Last Saturday morning, our family was sitting around, wondering what to do for the day. We didn’t want to travel too far. Not likely anyway, since we hadn’t planned for any trips. We could always go hang out in Antigua, but today we all agreed we felt like doing something different. My wife said she knew just the thing to do in Guatemala City. She suggested a picnic at the La Aurora Zoo.
“Great idea!” I exclaimed, and we were off to the races preparing our food for the picnic. Well… she was off to the races, to be honest :)
The Ms. prepared a picnic basket and off we went. We stopped on our way out of Antigua to buy some freshly baked bread to go with our chicken salad, and some avocados to pair up with the sandwiches.
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Visiting Zoológico La Aurora (La Aurora Zoo)
Since it was Saturday, the roads were clear and we reached the city limits of Guatemala City in about 40 minutes. From there, it was another 10-15 minutes until we reached the zoo, which is very close to La Aurora International Airport. The entrance to the zoo is off of Boulevar Liberación.
On the way, we drove by Tikal Futura, the building on the left (pic below). Tikal Futura is a mall/hotel, and one of the closest malls to Antigua. It’s a decent shopping center, but there are much nicer ones further into the city – Miraflores Mall next door is nicer. Pricesmart is located behind this mall as well.
Guatemala has a modern city feel to it, at least when you drive through the main avenues.
Tikal Futura Mall
La Aurora Zoo’s History
Entrance to La Aurora Zoo
The zoo itself has been modernized. It was inaugurated in 1924. By the 1960s it was pretty much abandoned, as the civil war was raging in the country. Recent restoration efforts have made the place a top-notch family destination.
Ticket gate at La Aurora Zoo
Prices at La Aurora Zoo
Prices are more than reasonable – only Q33 (~$5)for adults and Q16 ($2.25) for children. Parking costs an extra Q30 for vehicles, Q40 for buses, Q10 for motorcycles.
La Aurora Zoo prices (old prices – see update above photo)
Hours of Operation
The zoo is closed Mondays and is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 9 am to 4 pm.
The zoo’s grounds are VERY well-kept and a pleasure to walk through. Lots of sponsors, including Pepsi (the only brand of soft-drink available inside the park), have invested heavily to make the zoo what it is today.
Inside La Aurora Zoo
Since it was lunchtime, we put off walking the park and set out to have our picnic in one of the many tables available to the public.
It was slightly jarring to be allowed into the zoo without any bag-check whatsoever and with food obviously in hand. The picnic idea was a smashing success.
Once we finished with lunch, it was time to walk around the park
The zoo has three theme areas. America’s region (emphasis in animals native to Central America), Africa’s Region, and the Asian Region. It also hosts a large collection of snakes in its herpetarium, an aviary, and a small aquarium.
The zoo has been recently redesigned to deliver the experience newer zoos emphasize, which is to display animals in a cage-free environment. This is due in part to an uproar over the death of an icon at the zoo. More on that below.
First up, the African section.
There are train rides for the kiddies.
There are wooden ponies for kids to pose with.
I loved the Jaguar display. Jaguars were thought to be gods by the Mayan people. In fact, the biggest Mayan temple, in the Tikal ruins, is called Temple of the Great Jaguar. These animals do have an elegance about them that seems to be missing from lions and tigers.
Below is “Bomby”, the Asian elephant that replaced “Mocosita”, another beloved elephant that died in 2008. Mocosita was a national icon and is remembered fondly by Guatemalans that grew up seeing her at the zoo regularly. Mocosita (the name is an endearing term for a kid – it means “runny-nosed“) was brought to Guatemala from Calcutta, India, in 1955, at the age of three. She was named via a contest organized by the local newspaper, in 1957, and quickly became a celebrity. Her birthday was even noted every year by the local press.
Elephants are supposed to live between 70-80 years, but Mocosita died under disputed circumstances, one Friday night, at the age of 56. There were accusations thrown around that union workers were to blame since they failed to help the staff when they tried to get Mocosita up on her feet that night. Mocosita had been feeling ill, due to an apparent heart attack, and was apparently unable to stand on her own, which is how elephants sleep. Leaving her on her side all night apparently caused her to have kidney failure. When video of the burial surfaced (warning: video may be upsetting to some) people were outraged at the callous way they perceived her burial had been carried out.
The news was devastating to many people, who were angry that union workers let this happen. The workers defended themselves, as they did not want to be blamed for her death. Eventually, the public outcry led to improved conditions for all animals. Now you know, the rest of the story.
Below is Bomby, strolling around. Bomby has her own story, as she was allegedly “donated” (or forcibly rescued – depending on who you ask) by a local circus.
Petting Zoo, Penguins, and Playgrounds
The zoo has the requisite petting zoo for the kids. They’ve also somewhat recently added a penguin showcase area.
Esquilandia, a mini theme-park with mechanical rides and a giant slide, is a new addition. It has food stalls with carnival-appropriate fare as well. While entrance to the theme park is free, visitors need to purchase tickets to use the rides. Each ride costs anywhere between Q10 to Q20.
The zoo goes through about five-horses worth of meat every week to feed carnivores.
Food Options at La Aurora Zoo
The food court offered a decent selection and, shockingly, the restaurants were not overpriced. In fact, some of the meal deals were even better than what you could get at the same restaurants on the outside. There are a bunch of fast food restaurants inside, among them, Domino’s Pizza, Pollo Campero, Hamburguesas Berlin, Taquería El Camioncito, Zoo Hot Dogs, plus a few ice cream stands.
In all, La Aurora Zoo is a very nice diversion, especially if you have young ones in tow. Inexpensive, clean, it is a worthwhile stop if you have some time to burn in Guatemala City.
Have you visited La Aurora Zoo?