There are ways to take in the sights, cuisines, and customs of other countries without spending a fortune on travel. In this summer series, we'll divulge secrets about where to find hidden pockets of foreign culture across the country. In today's feature, one mom and her family experienced up-close encounters with elephants, jaguars, rhinos, and other exotic animals without ever boarding a plane.
Momlogic's Jill: We could have shelled out a few thousand dollars for an African safari and jungle canopy zip line tour -- but instead my family and I jumped on the freeway for a couple of hours to check out the newest offerings at the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park. First on our itinerary was the just-opened $45 million Elephant Odyssey exhibit, home to more than 35 species of animals including lions, camels, California condors, rattlesnakes, and of course, elephants. My kids were particularly intrigued by the open-air care center, where the elephants get cleaned and groomed right before your eyes -- they even get pedicures and tusk trimmings while visitors look on.
Next up was the new Flightline zip line attraction, which launches from a platform at an elevation of 900 feet and stretches two-thirds of a mile over animals indigenous to Asia and Africa, traveling at about 40 mph. My 15-year-old daughter and I have actually zip-lined once before, in Puerto Vallarta, but we shuddered at the sheer height of this launch pad -- and made a beeline for the outhouse when we got off the shuttle bus. My 13-year-old melodramatically gave "I love you" hugs to all of us before take-off, "just in case." The guide assured us that this zip line, while being the longest in the continental U.S., was also the safest -- with steel cables measuring a full seven-eighths of an inch thick. The result was a serene birds'-eye view of the Wild Animal Park lasting about 2 minutes long.
Our last excursion of the day was the photo caravan safari tour. There are several different versions of this tour at varying price tags -- we took the two-hour journey, where we saw a variety of animals including gazelles, deer, giraffes, elephants, and rhinos. I guess springtime is baby time in the animal kingdom, because we were lucky enough to see newborn and toddler versions of almost every species. Hands down the best part of all is getting to feed the rhinos from our truck. Seriously, memories to last a lifetime!
A trip to Africa would easily run a family thousands of dollars and over a day in travel hours. For a fraction of the cost, we enjoyed an educational exotic getaway where part of our money spent was dedicated to conservation. To support the elephant conservation project, you can sponsor a "footprint" that will help the San Diego Zoo protect, track, and study elephants in the wild. Find out how at Project Elephant Footprint.
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