By Lauren Tjaden and Vanessa Caceres
Just west of Palm Beach, you’ll find Lion Country Safari, America’s first drive-through wildlife preserve. Open since 1967, it offers the rare chance to get up close with wild lions. But it offers a whole lot more, too—rides, attractions, animal encounters and other adventures.
Here’s your guide for how to enjoy Lion Country Safari...
Be part of the herd
There’s something about cages and bars. Or more to the point, the lack of them.
It feels good to watch zebras -- so close you can see their muzzles tremble as they munch grass – roaming in herds, just like they would in the wild. Or to spot the King of the Jungle, a lion, all eight feet of him, taking his version of a cat nap in the sun.
The thrill level changes, too. You’ll notice this when a rhino, stout as a tank, clatters across the road right in front of you. I guarantee goosebumps.
There are over 1,000 animals to see on your adventure as well as a water park, shopping, food and animal feeding. Lion Country Safari strives to "be a leader in animal care, conservation and education to inspire people through connections with wildlife in a fun, family-friendly environment."
The Drive-Through-Safari is divided into seven sections, which houses more than 900 animals, kept in large fenced areas with about five miles of paved roadway running through it.
You drive your own car (or rent one nearby) through it, at your own pace, while listening to a recorded narration. Some of the animals, like giraffes, can come right up to your car. Others, like lions, arephysically separated from the vehicles. (They used to roam freely with the cars; but lost the privilege in 2005, because of visitors who ignored warnings and opened their car doors.)
Take a walk on the wild side
Amusement Park rides, miniature golf, animal feeding opportunities, and even an animal theater: The Walk-Through-Safari boasts all of them and more. You can navigate the islands of Lake Shanalee on a paddleboat, where siamangs and spider monkeys dance in the trees; pan for gems and fossils at the Orange River Mining Company; or take the Safari Plunge down a twisted waterslide. You can get lost in the Safari Maze, let your toddlers have a toot on the Rio Grande Train, or tempt a giraffe to nibble a treat from your hand. A can’t-miss attraction is the Lory Bird Aviary. Spend the $2 to buy a cup of nectar, and you’ll be a big hit with the exotic birds, who will happily roost on your wrist for a sip.
Private tours and encounters include guided tours of the Walking Safari and the Driving Safari, as well as the strange and cool ‘Giraffe Painting Encounter.’ It’s true: one of the long-necked-wonders, using a mouth-held brush, will paint a masterpiece for you.
Making a difference
Lion Country Safari is dedicated to conservation, locally and globally. They help folks become more responsible pet owners, are involved in wildlife rehabilitation, recycling education, and more. They also offer exciting opportunities for you to be one of the good guys: you can volunteer to take part in ChimpanZoo, an international program where you can contribute to the research of the Jane Goodall Institute.
Stay and play
You’ll think you’re in Africa when you fall asleep to the sounds of wild animals at the award-winning Lion Country Safari KOA Campground. It offers tent sites, RV sites and ‘kabins.’
When you go…
Lion Country Safari
2003 Lion Country Safari Road
Loxahatchee, FL 33470
Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you plan your Lion Country Safari visit:
Bring your swim suit, water shoes, and sunscreen. Visitors don’t always know about the splash water play area and could show up unprepared otherwise.
Try to plan your visit for earlier or later in the day. That’s when the animals move around the most, Taffel-Cohen said. However, another good time to visit is when it’s raining—the animals love the chance to cool down, according to the folks at Lion Country.
Schedule your visit accordingly. The park recommends about five hours for your full visit, including the safari and amusement park.
Bring some cash. A few of the walk-through amusement park experiences cost a couple of bucks. Be ready to give your kids (or kids at heart) a few dollars so they can maximize their enjoyment there, Taffel-Cohen advised.
Consider camping with lions roaring in the background. Lion Country Safari has a KOA campground on site with full RV hookups, camping cabins, and tent sites.
No car? Don’t get left behind. Lion Country Safari will refer you to rental vehicles available nearby.
Work the hashtags. You’ll probably have your phone with you for pics, maybe even a fancy camera. You can share your pics and use the hashtag #lioncountrysafari.
Leave the pets at home! However, if for some reason Fido can’t stay behind, Lion Country has a kennel onsite for a small fee. Check with the park about specific rules regarding service animals.
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