If you’re looking for a break from the human race, head toward Fasano, Italy, a small town near the city of Bari where animals from around the world roam the grounds at the ZooSafari.
Sure, it’s got your signature lions and tigers and bears, but also African and Asian elephants, American bison, llamas, hippos, zebras, giraffes, emus, pink flamingos and many other animals we don’t normally see.
The “safari” is actually a drive-through tour along a series of stepped switchbacks where the animals get to look at humans close up. Cars enter the park and are immediately greeted by some very friendly deer that won’t hesitate to stick their noses right in your window. Get used to it because the animals along the safari trail are not shy.
That being said, some areas are separated with gates and have a strict windows-up policy. This would be the lions and tigers and bears portion of the tour. If you want pictures of these guys, it will have to be through the car window, although some (over)zealous photographers may be tempted to sneak a few shots with the windows down before the park wardens catch up to them in their sport-utility vehicles.
Once visitors complete the safari path (we spent a leisurely 90 minutes driving through) there is the traditional zoo and amusement park to explore. The zoo includes several areas accessible by the enclosed MetroZoo monorail tram. It takes you past more large roaming cats (cheetahs, leopards and panthers) to a walking path where you can see polar bears, rhinos, baboons and other animals not exactly native to southern Italy.
The entrance to the MetroZoo is marked by a huge Buddha statue overlooking the gorilla enclosure. The lone gorilla, an adolescent silverback named Riu, was a bit surly during our visit. He threw a few handfuls of gravel at one of the park attendants who clearly deserved it after a few minutes of verbal taunting. (Who knew the gorilla understood Italian?)
There is also an aquarium, a reptile house, a few museum-type exhibits with animatronic dinosaurs, ancient model ships and other curiosities in the amusement park, called Fasanolandia. Between the animals and the amusements, the park is pretty much an all-day affair.
Clearly the animals are the best part of this trip. Whenever a giraffe sticks its head in your car, or you can get close enough to pet a zebra, you can’t help feeling hakuna matata (Swahili for “no worries”). The ZooSafari lets you get to see the beautiful, docile side of nature close-up in a setting that reminds visitors we are not the only ones on the planet.