As far as zoos go, São Paulo isn’t too shabby. Not at all. In fact, in comparison to the last South American zoo I visited (in Puerto Maldonado, in case you were wondering. Word of advice: don’t go there!) it’s basically paradise.
It is extremely accessible.
Just hop on the metro from wherever you are to Jabaquara (the very end of the Blue line), then depart the station following signs for EMTU Platform A (just around the corner from all the hotdog stands). The platform services just the zoo, and there’s a little kiosk open from 9am – 3pm where you can conveniently buy both entry (R$30 for an adult ticket) and bus (R$5.50 return) tickets before boarding the bus. The bus itself is easy to spot – covered in pictures of wildlife and fauna, you can’t really confuse it for one of the local buses. As it’s a shuttle bus, it only stops at Jabaquara and the zoo, making it impossible for you to miss your stop or disembark too early – perfect if like me you can’t help but get lost walking in a straight line.
There are so many animals to see!
Not only do they have plenty of native South American animals such as spotted jaguar, caymans and my new favourite kind of bird Murucututu-de-cara-branca (or the much less exciting Spectacled Owl in English), but they also have a large collection of animals from all over the world. Their African animal selection is particularly impressive – giraffes, elephants, lions, emus, zebras, hippos and my favourite of them all, African wild dogs to name but a few. You may even happen upon some bonuses if you’re lucky – wild monkeys and birds who have gone against the grain and decided to put themselves in a zoo.
It is actually really, really beautiful.
Spread over 8875.2ft² of what was once the Atlantic Forest, the landscapers don’t have to try hard to make the place look absolutely stunning. It’s like walking through a jungle a lot of the time, but with vending machines and benches. The huge lake at the centre which houses species upon species of birds as well as an assortment of different monkeys is kind of reminiscent of Roath Park, but obviously more exotic.
It is so damn clean!
Much like the rest of São Paulo (or what I’ve seen so far), cleanliness is key at the zoo. You can barely walk a few metres without coming across either an ordinary little trash can or a set of colour-coded recycling bins (take note India!). In fact, now I think about it I don’t think I saw a single piece of litter on the floor or in any of the animal enclosures. Good job Brazil!
Obviously not everything is sunshine and daisies. The zoo has it’s downsides too:
The signposts are useless.
All-in-all the park is well signposted, but when I say that I mean there are lot of signposts. That doesn’t necessarily mean they do any good. They’re basically haphazardly placed lists of animals in the direction it’s pointing to, some of which are a little outdated and as such send you on a wild goose chase. The maps are a little better, and you can buy one for R$5 at the kiosk in Jabaquara or at the zoo itself. Alternatively just look out for the big maps dotted about the zoo, although good luck working out where exactly you’re standing.
Some of the animals look sad.
The majority of the enclosures at the zoo are decent enough – some even on par with European zoos, which take animal welfare extremely seriously – and for the most part the animals are clearly very well looked after. I know that my statement seems a bit crazy, but as a vegetarian I like to sometimes think that I am Dr Doolittle and the animals speak to me, or at least their faces do. The orang-utan (or orangotango in Portuguese, my new favourite word) in particular did not look happy with his life. If he were a human person, I would go as far as to say he was in the midst of a midlife crisis, his boss was about to fire him, his wife was sleeping with his brother and his kids insisted on calling him Tony. He just sat there on his tree looking at you with these big sad eyes, not moving.
It is seriously lacking in food & beverage options.
If you don’t bring your own lunch or snacks, the chances are at some point you will get hungry and need refuelling. There’s not many options inside the zoo. According to the map, there are at least 5 places to eat, although when I visited all bar 1 (the main restaurant) were closed. The restaurant itself has a few different things on offer, from pizza to pasta to burgers to more traditional dishes like Bife à milanesa, the latter being one of the cheapest options at R$15. On quickly reviewing the menu I noticed the vegetarian options were basically non-existent, and so didn’t actually eat there in the end.
Vending machines are also strategically placed every few metres, offering an array of carbonated soft drinks and water – none for less than R$5. It’s a rip off when you bear in mind that the same thing would cost R$1.72 at a local store or supermarket. Although, in defence of the zoo, they do also have drinking water fountains dotted around the place for those less inclined to remortgage their house for a Coke.