One of Calgary’s main attractions undoubtedly is the Calgary Zoo. Located mostly on St.George’s Island in the Bow River, it is the second largest zoo in Canada (after Toronto) and founded in 1929 also is among the oldest one of the country.
In June of 2013 the zoo was hit very hard in the course of the Alberta floods, closing down the zoo for about two months and causing more than $50 million of damages. Only in November 2013 it reopened fully to the public.
Right after the entrance you have the choice between three areas, the penguin plunge, the prehistoric park as well as the Canadian Wilds. The Penguin Plunge is one of the newest exhibits of the zoo, opened in 2012. It is the home to four different penguin species and you can see them both on land and under water, with two tunnels connecting the pools on either side of the walkway. There is educational stations and also often an interpreter that will tell you more about the penguins and it is great to be able to watch these animals seem to be so clumsy on land, but so graceful once they are in the water.
The Canadian Wilds section is dedicated to domestic animals, such as moose, bears, cougars, wolves, eagles and more, all embedded into a great forested landscape, while the Prehistoric Park features life-size dinosaur models (Alberta is one of the main archaeological sites when it comes down to dinosaur fossils, most prominently the area around Drumheller, where there is also the Royal Tyrrell Museum, which is dedicated to dinos), which are really well done. In the future the Prehistoric Park will be closed and make room for new (living) exhibits.
After crossing the bridge onto the island, you enter Destination Africa, which consists of two pretty cool buildings, the TransAlta Rainforest and the African Savannah. The former has a lot of vegetation and is humid, housing exhibits of bats, gorillas and some other tropical animals and makes you feel as if you are really walking through a rain forest at times…
…while the African Savannah building has a big hippo tank (with some stadium like seating below the water level, which enables you to watch the hippos in the water), giraffes, wild hogs (Nico’s favourites), meerkats, snakes, porcupines and more.
As you continue on, you will pass the former elephant exhibit, which in the future will house rhinoceroses, and with it move on into the Eurasia section, which covers a quite wide variety of animals, tigers, macaques, snow leopards, camels and others.
The zoo offers special programs, both for individuals (preschool programs, for example or the Breakfast with the Penguins where you can enter the zoo before the official opening, have a pancake breakfast, learn some interesting facts about penguins and then are able to spend about half an hour in the Penguin Plunge exhibit before anybody else shows up) and also school and other classes, such as sleepovers and more, combining fun and education in a really playful and cool way. There also are some special events throughout the year, such as the Boo at the Zoo and the Zoolights before Christmas, which are really well done and add a lot of value to the visits.
The zoo is easily accessible by both car and also the C-Train, which is Calgary’s light rail transit system, because the zoo has its own station that brings you pretty much directly to the entrance (which is subterranean, btw). Everything in the zoo is also perfectly wheelchair accessible even though some of the section are fairly hilly, which might be a bit of a challenge in itself.
In terms of food there is the Kitamba Cafe, which is the main source of food, but there are several other spots, where you can buy snacks, ice cream and cold drinks, some of which are only open during the warmer months of the year, though.
The food is mostly the standard fare for attractions like this, burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches (among them an awesome pulled pork sandwich), fries, but also fruit and vegetable cups, so there are some healthier options to choose from.
What is very neat about the cafe (and also many other aspects of the zoo) is that pretty much everything they use, napkins, plates, cups, bowls etc. are 100% biodegradable. So the pricing is not the most economic, so to say, but given the efforts to reduce the ecological footprint, it makes sense to pay a bit more, kudos to the zoo for their efforts! Also most of their benches throughout the zoo are made from recycled milk jugs, which is another neat little detail!
There also are two gift shops, the main one next to the entrance, which also has a little cafe adjacent to it, and one on the far end of the zoo, which is a little smaller and close to the secondary entrance on the south side of the island (with very limited parking), which both have a pretty good selection with some more unusual choices, like products made from women in third world countries or also a Build-a-Bear-like machine, where you can get slightly different animals, such as giraffes or red pandas as well, which is a nice difference.
If your child(ren) want to blow off some steam, there is a great playground with a few different structures (which also show age recommendations), which will keep them occupied for quite a while and tucker them out a little more.
The facilities are kept very clean, from the premises over the washrooms to the exhibits (well, as clean as the animals will let them ;), which is no small feat for such a big area. The staff is very friendly and helpful, when Valerie had some issues walking, they quickly found a wheelchair to help and overall were very knowledgeable about the zoo areas they worked in.
Which kid does not like a zoo, right? The Calgary Zoo offers a great experience for a reasonable price, either for the general admission or three different levels of memberships, which gives you a great opportunity to experience all of the different parts without feeling rushed and as many times as you would want to.
Disclosure: We received a complimentary day pass from the zoo, but all opinions expressed in this post are solely our own.