Monday, May 12, 2014

Let's Go To The Zoo

Feeding the monkeys is a favorite zoo
The best zoo I have ever visited is right in our Belgian back yard.  We were told about the zoo by several people the minute we arrived in  Belgium with everyone telling us how wonderful it was. There was so much hype around the zoo that I found myself wondering if it was really as good as everyone was saying. I found out that it is and others agree since it was named the most beautiful park and best zoo in Belgium in 2014 and the best theme park in 2013. In a country filled with parks these recognitions are definitely something to brag about.

Actually, to call Pairi Daiza a zoo isn't accurate since it is a zoo and so much more. It is a botanical garden and international cultural showcase. And best of all it is located fifteen minutes from our house making both day long and last minute visits easy. In fact, since it reopened for the season early last month Pairi Daiza it has become our favorite place to visit. We've bought season passes and have started stopping by for the afternoon or just a an hour or so. There is so much to see and despite our repeated visits, we have yet to experience the entire zoo. It is that big and that amazing.

Today Pairi Daiza is a 140 acre zoo and botanical garden that is home to 4,000 animals- from zebras and panda bears to kangaroos, monkeys and hundreds of birds, they all live here. There is even a small aquarium, complete with seals and penguins. But the zoo grounds, located in the midst of rolling farmland, is actually on the grounds of the old Cistercian Cambron Abbey. The old abbey tower remains as the centerpiece of the park, looming over the lush grounds and serving as a geographic landmark since it is easy to get lost amongst the maze of pathways, ponds, and animals. But to get a bird's eye view of the entire grounds, a rope walk spanning high over much of the park is the way to go. My fearless little boy loves it--especially making the narrow wooden and rope walkway bounce uncontrollably--and it is now the first, and sometimes last, place we visit upon arriving.

The old abbey tower

The first thing I noticed about Pairi Daiza is that the animals have so much space to wander around and in some cases are free to share space with their human visitors. Regal peacocks stroll the ground and while visiting "the land down under" we found only a low guardrail separating ourselves from the kangaroos. Lush vegetation lined pathways connect each world garden with the next. In one moment you may be in an immortal Chinese city complete with giant pandas and the next you have wandered into an African stilt village or a Balinese temple surrounded by elephants. Monkeys swing overhead and if you visit during feeding time the monkeys will come right up and eat out of your hands. (This has become a favorite activity for our family). Wandering around one of the many lagoons you encounter birds-giant pelicans, bright pink flamingos, ducks of all kinds, herons, and eagles wandering around the paths, swimming in the water, or soaring overhead. There are also several large caged aviaries where visitors share space with smaller, more colorful birds. I'm not a fan of the avian world but even I find it really cool to be so up close and personal with these colorful feathered creatures.

One of the smallest residents enjoying a
rare sunny moment

African stilt village

And because this is Europe Pairi Daiza has two other features that are rarely found in American zoos. First there are giant playgrounds, both outside and in (in consideration to the often inclement Belgian weather) where kids can run, jump, and climb to their heart's content and burn off energy. The second feature that I love is the food. Yes, you will find your typical park food of grilled hotdogs and hamburgers here but you will also find sushi, Italian and Chinese foods, traditional Belgian fare, and African delicacies. And because this is Belgium all of the food can all be washed down with the zoo's own brewed beer. Have you ever wanted to participate in a traditional tea ceremony? You can do it here. (You can also get a fish pedicure if that is your thing).

There really is something for everyone here and I know we've only just begun to explore and experience everything Pairi Daiza has to offer. In fact, rain or shine its going to be a great place to spend our summer days.

Bright koi frolicking near the immortal city

You never know what you will find hiding
amongst the trees

Bright birds


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