For wildlife at the San Diego Safari Park, don’t forget your camera

San Diego Wild Animal Park Safari TruckIf you’re like me, and are fascinated by wild animals, treat yourself to one of the San Diego Safari Park’s Photo Caravans. While it might not be the same as the safaris in Kenya or Tanzania these “domestic” safaris are a real blast.

The Park, part of the Zoological Society of San Diego, is located approximately 35 miles north of San Diego, near the city of Escondido, California.

The Photo Safaris are not just for adults, or photographers. They are great fun for families. You get to be “up close” to wild animals which in zoos have a tall fence, or glass partition separating you from them.

Feeding a RhinoThe minimum age for short Safaris is six, and it’s eight for the longer ones. We had a 10-year-old on our Safari. She had a great time learning about the animals from our guide, and dropping apple slices into the mouth of a rhino.

On Photo Caravan Safaris you travel in the park’s Safari trucks like the one above. Keep in mind for children, the fence walls of the truck are about four feet high. There are benches in the truck to knee on, but very small children can not see easily.

Feeding a giraffeOn most of these Safaris you’ll have the opportunity to directly interact with some of the animals like this woman feeding a giraffe. What a thrill it is for adults, teens, and children alike to be that close to these wild creatures. Some youngsters might have some fear of getting close to large wild animals, so you need to consider that before you take a young child on a Safari.

The Photo Caravan Safari trucks literally take you right into the center of the Park’s field exhibits. They offer a rare opportunity to spend time with and learn about wild animals, unmatched at zoos or animal amusement parks. Each truck has a trained driver and guide.Ostrich at the San Diego Wild Animal Park The guides are well schooled to answer questions about the animals themselves and animal conservation. Drivers stop the trucks near the animals for the best photographic opportunities, and they’ll make extra stops for photos whenever requested by Safari participants. They made several such stops for me.

We went on the 3½ hour Deluxe Adventure Photo Caravan Safari which took us into both the African and Asian Field Exhibits. We saw oryxs, gazelles, giraffes, rhinos, impalas, chitals, cranes, waterbucks and storks, to name just a few. A snack was provided at a brief stop, and water was available at all times. To see more Safari photos go to my Safari photo gallery. Click on the “Map This” button there, to see a map of where we went in the Park on the Safari, how extensive the Safari was, and where each photo was taken.

The Deluxe Adventure Photo Caravan Safari costs $150 per person, plus the cost of admission to the Park, which is $35 for adults (12 years old and up) and $26 for children, for a one day pass. That may seem high, but in my opinion, it’s more than worth it. Other Photo Safaris range in price from $69 for the Snapshot Safari (1 hour) to the $230 Early Riser Ultimate Photo Caravan Safari (4½ hours), plus the cost of Park admission. The proceeds of these Photo Safaris are important for the Park to raise necessary funds for their animal conservation and education programs.

I used my Nikon DSLR for these photos, but you can get marvelous photos with a good “Point and Shoot” camera. Your camera does need to be able to take both “wide angle” and “telephoto” photographs, but with a good zoom lens on a DSLR or SLR camera, or the zoom lens on most of today’s “Point and Shoot” cameras you’ll be all set for great photos. I used an 18mm-200mm Nikkor zoom lens for my photographs. I found I was close enough to the animals that I never needed a more powerful (longer) telephoto or zoom telephoto lens.

Feeding the Giraffes, San Diego ZooThere are many great exhibits to see at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, from the “big” cats to exotic birds of all shapes and sizes, and of course the elephants. After the Photo Safari we took in many of the other exhibits. We especially enjoyed our walk to the Lion Camp, Heart of Africa, and Lagoon exhibits, but the Photo Safari was by far the highlight of the day, and an incredible 3½+ hours, for us and all Safari participants.

Ned Levi is a long time professional photographer with a passion for wildlife and travel photography. You can view some of Ned’s travel and other photos at NSL Photography.

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