If you’ve been around this site for a while, you know how much I *absolutely* love and try to inspire you to think of and see travel differently.  Sure, a vacation is a beautiful thing, but…

My past trips to Guatemala had been your garden-variety-type vacations.  By that I mean I was:

a)  Rushing around from tourist attraction to tourist attraction to “see it all.”

b)  Spending money like a drunken sailor to “get the full experience,” aka “the prepackaged touristy stuff.”

These experiences have taught me something important:

The one who spends the most money

doesn’t necessarily have the best travel experience.

It turns out when you run from attraction to attraction, you might miss all the cool stuff in-between.  Such as a freaking awesome safari experience in the middle of Central America!

I’d read in passing about AutoSafari Chapin before, though I had never had the time nor the desire to go during my earlier short stays here.  Now that I’m slow-traveling through Guatemala, I’ve had time to check out the lesser-known/visited attractions.

This one blew me away because I wasn’t expecting to enjoy myself there as much as I did.

AutoSafari, in short, was the brainchild of two men who thought to build a natural reserve in the middle of nowhere and laid it out as a driveable, safari-like experience.  I have to say they succeeded tremendously.

Heading out on the road to Taxisco, off of CA-9 (the road that leads to the Pacific Coast), you’ll find a few well-placed signs advising you how long until you arrive at the park’s entrance.  This entrance is well-marked with the huge sign you see below.

Entrance sign for AutoSafari Chapin

Entrance sign for AutoSafari Chapin

AutoSafari is open every day, except Mondays, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  You get the option to drive yourself or be driven around in their minivan for a guided tour.

Whatever option you take, your entrance fee entitles you to another go-around late in the afternoon.

AutoSafari Chapin Hours - Closed Mondays

AutoSafari Chapin Hours – Closed Mondays

Macaws will greet you at the door.

Macaws, AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

So close you can touch them – don’t!

Something that I’ve noticed here is that parks don’t gouge you when it comes to food and drinks.  They acknowledge they are the only vendor in the park and seem not to use the opportunity to squeeze you for every last cent.

Who knew that building an attraction that was both enjoyable AND affordable could be a sound business strategy?

AutoSafari Chapin - Guatemalan Safari (59)

Visit restrooms at the entrance – a good idea

Entry fees are pretty affordable. Tickets for adults are Q60, for children 2-10 years old Q50, free for anyone under two. You can also prepay for food, which I highly recommend.

For only Q30 extra for adults and Q35 for children, you get a ticket for a meal combo (burger, fries and a drink).  Pony up Q55 and you get a huge Churrasco and potatoes meal.

The burgers were surprisingly humongous too, and one burger is enough to feed two starving children, as I found out.

Prices at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Prices at AutoSafari Chapin

At the ticket booth, you’ll get a map of showing you the layout of the park.  The park is divided into sections and numbered gates separate them. It’s not necessary, as the road that goes through the park does not have any turn-offs.

With tickets in hand, we went towards section #1.  A park attendant checked to made sure we had bought tickets.  Once cleared, the massive wooden doors were opened, and we were off!

Immediately we were awestruck when we realized we’d be not just close to the animals, but right next to them.  We slowly inched forward while zebras leisurely moved off the road.

Zebras at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Zebras at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

You’re allowed to have the windows rolled down, except when moving into the section housing the lions.  I was so close to the zebras I could almost touch them if I stuck my arm out of the car.

AutoSafari Chapin - Zebras

Zebras up close

I believe the animals below were yaks.  For the most part, my experience was that the animals regarded us with as much curiosity as we did them.

AutoSafari Chapin - Guatemala

Yaks? – AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Each section was numbered.

AutoSafari Chapin - Guatemala

The park is divided into sections

There were signs with the names of animals present in each particular section.

Signs at AutoSafari Chapin - Guatemala Safari

Signs tell you what animals to look for

Emus were wandering around freely.

Emu at AutoSafari Chapin - Guatemala Safari

Emu at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Emu, AutoSafari Chapin - Guatemala Safari

Emu up close

Another treat was the Hippo section.

Hippo section AutoSafari Chapin - Guatemala Safari

Hippo section was a favorite of ours

As we drove up, a hippo eyed us from the water and decided to put on a show.

Hippo swimming, AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala Safari

Hippos going for a swim

The hippo slowly made its way out of the water, walked across the road, literally 3 feet in front of the car, and just stared at us for a bit.

Hippos up close at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Hippos up close

Once it got bored of us, it turned around and just waded into the water for another swim.

AutoSafari Chapin - Guatemalan Safari (47)

Hippos must be bored of tourists

There were a few different species of goat and deer throughout the park….

Goats at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala Safari

African goats?

… as well as lots of spider monkeys.

Spider monkeys at AutoSafari Chapin - Guatemala Safari

Spider monkeys playing

AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala Safari

Going for a drink

AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala Safari

Spider monkey watching us drive by

Deer AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala Safari

Deer at the side of the road

I believe this is what they call a six-point buck up north.  Much more prone to jump in front of your car in the US.  This one here just seemed content to watch me drive by.

