Last Saturday morning, our family was sitting around, wondering what to do for the day. We didn’t want to travel too far. Not likely anyway, since we hadn’t planned for any trips. We could always go hang out in Antigua, but today we all agreed we felt like doing something different. My wife said she knew just the thing to do in Guatemala City. She suggested a picnic at the La Aurora Zoo.
“Great idea!” I exclaimed, and we were off to the races preparing our food for the picnic. Well… she was off to the races, to be honest :)
The Ms. prepared a picnic basket and off we went. We stopped on our way out of Antigua to buy some freshly baked bread to go with our chicken salad, and some avocados to pair up with the sandwiches.
Since it was Saturday, the roads were clear and we reached the city limits of Guatemala City in about 40 minutes. From there, it was another 10-15 minutes until we reached the zoo.
On the way, we passed Tikal Futura, the building on the left. Tikal Futura is a mall/hotel, and the closest one to Antigua. Decent mall, but there are much nicer one further into the city. Guatemala has a modern city feel to it, at least when you drive through the main avenues.
Tikal Futura Mall
The forecast called for 40% chance of rain after 112 pm so when we arrived at 12 pm or so, we were hoping to get at least 2 hours of rain-free time. Turns out it never did rain, which was great.
La Aurora Zoo
Entrance to La Aurora Zoo
The zoo itself has been modernized. It was open in 1924, and though it was pretty much abandoned in the 1960s when the civil war was raging in the country, restoration efforts have made the place a top-notch destination to visit with family.
Ticket gate at La Aurora Zoo
Prices are super reasonable. Only Q25 (~$3)for adults and Q10 ($1.25) for children. Parking is an extra Q25.
La Aurora Zoo prices
The zoo’s grounds are VERY well-kept and a pleasure to walk through. Lots of sponsors, including Pepsi (the only brand of soft-drink available inside the park), have invested heavily to make the zoo what it is today.
Since it was lunch time, we put off walking the park and set out to have our picnic in one of the many tables available to the public.
It was a slightly jarring to be allowed into the zoo without any bag-check whatsoever and with food obviously in hand. The picnic idea was a smashing success.
Once we finished with lunch, it was time to walk around the park
The zoo has three theme areas. America’s region (emphasis in animals native to Central America), Africa’s Region, and the Asian Region, and a large collection of snakes in its herpetarium. The zoo has been recently redesigned to deliver the experience newer zoos emphasize, which is to display animals in a cage-free environment. This is due in part to an uproar over the death of an icon at the zoo. More on that below.
At the time of the visit, they were developing an open-air section for penguins. This will be interesting, as it was hot as heck after 1pm. Good thing there were lots of trees providing shade along walking paths.
First up, the African section.
There are train rides for the kiddies.
The food court offered a decent selection and, shockingly, it WAS NOT overpriced. In fact, some of the meal deals were even better than what you could get at the same restaurants on the outside.
I loved the Jaguar display. Jaguars were thought to be gods by the Mayan people. In fact, the biggest Mayan temple, in the Tikal ruins, is called Temple of the Great Jaguar. These animals do have an elegance about them that seems to be missing from lions and tigers.
Below is “Bomby”, the Asian elephant that replaced “Mocosita”, another beloved elephant that died in 2008. Mocosita was a national icon, and is remembered fondly by Guatemalans that grew up seeing her at the zoo regularly. Mocosita (na the me is an endearing term for kid – it means “runny-nosed“) was brought to Guatemala from Calcutta, India, in 1955, at the age of three. She was named via a contest organized by the local newspaper, in 1957, and quickly became a celebrity. Her birthday was noted every year by the local press.
Elephants are supposed to live between 70-80 years, but Mocosita died under disputed circumstances, one Friday night, at the age of 56. There were accusations thrown around that union workers were to blame, since they failed to help the staff when they tried to get Mocosita up on her feet that night. Mocosita had been feeling ill, due to an apparent heart attack, and was apparently unable to stand on her own, which is how elephants sleep. Leaving her on her side all night apparently caused her to have kidney failure. When video of the burial surfaced, people were outraged at the callous way they perceived it had taken place.
The news was devastating to many people, who were angry that union workers let this happen. The workers defended themselves, as they did not want to be blamed for her death. Eventually, the public outcry led to improved conditions for all animals. Now you know, the rest of the story.
Below is Bomby, strolling around. Bomby has her own story, as she was allegedly “donated” (or forcibly rescued – depending on who you ask) by a local circus.
The zoo had the requisite petting zoo for the kids.
Llama! I was slightly disappointed it wasn’t wearing a hat.
The zoo goes through about five-horses worth of meat every week to feed carnivores.
In all, La Aurora Zoo is a very nice diversion, specially if you have young ones in tow. Inexpensive, clean, it is a worthwhile stop if you have some time to burn in Guatemala City.
Have you visited La Aurora Zoo?