I lived for many years in S. California (got my B.S. in Biochem from UCLA) and have been to the San Diego Wild Animal Park and San Diego Zoo many times (since we had an annual family pass). I have lived in Costa Rica since 2000 and recently heard about a relatively new animal park in Guanacaste, Costa Rica called Africa Mia.
My wife is Costa Rican and she had never seen African animals (except on TV), so when my son came to visit us here in Costa Rica recently, I decided to take them both to Africa Mia.
Africa Mia (which is Spanish for "My Africa" or "Africa of Mine") is located just outside of Liberia in the northern part of the country, so we visited the park after spending 4 days out at the beach and on our way to Volcan Arenal and the Tabacon Hot Springs area.
If you're coming from the beach (like Playa Hermosa), figure on spending an hour to get to Africa Mia and 3 hours visiting the park.
I can't give you a direct comparison of the experience between actually going to Africa to go on an African Safari versus going to Africa Mia in Costa Rica except to say that it is thousands of dollars cheaper to go to Africa Mia and the landscape and terrain in Guanacaste, Costa Rica is very similar to an African Savannah.
The top tour that Africa Mia has (African Safari) is $65/adult and takes you by Land Rover into the very large compounds where the animals run around. Its similar to the Caravan Safari tour at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, but at a third of the cost.
I found the Africa Mia's African Safari tour to be excellent. I was very impressed with the quality, cleanliness, organization and safety (both to the visitors and animals) of the installation. The tour guide was very knowledgeable, the Land Rover seemed to be brand new and in excellent condition, and the bathrooms clean and well maintained.
But the best part of the African Safari Tour, of course, was how up close and personal you are able to get with the animals. Its just so cool to feed Ostriches and Giraffes by hand and to pet the Giraffes and other animals and to see so many Zebras. The African Safari tour also takes you to a small lagoon with a pretty water fall.
I always felt that we were in a "safe" situation, yet it was all very exciting just the same.
In addition to the African Safari tour by Land Rover that takes you inside with the animals, there is also a walking tour (1.2 km) along the perimeter fence that only costs 9,000 colons (about US$18) per adult. Although the walking tour is also nice, the African Safari is really the way to go...the difference in the experience is like night and day simply because you are with the animals in the African Tour versus seeing the animals through a fence along the perimeter in the walking tour.
We really liked the experience of the African Safari Tour and highly recommend Africa Mia as a part of your vacation in Costa Rica.
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