Deer up close AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala Safari

Deer up close

An ostrich watches us go by…

Ostrich AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala Safari

Ostrich

Spotted Agua Volcano.  We know we’re not too far from home whenever we catch a glimpse.

Agua Volcano, AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala Safari

Agua Volcano in the distance

Another favorite of us was the section housing giraffes, which seemed to be curious about every car that passed by.

Griraffe section at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Giraffe section

I’m sure the kid below got a memory of a lifetime, as he peeked at a giraffe while sticking his head out of the car’s sunroof.

How. Cool. Is. That?

Giraffes at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Peeking at giraffe through sunroof

The giraffe above headed to the shade under the canopy.  We thought we’d have to be content to watch them from a distance…

Giraffes, AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala Safari

Avoiding the midday sun

… until the same giraffe started walking again and headed straight for the back of our car.

More giraffes at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

More giraffes

The giraffe slowly made its way around, and I managed to get a quick shot off as it checked us out from behind.

Giraffe at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

One giraffe found us interesting

The giraffe got so close to us I couldn’t even fit it all in one frame. It was so close I could’ve touched without sticking out my whole arm!

Giraffe at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

It got very close

Giraffe at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Close enough to touch

Eventually, it walked away after it got bored with us.  The kids just sat in the car with mouths wide open.

Giraffe walking away at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

It strolled away…

Heading into the section that housed the lions, all signs advised us to roll up the windows. Sunroof-kid wisely ducked inside the car again.

AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Fenced in lion section

Again, we were able to get pretty close.

Lion resting at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Lion didn’t seem to mind us

windows up at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Windows must be up when in lions’ section

Rolled down the windows just a tad to get a clear pic.  The lions seemed not to pay any attention to us.

lion resting at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

I dared lowering window a bit to take a better pic

Just in case, a guard watched from a tower high up, in case anybody got crazy enough to get out of the car and pet the lion.

Guard at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Guard watching lions closely

Halfway through, there’s a section where people can pull over, use the restrooms, and get some refreshments.  It also had a nice observation tower overlooking the giraffes’ section.

Giraffe observation tower at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Giraffe observation tower

I liked the open-area setup.  The animals had plenty of room to roam, and they all seemed to be cared for well.

AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Open spaces

Iguanas at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Giant iguanas

By far the smelliest section was the warthog section.  We couldn’t get past it fast enough!

Warthogs at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Warthogs smell bad!

More iguanas at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Large iguana

Deer at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Not exactly the African plain, but close enough

At the end of the driving trail, one arrives at the other section of the park, which contains the restaurant, pool, another zoo (traditional kind) and an artificial lake.

Signs at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Signs for pool, restaurant, and other sections of the park

We parked and headed straight for the restaurant to eat.  The installations were huge and pretty clean.  The menu has your standard park fare and beer on tap.

Restaurant at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Restaurant counter

Two pools, an adult-sized one, and a kiddie one were a welcome relief since it was very hot, as it tends to be in this part of Guatemala.

We went pretty early, which explains why there are barely any other people in the pics. The pool area filled up later when the latecomers began streaming in after 1:00 p.m.

Pools at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Clean pools

There were different colorful birds throughout the park’s grounds.

peacock at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Peacock

Royal toucans at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Toucans

Royal Toucans at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Royal toucans up close

Guacamayas at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Guacamayas

Guacamayas at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

These birds are large and striking up close 

Included in the admission price is a pleasant ride on a gondola-type launch, which circles “Monkey Island.”  It took about 10-15 minutes to go around the lake.

Monkey island at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Entrance for launch to Monkey Island

launch at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Launch fits about 12 passengers

monkey at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Monkey Island residents

curious monkey at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Curious little monkeynaughty monkey at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Naughty Monkey

After the gondola ride, we went on the walking trail to explore the mini-zoo.

trail at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

There’s a nice shaded trail for the little ones

emu at AutoSafari Chapin zoo Guatemala

Small Zoo

cougars at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Cougars

cougar resting at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

They seemed relaxed

jaguar at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala

Jaguar up close – near impossible to see one in the wild

After spending a few hours at the park, we were pooped.  We had no energy to make use of that second go-round pass.

I’d say that this park was one of the highlights of my trip, a real feat considering I’ve been to some amazing places already.

And I totally would’ve missed it again had I not been exploring Guatemala slowly, at my own pace, instead of frantically trying to have an excellent vacation.

*****

What are some off-the-beaten path places you love,

even though they’re not huge tourist’ attractions?

 

5 COMMENTS

  1. This looks like such an amazing experience! I want to check it out if I ever make to Guatemala! Off the beaten path places are very fun to find, it’s so wonderful that you created this ability to travel slowly and discover them.

    • It is a wonderful place. Well worth the visit :)

      And I’m working hard behind the scenes to make slow travel a reality for other people.

      -Rich

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