Israel with Kids / Ramat Gan Safari
Close your mind to the nearby traffic and towers and dive into a wildlife adventure, one that makes you feel like you are under African skies.
If you ignore the looming towers of the Ramat Gan skyline beyond and the huge green traffic signs hovering over the nearby highway, it's almost possible to believe you're in an African savannah. An African savannah, of course, that just happened to crop up smack in the center of one of Israel's most congested metropolises.
One thing, though, that you won't need to leave to the imagination when you visit the Ramat Gan safari and try to dream yourself in Africa: the temperature outside. Should you decide to take the kids on an excursion here in the dead of an Israeli summer, you can be pretty sure that this is what it must feel like in Africa. And that's why a good suggestion is to hit the zoo area first (yes, it's called the safari, but it also houses a zoo), and as early as possible, and save the safari for later, when you'll be in greater need of the comforts of an air-conditioned car. Pace yourself, explorers: Bear in mind that altogether there are close to 1,700 animals to see, spread out over a total area of 250 acres.
While children never seem to tire of zoos, what really sets this place apart is the actual safari. And that's why if you're pressed for time or don't mind not taking full advantage of your ticket, you can skip the zoo altogether and devote all your time to the safari, which we also found to be a lot less crowded (perhaps because it requires getting around in a car).
Those who've experienced the real thing in Africa may roll their eyes, but the Ramat Gan safari does provide a rare opportunity to observe herds of wild animals roaming freely together, without the forced partitioning by species and the bars, electric fences or glass partitions that most city folks are accustomed to when viewing birds and beasts.
In this safari, you'll find a fabulous mix of zebras, antelopes, gazelles and ostriches, and to the delight of the kids, none are particularly shy, especially the ostrich who refused to budge from the middle of the road, forcing us to swerve the car around it. You're not supposed to open your windows while circling the safari, but since these animals clearly didn't feel threatened by us, we also tended to feel not threatened by them.
One particular treat was getting to see the latest addition to the safari, the new baby rhino born just a month ago. This absolutely adorable, playful creature was kept under close tabs by its watchful mom, who was still recovering from her 18-month pregnancy.
On our first circle around the safari area, the hippos were doing their classic dead-man's float in the water and were barely visible, but by the time we had come around a second time, they were all out on dry land, apparently enticed by bits of lunch that had been put out for them. The contrast between their huge, bulky bodies and the graceful flamingoes nearby, delicately balancing themselves on one foot, was particularly striking.
Quite a few years back, when our oldest was barely a toddler, we spent an entire afternoon trying to console him after a visit to the safari. The reason for his distress was that the big lions he had so looked forward to seeing decided to make themselves scarce that day. We lucked out on our most recent visit, though, when after making our way through the two gates that separate the king of the jungle from all the other animals, we came in full view of two massive lions, surrounded by their women and offspring, taking huge bites out of something bloody, presumably their lunch. This time, needless to say, we kept our windows sealed, preferring not to test fate. Our one regret was that this time around we weren't able to convince our son, now 18 years old, to get out of bed early enough to join us.
If you like the safari experience but want to get off the main drag and even closer to the animals, you can reserve a private tour here for up to six people. These tours put you on a tractor early in the morning with a guide, who scatters around breakfast treats for the animals as he regales you with stories and fun facts. The lure of the food guarantees that the animals will be at your side throughout your journey. At NIS 450, though, it's not cheap, and the cost comes in addition to the regular entrance fee for each participant. Other options for less standard tours include a twilight visit and a midnight visit, though the latter is not suitable for very young children. Tours are also available in English but must be requested in advance.
Various Tel Aviv bus lines stop at the safari, but there's about a 10-minute walk from the bus stop to the entrance. Picnic tables are scattered around the zoo area, so you can bring your own lunch, but there's also a restaurant and several kiosks on the grounds.
Address: 1 Tzvi Blvd., Ramat Gan
Reservations and information: 03-6305325
Hours: Open seven days a week from 9 A.M., but closing times vary depending on the day and time of year. More information is available at: http://www.safari.co.il/article.php?id=437
Cost: NIS 59 (for adults and children)
Parking: Free of charge on premises