Lion Country Safari – Loxahatchee, FL
Please note, due to COVID-19, only the drive through safari is available at this time.
Finding ways to beat the heat during Florida summers can be tough, especially after you’ve exhausted every water park, pool and spring within a 100-mile radius. There are other ways to have fun without getting those wrinkly, raisin fingers or even leaving the comfort of air conditioning.
Lion Country Safari offers a safari experience on a budget without ever leaving your own car. Florida’s only drive-through safari began in 1967 in Loxahatchee, just outside of West Palm Beach, as the nation’s first “cageless zoo,” and has been working to bring you incredible animal encounters while maintaining the park’s conservation efforts ever since.
This animal playground is a safari, zoo and amusement park rolled into one. Along with the drive-through safari, there is a walk-through safari similar to a traditional zoo, two water slides, the Splash Waterplay Area, five animal encounters offering chances to feed the creatures, several rides, animal demonstrations and miniature golf. All of these are covered with the cost of admission (listed at the end), except for animal feedings, so you can have a full day of adventure and more than one way to stay cool without breaking the bank.
As with anything involving massive wild animals, of which there are over 900, there are a few rules to remember. You may be reading this article and imagining all those clips from America’s Funniest Home Videos where the giraffe pokes its head through the sun roof in search of a snack. I don’t know where those people were, but I’m pretty sure they were breaking the rules. As entertaining as it is, it endangers you and the animals so it’s important to follow all of the safety precautions of the park. All windows, doors and even those sunroofs must remain closed throughout the entire safari.
You may think you have lightning fast reflexes and can roll up your windows quickly, but I promise these animals are faster. No one needs a wild monkey in their car, especially if it’s already full of kids. If you don’t have a car that meets these requirements, or want to load even more family into one vehicle, zebra striped car and van rentals are available.
Make sure to leave your beloved pets at home, they aren’t cute and cuddly to lions – they’re tasty treats. Speaking of treats, don’t bring along any snacks in the hopes of luring the critters to your vehicle. These animals are on special diets to keep them healthy, and contrary to popular belief, cheetahs don’t enjoy Cheetos (OK, so there’s not actually any cheetahs here, but you catch my drift).
When we arrived at the park, we were handed a map with an animal guide including photos and descriptions of everything we were about to see within the massive wooden gates along with a CD. We popped it into the player and had a detailed description along with fun facts about the animals and each of the safari’s seven regions named for their residents’ homelands.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we first entered but was pleasantly surprised when we were almost immediately greeted with several animals in the Las Pampas region. A South American tapir, resembling an oversized pig with a droopy snout, was feeding just a few feet from our car from a strategically placed dish; a trick I was soon to learn proves very effective for up-close encounters throughout the safari.
The park recommends that the best time to see the animals is during or shortly after rain, because they enjoy the cooler, wet weather and tend to be more active. However, it wasn’t raining when I was there and I was able to spot all of the animals in the park.
We crossed the gates into the next region, Africa’s Ruaha National Park. Greater kudu (essentially oversized antelope) and ostriches stride past your windows for perfect photo ops.
It almost seemed like the animals were trained to model from growing up in the spotlight and flashing cameras. You can also find plenty of impalas here, not the Chevy version but the furry kind.
Next we rolled through the Gir Forest, named for the national park in India, to see the native antelope, water buffalo and kulan, a relative of the horse. It was finally time to see the park’s namesake, the African lion. Unfortunately, you won’t be having an up-close encounter with these guys since they are held behind three layers of fencing. I can completely understand the safety precautions here, and I’m sure if one really wanted to get me they could open up my car like a tin can, so I’m cool with gazing from afar.
The rest of the safari was filled with 15 species of African creatures, including chimpanzees, giraffes, rhinoceros and my favorite, zebras. You can imagine my excitement when a herd of them surrounded the car and walked right up to the windows. It’s a good thing they were up, since my squeals of joy probably would have scared them off.
Once you’re done with the safari, which can be done at your own pace but takes about an hour and a half for most, don’t be disappointed because your day isn’t even close to being over. Now is your chance to get really close to and feed some of those animals for a truly unforgettable experience. Be sure to bring along some cash for these, which range from 50 cents to $2.50. My favorite was the giraffe feeding, where you can stand face-to-face with them and have a chance at some pretty incredible selfies. We also enjoyed feeding the lories – colorful parrots that love sweet treats and posing for the camera.
This park is truly meant for animal lovers, not just for the encounters but also for its efforts to save these amazing creatures. Lion Country Safari is actively involved in Species Survival Programs, which works to ensure genetic diversity in breeding to help bring back our endangered species. It is a licensed rehabilitation facility, offering care and placement for sick or injured animals. They also work hard to provide enrichment and stimulating environments and activities. I personally witnessed two porcupines ripping apart a giraffe-shaped piñata filled with fruit and a sloth living up to his name while relaxing on his back in a hammock in front of his own personal fan.
Lion Country Safari isn’t your everyday zoo. If you’re looking for a great place to spend the day with endless activities, this is the place for you. Every kid and adult is guaranteed to have a blast, because it offers something for everyone.
This summer, ditch that lame front yard sprinkler, pack your own “wild creatures” in the car and head to Lion Country Safari.
*Keep in mind travel time will take around three hours. There are restrooms and parking before beginning the safari. If you are traveling with small children and the trip is too much for one day, there are several hotels within the area and the park is also a KOA campground with campsites and cabin rentals within earshot of the roaring lions.
Lion Country Safari
2003 Lion Country Safari Road, Loxahatchee, FL 33470
Open daily at 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Last admission is at 4:30 p.m.
Reduced admission during special COVID-19 precautions – $15 per person, plus tax. Includes drive-through admission only and no other discounts apply.
Regular (ages 10-64): $35.00
Seniors (ages 65 and over): $31.50
Children (ages 3-9): $26.00
Toddlers (ages 0-2): FREE
Parking: $8 per vehicle
For more information on things to do outdoors in Florida that allow social distancing, visit:
Home on the Range – Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park