So having spent the previous afternoon happily exploring the area around the national mall, taking in architecture, statues and so, so many memorials, I changed the pace a little the next morning and headed out northwest via Washington D.C.’s relatively pretty subway stations, exiting at Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan and then taking the short uphill stroll to stop in front of the concrete lion guarded entrance of the National Zoological Park, aka the Smithsonian National Zoo.
Located at the sprawling Rock Creek Park, the National Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the United States, having been founded all the way back in 1889. Covering an area of 66 ha, this zoo is even larger than the immense San Diego Zoo (40 ha) which I visited back in 2016, and is home to around 2700 or so animals, spread over 390 different species – a fifth of which are on either the globally endangered or threatened species list. (And yes, because this is part of the Smithsonian Institution, entrance to the zoo is completely free.)
So as you might imagine then, with that amount of space and animals at its disposal, the National Zoo demands a fair bit of your time to take a stroll through. The zoo experience is made up of a whole heap of interconnected themed spaces that you can move between, including the various trails like the Asia Trail, Elephant Trails, the American Trail, Amazonia, and Lion and Tiger Hill, as well as big standalone exhibits like the Giant Panda Habitat, the Great Ape House, Think Tank, Cheetah Conservation Station, Gibbon Ridge, the Reptile Discovery Center, the Bird House, Lemur Island and the Small Mammal House. There’s also the children specific attraction The Kids’ Farm – useful if just seeing all these wonderfully exotic creatures isn’t quite enough to hold their attention for the full day!
Discounting the African species which we have enough of back home, the National Zoo definitely held a couple of personal animal highlights for me – like the incredibly floofy Giant Panda, the goofy looking Sloth Bear, and the stoic, powerful American Bison. The Orangutans were delightful (the “O Line” crossing is wonderful to behold), Arapaimas incredibly unusual in shape and size, and of course, just as they did for us back in Kyoto, the adorable Red Pandas totally stole the show.
In addition to all the exotic (for me) animals on display, given that Washington D.C. was starting to move into Autumn territory at the time of my visit, the incredible mass of trees that also call the zoo home were all starting to undergo their colour transformation – leading to an even greater visual experience for me seeing as this isn’t a spectacle that I ever get to witness back home in the Mediterranean climate profile that is Cape Town. (In other words, I took a LOT of time wandering about the zoo with a very big goofy grin on my face.)
The weather was nice and cool, the clouds meant that it wasn’t a sweaty affair, and a little cloudburst served to inject a little extra entertainment into the proceedings. And of course I took photos. Lots and lots of photos…
A wonderful experience and an easy to recommend tourist attraction should you ever find yourself in Washington D.C. and in need of a visual break from all the surrounding buildings, history and memorials.