Whenever people ask about activities to do in Santo Domingo, I tell them to visit the Zoológico – which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The park is not only home to a wide range of species – among them the endangered Solenodon that only lives on this island – it also offers a summer camp for kids and has one of the best playgrounds in the city.
We made it a habit to first check out the birds at the entrance and wait for the train. It takes you up a hill – where we usually got off to walk – and then takes you through the park. The train tour is guided in Spanish and requires a ticket which comes free of charge when you enter the park.
It doesn’t feel like you’re closed off from the animals, rather I often felt like I could just take another step and be next to them. The natural fences are a nice feature that heightens the experience. The fact that there are so few bars and fences might explain how we got to know an iguana who walked freely through the park, eating moro de guandules con coco with the guards. The lions, tigers and a few other larger animals however do live in pits, and many monkeys and birds are in cages. Like many other zoos, this one also focuses on wildlife preservation and bird rehabilitation.
El Zoológico is also a great escape from the city because of its beautiful nature. We spent hours walking around here and Little A could run around freely. You do have to be aware of a few jeepetas coming through, driven by staff, but they drive slowly.
It smells a lot in the zoo, but rather than coming from the animals, the foul smell is from the river that runs through the park. Like a lot of water in Santo Domingo, it’s dirty and filled with trash. But it doesn’t smell everywhere, and it’s not so bad that the average person couldn’t handle it.
After having walked through most of the park, right after the reptiles and a kiosk, you’ll find the playground. It isn’t a petting zoo, but does have a few animals like turtles, cows and a few very big pigs. This also requires a ticket, which you need to buy at the entrance, but it is a small fee of only 30 pesos/person. It’s probably one of the safest, nicest and cleanest playgrounds I’ve found in the country. Little A could spend hours here, and so could his 8 year old cousin. Another great feature is that there are tables so you can take a lunch break. Bring your own food, and as always – bring lots of liquids. There are two cafeterias in the park, but they sell mostly snacks and ice creams. We only bought more water and refrescos there. You will be hungry and very thirsty after having walked around the zoo a whole day!
Tip: Don’t look at the map thinking it’s alright to walk to the Zoo from the metro. Although close to a Arroyo Hondo – a very nice neighborhood, you can see a few of the houses from inside the zoo – but it is also neighbor to a barrio caliente – a pretty rough hood that you don’t want to walk through. If you don’t have a car, ask for a reliable taxi at your hotel or on the DR1 forums.