Craving a little urban nature? Treat your inner child with a quick day trip to Medellín’s Santa Fé Zoo.
The zoo’s location is accessible, though not easy to get to. The best way to get there is by taxi. Though the zoo is only a ten to fifteen minute walk from both the Poblado and Industriales metro stations, the walk is along a busy avenue in a not-so-beautiful part of town. Walking from Poblado station I had to cross a busy traffic circle with no crosswalks (not that Paisa drivers respect those anyway). Unfortunately, there is no bus that runs between the metro and the zoo, though there are some bus lines that run on Avenida Guayabal.
The zoo is located at Avenida Guayabal and Calle 25, you’ll know when you’ve arrived when you see a long ten-foot-high wall covered in animal murals.
Zoológico Santa Fé is open everyday from 9am to 5pm, and tickets cost $14,000 COP for adults, $7,000 COP for children ages 2-12. Tickets include access to the butterfly garden, the aviary, and the amphibian house, though these exhibits close for one hour in the middle of the day.
As you enter the zoo, there will be a gift shop to your left and a path that leads straight ahead and then veers to the right. As the security guard will probably tell you, keep to the right and follow the yellow paw prints or huellas. These paw prints will lead you for your entire visit.
The first animals you’ll come across will be emus, llamas, antelope, and bison. At the end of the path is the oso de anteojos (spectacled bear) habitat, the pride of the Santa Fé zoo. The logo for the zoo is a cartoon face of this bear. That’s because in 1996 Zoológico Santa Fé became the first Colombian zoo to successfully breed these bears. One of the cubs, now an adult, still lives in the zoo. Spectacled bears are the only bear species native South America though few Colombians know much about them. I learned all this from a very helpful biology student who was interning at the zoo, specializing in the care of these bears. If your Spanish is up to the challenge, I suggest talking to the many keepers and biologists around the zoo. They are a wealth of information and will enhance your experience.
Retracing your steps, you’ll follow a winding path over a small bridge past a pond of leggy pink flamingos to a lookout area. There you’ll see the stunning image of grazing zebras and ostriches under the city skyline, a true picture of urban nature.
On cloudy cool days you’ll have a good chance of seeing the zoo’s two lions active and stalking around their enclosure. The big cats, one male and one female, each eat 15kg of fresh meat every day. The male lion was once the pet of a wealthy narco trafficker from Cali, but was rescued by the zoo. In fact, 90% of the zoo’s animals are rescues, the other 10% were bred in captivity. The two hippopotamuses are descendants of the infamous Pablo Escobar’s pets.
As I walked through the zoo I kept expecting to come to the end of it, from the outside and from the image on Google maps the zoo seemed small. But the zoo kept going and going, from the African animals to a large area of only monkeys, then to birds, foxes, owls, turtles, and even a leopard. I enjoyed the monkeys best. For over 20 minutes I stood to watch the marimonos swinging on their rope toys and climbing all over the chain link fence of their enclosure. They were bursting with energy playing and eating their fruits and vegetables. There were at least a dozen other types of monkeys, mostly from South America, but a few African and Asian varieties as well.
Near the end of my visit, almost back to the entrance, the path took me to a very surprising exhibit- a wolf! I had never seen a wolf in a zoo and was shocked and saddened to see that he was the only one in his habitat. The wolf is named Amarok and was rescued outside Bogotá about three years ago. Judging by his teeth, the biologists say he was about a year old when he was found extremely thin and undernourished. He’s back to full health now, but living alone in Medellín as the only known wolf in Colombia. Wolves are not native to Colombia and it is suspected that he was brought here as a pet and then escaped. He won’t be here for long though, in mid-April 2017 he’ll be flying to Denver to live in a wolf sanctuary. He’s fully domesticated, even wagging his tail when his keepers come to feed him, and cannot be released back into the wild.
I didn’t buy any food or drink in the zoo, but there is a restaurant and several snack carts. There is also a pavilion where it appears you can eat a picnic lunch or host a gathering. Either way the Medellin zoo was a wonderful way to spend a few hours and get away from the noise and stress of the city.
Price of entry: $14,000 COP (adult) $7,000 (child)
Transportation time: 15 minutes walking from Poblado metro station
Time spent in zoo: 2.5 hours (a lot of time spent watching the monkeys!)