The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens is one of the best in the country according to Zagat Survey and a recommended stop for any Cincinnati visitor. Founded in 1873, over a million people now enter the park annually to appreciate its lush botanical gardens and wildlife. Three thousand species of plants and 500 species of animals call this zoo home.
Since its inception, the zoo has changed considerably. Originally established on 65 acres, its starting collection was small, consisting of a few mammals such as monkeys, raccoons and bears, one reptile (an alligator) and 400 kinds of birds. In the proceeding years, the zoo expanded several blocks while increasing its selection of flora and fauna. It also expanded innovative features such as its breeding program, founded in the late 1880's.
A visitor today will be impressed with the Cincinnati Zoo's beautiful fountains and cared-for water features, which often house organic exhibits. One display showcases monkeys lazing about in the middle of a pristine lake populated by sea lions and water fowl. Must-see attractions include the Jungle Trails, a well-forested path that displays primates like gorillas and orangutans in large natural outdoor enclosures. Also of note is the Reptile House, which dates back to 1875 and includes impressive snakes like the Burmese python and the king cobra. Be sure to check out Siegfried & Roy's White Lions of Timbavati – these big and rare cats are found only in captivity.
New features this year include Night Hunters, a combination of the most interesting animals from the Cat House and the Nocturnal House (exhibit will be added in May 2011), and African Savannah, which has expanded with a new flamingo environment, a larger yard for giraffes and a better cheetah display.
In addition to the animal exhibits, there are also floral and vegetative attractions. The Butterfly Garden, which is adjacent to the World of Insects, shows plants utilized during each stage of a butterfly's life. Also worth viewing is the African Violet Display, a part of Jungle Trails, in which the many colorful varieties of violets are featured in a natural environment.
During the winter, the zoo hosts the PNC Festival of Lights, an event where walkways and buildings are decorated with gorgeous holiday ornamentation and light displays. Marvel at the International Tree, a 35-foot-tall conifer illuminated by over 20,000 LED bulbs. It is an eye-catching experience well-worth the price of admission. A non-seasonal event worth checking out is the 4-D Special FX Theater, a first for America's zoos, in which 3-D images are combined with 4-D effects that stimulate your other senses.
The Cincinnati Zoo is a popular attraction and crowds accumulate quickly on the weekends, especially during the summer. Arrive early to find decent parking in the Vine Street lot. According to the zoo, the busiest times are between 10 am and 2 pm on days with good weather.
Whatever season you choose to visit Cincinnati, you can be sure the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens will be a fun, educational, and memorable experience.
- Open daily 9am to 5pm; Closed Christmas Day
- Adult (ages 13-61) $14
- Child (age 2-12) $10
- Seniors (62 plus) $10
- * Tickets are half price January through February
- Location: 3400 Vine Street, Cincinnati OH
- Phone: 512-281-4700 or 800-94-HIPPO
- Website: www.cincinnatizoo.org