On the approach to the zoo you’ll see cars already filling the parking bays along the road and pulling up onto the grass verges to find their own spaces, yet this desperation to park right outside the zoo gates is misplaced as there are actually two large car parks to choose from at either end of the zoo, and both are free and within a short walk of the entrance.
For parents, we felt the car parks were a better bet than the on-road parking which required families to head across a busy road to get from car to zoo – not the safest of short journeys.
Entry tickets can be bought from the two booths outside the gates but at busy times in the summer we can imagine this might mean a fairly long wait, so if you can buy your tickets in advance do so, and head straight to the entry gate to go in.
The first sight you’ll see is a mass of pink flamingos standing one-legged underneath a waterfall spray or cooling themselves on sodden mounds of mud, and you’ll hear the squawks and calls of an army of animals in the distance. Although we could never quite put our finger on where all the noises were coming from, we later spotted a peacock at the top of a tall tree crawing to his heart’s content, and tactfully positioned speakers seemed to be the source of many of the other sounds.
As you move on you’ll see signs with Sens de la Visit nudging you in a route around the zoo and we found these helped to get the most from our tour, stopping the inevitable double-backs and repeat visits you’ll experience if you try to find your own way around (we speak from experience).
Feeding time at the zoo
One of the peculiarities of La Palmyre Zoo is how many times you are encouraged (or allowed) to feed, touch and stroke the animals. One of the first attractions you’ll come across is the giraffe enclosure, which has a feeding platform that brings you up to eye level with the giraffe’s who bumble across the grab tasty treat of popcorn.
This idea was repeated numerous times, with children taking delight in feeding and stroking zebras; holding out handfuls of popcorn for the elephants with trunks long enough to reach across the divide from their pen to the path to hoover up the food and bring it back to their massive mouths; turtles who ambled slowly across their patch of grass as little ones leaned over to pat their shells, and a herd of goats who came rushing over every time a parent and child clambered over the ladder and into their huge pen with armfuls of food – although the sensation of 30 or so ravenous goats was too much for many of the smallest children who seem terrified and let out lots of screams and tears until they were carried back to safety.
While the experience of being close enough to feed the animals felt slightly invasive, some of the other settings were totally first class.
Chimpanzees, orang-utans and gorillas had their own islands with elaborate climbing frames and hideaways, all set against the backdrop of crashing waterfalls. As we walked past their islands settings we were directed into a modern building that acted as their second home, with more climbing trees, hammocks and nooks for the animals to explore.
Similarly, various species of gibbons were given large island homes where they could swing and play in happiness, and their mischevious sense of fun gave the impression that they were happy with their lot.
We can’t help but feel that zoos always seem to struggle with how best to house big animals and those that explore far and wide, and we felt the same way at La Palmyre. It was sad to see the big cats – the lions, a lynx and the cheetahs – fenced in and with a constant audience.
However, much of the delight from a visit to La Palmyre Zoo comes from how close you can get to the animals and the zoo boasts a superb conservation record, so we felt sure that the best interests of the animals were always put first.
The zoo is small enough to walk round with small children – our visit lasted four hours with several refreshment stops, and there was always something new and exciting around every corner.
We took our own picnic to keep costs down and there were plenty of shady spaces to enjoy our food, but we were also pleasantly surprised with the price of refreshments inside the zoo – two-flavour ice creams cost 1.50€, sandwiches and bowls of crisps cost 2€ each, and pizzas were 4€.
Entry to the zoo is 15€ for adults and 11€ for children aged from 3 to 12, which we reckon is great value as you can easily spend the best part of the day here, especially when you factor in stops from the sealion and bird shows that take place throughout the day.
Sounds inspiring? Find out more about our gites in Charente Maritime.