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
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
Macaws will greet you at the door.
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?
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
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
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.
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.
Yaks? – AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala
Each section was numbered.
The park is divided into sections
There were signs with the names of animals present in each particular section.
Signs tell you what animals to look for
Emus were wandering around freely.
Emu at AutoSafari Chapin Guatemala
Emu up close
Another treat was the Hippo section.
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.
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
Once it got bored of us, it turned around and just waded into the water for another swim.
Hippos must be bored of tourists
There were a few different species of goat and deer throughout the park….
… as well as lots of spider monkeys.
Spider monkeys playing
Going for a drink
Spider monkey watching us drive by
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
An ostrich watches us go by…
Spotted Agua Volcano. We know we’re not too far from home whenever we catch a glimpse.
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.
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?
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…
Avoiding the midday sun
… until the same giraffe started walking again and headed straight for the back of our car.
The giraffe slowly made its way around, and I managed to get a quick shot off as it checked us out from behind.
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!
It got very close
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.
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.
Fenced in lion section
Again, we were able to get pretty close.
Lion didn’t seem to mind us
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.
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 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
I liked the open-area setup. The animals had plenty of room to roam, and they all seemed to be cared for well.
By far the smelliest section was the warthog section. We couldn’t get past it fast enough!
Warthogs smell bad!
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 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.
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.
There were different colorful birds throughout the park’s grounds.
Royal toucans 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.
Entrance for launch to Monkey Island
Launch fits about 12 passengers
Monkey Island residents
Curious little monkey
After the gondola ride, we went on the walking trail to explore the mini-zoo.
There’s a nice shaded trail for the little ones
They seemed relaxed
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?