Tourists and families flock from all over the world to see exotic species in Miami and South Florida. (And no, we're not just talking about South Beach wildlife.)
All manner of furry, feathered, scaled and slimy creatures thrive in South Florida's subtropical climate, which enables local parks, zoos and aquariums to recreate everything from coral reefs to the Amazon rainforest. If you like monkeys, there's an entire jungle just for you. Always dreamed of swimming with dolphins? Take the plunge at the Seaquarium. And of course, there's no such thing as too many gator sightings. Our guide to Miami's top animal attractions shows you how to make the most of a family trip.
Everglades Alligator Farm
What it offers: A one-stop shop for everything Everglades.
If you don't have time to explore Everglades National Park from the inside, you can get a taste for the region's wildlife at the Everglades Alligator Farm, located on the skirts of the park. The farm is home to more than 3,000 alligators, America crocodiles, Orinoco crocodiles, Nile crocodiles and caimans housed in pens or breeding ponds. Walk along the paths looping around the ponds for a look at the large reptiles, or stop at the Observation Deck for a better view of the vast sawgrass. At the Alligator Show, watch handlers sit atop gators, pry open their jaws and demonstrate capture techniques. Hang around after the show to hold a baby gator. Gather by the ponds for twice-daily feedings to watch gators come up for a meal. The farm also has a collection of colorful, exotic snakes-large and small-on display at Snake Island, and snake shows are held three times daily. Full admission includes a brief airboat ride through the sawgrass-lined canals near the farm. This is an Everglades attraction, so expect hot, muggy, and mosquito-rich conditions in the wet summer season. Dress appropriately, wear bug spray and bring plenty of water.
Admission: (with airboat ride) $23 for adults, $15 for children 4-11, under 4 free; (without airboat ride) $15 for adults, $10.50 for children 4-11. Website discount $2 off adult admission and 50 cents off child admission.
Hours: 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.; gift shop closes at 5:30 p.m.
Everglades Animal Farm, 40351 SW 192 Ave., Homestead; 305-247-2628. www.everglades.com
What it offers: Now, more than just parrots - including a look at rare animals such as a liger, cassowary, and albino alligator.
In 1936, Parrot Jungle opened in South Miami, a roadside attraction where tourists snapped pictures of themselves covered with colorful parrots. The park has since moved to a multi-million dollar facility on Watson Island, brought in a slew of new, exotic animals and, in 2007, changed its name to Jungle Island. Visitors can watch birds perform at the Winged Wonders show, or gape at African penguins, alligators, crocodiles and more during the Adventures of Dr. Wasabi show in the Serpentarium®. Another show lets visitors see tigers at play in a multi-story amphitheater. Other animals on display include the 900-pound half-lion, half-tiger liger, albino alligator, and twin orangutans named Peanut and Pumpkin. During the summer months, pack the kids' swimsuits for a trip to the park's private beach, La Playa; after drying off, take them to see goats, llamas, pigs, and cows at the Petting Barn. Tip: If you're on a budget, don't enter the park on an empty stomach.
Admission: $34.95 for adults, $26.95 for children 3-10, $32.95 for seniors 65+, under 2 free.
Hours: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Strollers: $7.50 single, $10.50 double
Jungle Island, 1111 Parrot Jungle Trail, Watson Island; 305-400-7000. www.jungleisland.com.
What it offers: The most bang for your buck.
ZooMiami spans 300 acres, houses more than 2,000 animals and yet admission costs relatively little-a blessing for large families. With so many animals to see, it's easy to miss a few, but make sure you get a look at the Sahara's giant elands, the Komodo dragon, river otters, Bengal tigers, African and Asian elephants, camels and giraffes (for a small fee, you can feed them from an elevated deck). If you're with little ones, then stop by the Children's Zoo, which has a butterfly garden, meerkat colony and Petting Yard with roosters, chicken, ducks, pigs, goats and parrots. Finally, don't leave without stopping by the 55,000-square-foot Wings of Asia Aviary that houses more than 300 free-flight Asian birds and Dr. Wilde's World, an air-conditioned gallery with more than 7,000 sq. ft. of rotating interactive exhibits, artifacts and specimens that explore topics of biodiversity and conservation. ZooMiami's animals live in open-air habitats surrounded by deep moats and rock walls. There are two main shows: the Ecology Theater show at the Children's Zoo showcases snakes, alligators, bearded lizards and other animals native to Florida. At the Wildlife Show, trainers bring out birds, reptiles and mammals from all over the world. Zookeeper Talks and animal feedings start at 11 a.m. and run till 4 p.m.
