This 330-acre complex is quite a distance from Miami proper and the beaches—about 45 minutes—but worth the trip. Isolated and never really crowded, it’s also almost completely cageless (most animals are kept apart by cleverly designed moats). It’s a fantastic spot to take younger kids; there are wonderful play areas, safari cycles for rent, and the zoo offers several daily programs designed to educate and entertain, such as the “Wildlife Show” and “Animal Tales.” Residents include lions, chimpanzees, Komodo dragons, koalas, emus, and meerkats. The air-conditioned monorail and tram tours offer visitors a nice overview. The zoo is always upgrading its facilities, including the impressive aviary, Wings of Asia. Cool activities include the Samburu Giraffe Feeding Station, where for $3 you get to feed the giraffes veggies; the Kaziranga Camp Rhino Encounter, where you can feed an Indian rhino for $3; and Humpy’s Camel Rides, where you can hop on a camel for $5. Amazon & Beyond features jaguars, anacondas, giant river otters, harpy eagles, a stingray touch tank, an interactive water-play area, the Flooded Forest building with a unique display of a forest before and during flood times, and an indoor Cloud Forest that houses reptiles. At 27 acres and a cost of $50 million, this exhibit is massive and makes Zoo Miami the third zoo in the country to have giant river otters, one of its key species. “Wings Down Under: A Parrot Feeding Adventure” is a fun, interactive experience where for $3 you can enter an aviary with approximately 400 free-flying budgies, cockatiels, and rosellas (all Australian parrots) and have them fly down to your hands to feast on seeds from a cup. There’s a Dr. Seuss–inspired Wacky Barn in the children’s zoo where they get to hand-feed and touch barn animals such as sheep, mini-horses, ponies, goats, pot-bellied pigs, and more. Private tours and overnights are available for those who really want to commune with nature. Note: The distance between animal habitats can be great, so you’ll do a lot of walking. There are benches, shaded gazebos, cool misters, a water-shooting mushroom, and two water-play areas strategically positioned throughout the zoo so you can escape the heat; still, because it can get very hot during the summer months, get started in the early morning—also because you’ll need a good chunk of the day here if you want to see it all.
- David Paul Appell