Sarasota Jungle Gardens combines many kid-friendly activities in one trip. It’s part zoo, part playground, part show and part nature hike.
The animals will captivate any child (or 27-year-old adult reporter). A small pool of alligators greets guests upon entering, and their larger relatives are just a short walk down the trail. No more than about 50 feet away, a Siamese crocodile lounges in the sun. Next door is a full-sized American alligator. A nearby Aldabra tortoise, whose sign indicates it will assume keepers with flowered shirts are food, looks like a giant moving rock. The nearby Reptile World exhibit houses a frilled lizard, a veiled chameleon, a carpet python, a yellow anaconda, a copperhead and a variety of rattlesnakes, just to name a few.
Walking the full loop through the Jungle Gardens reveals more than just reptiles. Flamingos and swans walk right up to visitors, and you can feed them if you buy food at the entrance (you are not allowed to feed them outside food because it might be harmful to them). Colorful macaws and cockatoos perch along the trail. They have name tags indicating names like Roxanne, Taz and Andy Sr. Other animals include a coatimundi, a baby ring-tailed lemur and a red-tailed hawk. The petting zoo features goats and pigs. The friendly and curious pigs will waddle right up to the fence even if the petting zoo is closed.
If your kids have a little too much energy after seeing all the reptiles, a playground sits on the trail right beyond those exhibits. It is, of course, jungle-themed. Sarasota Jungle Gardens hosts a variety of shows. The noon Jungle Bird Show features exotic birds performing a variety of tricks, and the 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Reptile Encounter gives an in-depth look at these modern dinosaurs. The 1 p.m. Wildlife Wonder show features a hodgepodge of other animals and, according to the description, “the dynamics of this show change frequently and you never know which animal will make an appearance.”
The full loop around the gardens runs about 1.2 miles, a manageable distance for most children. Be sure to grab a map at the entrance. Although the loop isn’t too long, there are side paths, strange intersections and curves. The map shows where each exhibit lies along the paths. Without it, you might have trouble finding what you want to see.
Like most things in Sarasota, the summer months mean less crowds. Thick trees cover large portions of the trail, keeping the sun at bay. Show times can change, so it’s worth calling ahead if there is a show you’re dying to see.