Admission: $15.95 for adults, $11.95 for children 3-12, under 2 free. Groups of 10 or more qualify for group discount. Military persons and seniors 65+ qualify for 25 percent off admission price.
Hours: 9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Tram tours: $5.95
Stroller: $8 single, $10 double
Wheelchair: $8; $30 for motorized wheelchair.
Safari Cycle: $22 two-hour use for small cycle; $32 two-hour use for large cycle.
ZooMiami, 12400 SW 152 St., Miami; 305-251-0400. www.miamimetrozoo.com
What it offers: A chance to swim with the dolphins and visit Flipper's ancestral home.
The Miami Seaquarium offers a full day of entertainment with sea turtles, manatees, killer whales, dolphins and many more marine creatures. Shows and presentations run back-to-back, so you'll see most of the park with the same tourist crowd as you bounce around the pools and theaters according to the schedule. At the Top Deck Dolphin Show, dolphins zip around the pool's perimeter, leaping into the air just inches from onlookers. Pay a visit to the dolphin descendants of television legend Flipper, who perform in the original lagoon used in the show. If you want to stay dry, avoid the first four stadium rows at the Killer Whale and Dolphin Show, where the pacific white-sided dolphins and Lolita the killer whale focus their back-flops and tail splashing. For a break from dolphins and fish, try the Golden Dome Sea Lion Show, where Salty the sea lion and friends swim, jump and dive through hoops. Amble along a replica Everglades mangrove habitat at Discovery Bay, or glimpse toucans and poisonous arrow frogs from the tropical rainforest at the Tropical Wings exhibit. In Dolphin Harbor, the newest attraction, twelve Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (and the visitors willing to pay for a swim with them) tootle around a 700,000-gallon pool.
Admission: $44.89 for adults, $34.19 for children 3-9, under 2 free. (Tax included)
Hours: 9:30 a.m. - 6 p.m.; shows run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then from 2 to 5 p.m.; Ticket booth closes at 4:30 p.m.
Parking: $8 (cash only).
Stroller: $14 single, $16 double.
Wheel chair: $14
New activities: Dolphin Odyssey, $199 per participant, 90 minutes of interacting and swimming with dolphins. Must be 52 inches to participate.
Dolphin encounter: $139 for adults and $99 for children ages 5-9, feed, kiss and play with dolphins in shallow water.
Sea lion swim: $139 for adults and $99 for children ages 5-9, interact with sea lions in shallow water.
Miami Seaquarium, 4400 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, FL; 305-361-5705. www.miamiseaquarium.com
What it offers: Hands down, the best human-animal interaction.
Monkey Jungle's timeworn boast, "Where humans are caged and monkeys run wild!", still holds true. Primates freely roam the park's jungle habitat while you meander through a screened walkway-or cage-as monkeys scamper across, clinging to walls and peering at you from above with eyes begging for treats. Look for little dangling silver buckets throughout-wherever you see one, you're also bound to see a monkey waiting for you to place a raisin or seed inside so he can pull it up for a snack. The more exotic primates are housed in their own cages, but you can still give them treats via feeding tubes that let monkey food slide to eager hands. Watch monkeys wade and dive for treats at the Wild Monkey Swimming Pool, see trainers work with Mei the orangutan at Hangin' with Orangs, visit Cameroon Jungle to see King, a western lowland gorilla, and learn about the rainforest habitats as cute capuchins and feisty squirrel monkeys scurry for lunch at feeding time. Monkey Jungle also has aviaries for free-flying parrots and macaws, plus habitats for other exotic primates, such as gibbons, monkeys, ring-tailed lemurs, red-handed tamarinds, a golden lion tamarind, and more.
Admission: $29.95 adult, $27.95 seniors (age 65 +), $23.95 children ages 3-9, children under 3 free. Prices do not include tax. Website discount: $2 off adult admission and $1 off child admission.
Hours: 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
Rainforest Tour: 45-minute guided tour with opportunity to feed the monkeys; $55.95 per person.
Monkey Jungle, 14805 SW 216 St., Redlands; 305-235-1611. www.monkeyjungle.com