Riverbanks Safari

A 31-mile drive can take you to Africa, Australia, the Galapagos Islands and beyond. Go to Riverbanks Zoo in ‘famously hot’ Columbia and learn about animals from the world over. And be sure to walk the footbridge over the Saluda River to the Botanical Garden where you’ll see one of the world’s largest public collections of noisettes. Inhale their sweet perfume and discover their ties to South Carolina.

More than 2,000 animals call the zoo home, but you won’t see bars and cages. Natural habitat exhibits use psychological barriers such as moats, water and light to keep animals from straying. Strolling through the zoo is akin to going on safari. See ring-tailed lemurs, Grants zebras and African elephants.

Kids love to feed the giraffes and ride the animal-themed merry-go-round. And the Aquarium Reptile Complex houses Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, crocodiles, reticulated pythons, moon jellies and green mambas — a name that tells you this is one deadly snake. The zoo is more than a place that houses exotic species, however. The zoo helps protect the earth’s wildlife and promotes the appreciation of diverse life forms.

History lives here, too. On zoo grounds lie ruins of one of the South’s oldest cotton mills, which Sherman burned. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Riverbanks’ 170-acre site has a deep-rooted history dating back to the early 1800s with South Carolina’s textile industry and the Civil War.

The zoo has an indoor fast-food restaurant, a pizza and sandwich restaurant, and food and refreshment stands. You’ll find a free picnic area at the park’s west end. Unlimited rides and attractions wristbands are available at the front gate for $20/person and include unlimited lorikeet feeding, giraffe feeding, carousel rides, train rides, pony rides, rock climbing and 3D Adventure shows. Gift shops offer unique souvenirs for all ages. Strollers and a limited number of wheelchairs are available for rent.

Keep in mind that all animals are on exhibit daily except when extreme heat, cold and exhibit repairs or medical reasons take precedent — all of which are fairly rare occurrences. In general, animals are most active when they go on exhibit in the morning and when they return to their evening quarters prior to closing. Plan your visit so you get to see penguin feedings, the gorilla presentation, elephant presentations and more. A day at the zoo and its gardens and historical sites will show you why Riverbanks Zoo is South Carolina’s number one attraction with approximately one million visitors each year.

If You Go …

500 Wildlife Parkway, Columbia, S.C. 29210

Adults: $11.75; Children (3-12 years): $9.25; Children (2 and under): Free

(Family memberships are a great deal)

Military (with military ID): $10.75; Senior Citizens (62 and up): $10.75.

Open Daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Extended spring/summer weekend hours: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays

March 29 – September 29.



Learn more about Tom Poland, a southern writer, and his work at www.tompoland.net. Email day-trip ideas to him at [email protected]

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