Lion Country Safari: Old Florida, New Thrills


I think something can be considered "Old Florida" if it once showed up on plate or a placemat or a towel that had a map of Florida where rockets depicted Cape Canaveral, a beach umbrella meant Miami, and alligators marked the Everglades.

Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee (west of West Palm Beach) is Old Florida. Opened in September 1967, this was the world’s first “drive-through zoo” where you could (and still can) cruise through 640 acres of South Florida plains and see tapirs, llamas, storks, kudus, impalas, gemsboks, water buffalo, lions, wildebeests, chimpanzees, giraffes and an arkload of animals.

I was there a few weeks ago and Terry Wolf, LCS’s wildlife director, filled me in on its impressive history. It was created by five South Africans who had no idea how to create what they wanted, but knew that South Florida had plenty of land and a history of being a backdrop for shows like Flipper and Gentle Ben. It seemed like a perfect place to give animals room to roam and people a chance to see them.

It’s really a simple concept, and when you go there, you simply pay admission then take a few hours driving down dirt roads and, with your windows up, watching animals be themselves. And if you arrive in a convertible or motorcycle or a luxury car you’ve just bought, it only costs about $10 to rent a zebra-striped Lion Country Safari vehicle for the round trip. And if you didn’t get enough the first time, go around again. “It’s yours for the day,” says Wolf.

One of the coolest parts, I thought, was when I drove past massive white rhinos since they were nearly as large as the zebra-striped Blazer I was driving. Recalling Wolf’s observation that rhinos have a pretty bad marketing agent, I also remembered him saying that “they can hear and smell, but they can’t see very well.” That said, they sometimes have the curious habit of nudging themselves against cars which isn’t something that you see every day.

According to Wolf, mornings are a good time to visit, and when it rains, the showers gets the animals up and around. After you’ve made the rounds, remember there’s an amusement park section with a full-service restaurant, wet play area and petting zoo. There’s even a KOA campground here.

If you’ve seen more modern theme parks, you owe it to yourself to see one of the originals. The original Lion Country Safari.

Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners


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