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The San Diego Zoo Safari Park: Africa and Asia Close To Home

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The San Diego Zoo Safari Park: Africa and Asia Close To Home Courtesy of Wild Animal Park

What is the San Diego Zoo Safari Park?:

Operated by the Zoological Society of San Diego, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is an expansive wildlife sanctuary that is home to more than 3,500 animals representing more than 400 species. Its renowned botanical collection represents 3,500 species and 1.5 million specimens. Its like going to Africa without a passport.

It's not just a zoo:

The Safari Park blows away your concept of the traditional zoo. Many of the earth’s most rare creatures and species roam together in herds and flocks in vast enclosures resembling their native homelands. It’s home to the largest crash of rhinos in any zoological facility, and one of the only California condor exhibits in the world.

See some rare and unique animal species:

Indian, black and white rhinoceroses; pygmy chimpanzees; okapis and shoebills from central Africa; South African cheetahs; Arabian oryx and addax from the Middle East; Przewalski’s wild horses from Mongolia; herds of antelopes and gazelles; and a variety of rare and endangered bird species including bee eaters, California condor, great hornbills and more.

Is the Park the same as Lion Country Safari?:

No! It's still a common misconception by locals and tourists that the Safari Park gets confused with the old Lion Country Safari in Orange County, where people drove their cars amid the animals. The Safari Park *does* have a tram that takes you out into the field exhibits to view the herds of animals.

What else is there to see?:

Lots: get up close to a pride of lions in the newest exhibit, Lion Camp. the Nairobi Village area is the lush, main entry into the Park with lots of animal exhibits, activities, shopping and dining. The Heart of Africa brings African wildlife, including giraffes and cheetahs, within eye-level. And Condor Ridge brings North American wildlife up-close. The Frequent Flyers Bird Show and the Elephant Show gives you fascinating insight to these animals.

Special things to do at the Park:

This is what makes the Wild Animal Park special. For additional fees, you can ride up 400 feet in a balloon for spectacular views; ride a Photo Caravan Safari for up-close encounters with rhinos and giraffes and great photos; Cheetah Run Safari, where you can experience the speed of a cheetah up-close; and Roar and Snore Sleepovers, where you and your family can camp out overnight amid the sounds of East Africa. There's even a zip line adventure, Flightline, that takes you zipping above the animal enclosures, and a Rolling Safari, where you explore along using Segways.

Your Guide's Take on the San Diego Zoo Safari Park Park:

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park (formerly known as the Wild Animal Park) has been around for some 30 years, but it's still being discovered by locals and tourists alike. Its sister facility, the San Diego Zoo, might more world-famous, but once you experience the Safari Park, you'll be hard-pressed to choose which one is a favorite. Located some 35 miles north of the San Diego Zoo in the San Pasqual Valley east of Escondido, the Park might be a bit out of the way for some, but it's well worth the day trip.

The Park is huge, so give yourself a full day to experience it, and you won't be disappointed. Also, prepare to do quite a bit of walking, as the facility is spread out (that's what makes it so unique), and there are some steep inclines to encounter going from one exhibit area to another.

Best Bets: Lion Camp is cool, and there are lion cubs on exhibit (as of late 2006). Heart of Africa is worth the trek, and you can feed giraffes and try and spot some cheetahs up close. Nairobi Village and Mombassa Lagoon are great places to stroll and take in the scenery. The lowland gorillas are always great for entertainment, and make sure you head to the elephant enclosure to spot the baby elephants!

If you're inclined to indulge, definitely pay the extra fees for the Photo Caravan Safari (my favorite), Cheetah Run Safari, and Roar and Snore Sleepovers - you'll definitely come away with some cool memories.

The San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park is located 30 miles north of downtown San Diego in the San Pasqual Valley near Escondido, Calif.Open daily including all holidays (times vary). Age 12 and older, $28.50; ages 3-11, $17.50; age 2 and younger, free. (Prices subject to change).

View Safari Park images in the Picture Gallery here.

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