
city. If you're looking for a place to stay that's convenient for many San Diego activities, check out the Hilton Harbor Island San Diego.
Travel Tip. You can save up to $525 when you book your flight and hotel together at Expedia.com!
Disclosure: I've visited the San Diego Zoo Safari Park several times since being a resident of Southern California and have always paid for admission including using the San Diego Go Card but was invited as a guest of the park on a recent visit that included the caravan tour.
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