American in Spain

Visiting Cabárceno Zoo - Cantabria Tourism

March 11, 2012

This weekend we planned on visiting the local Parque de la Naturaleza de Cabárceno, a "nature park", i.e. a zoo with wide enclosures where you have to get in your car and drive 300 meters from exhibit to exhibit. We were going to go on Sunday, but the weather was so great on Saturday morning that we decided to go on Saturday instead. It was closer than I thought it was, only a 40 minute drive from Colindres. It was not at all cheap, at 21€ for adults and 18€ for 6-12 year olds (free for two-year-old Nora), but we took a picnic lunch and spent a good five hours there. There is a 100€ year-long family pass that would be worth buying if we wanted to go more than twice a year. When we got back home, I discovered I had taken 393 photographs, which I trimmed down to a mere 217 photos worth uploading to the internet. I'll try to keep the number in this post down in double digits. Tigers

The first exhibit we came to was the tiger exhibit. They were about as exciting as most cats during the day.


Next to the tigers were the gorillas. We were there right at noon, and there was a zookeeper tossing heads of lettuce into their enclosure. If it hadn't been for that, we might not have seen them at all. We only saw two of the ten (or so) they have.


Next up were the bears. There must have been at least fifty of them in a wide open area surrounded by cliffs. The young ones were quite playful and put on a good show.


As you can see, they were the exact same color as the surrounding rock face, which made them very hard to spot.

Find the Bear!

Can you see the bear? Hard, isn't it?

We initially thought there were only about ten bears, but then everywhere we looked in the landscape we saw more. My wife, who had visited Cabárceno Zoo over a decade ago, had distinctly remembered the bear enclosure as being very well done. There was a fence up at the top of the ridge, but it definitely felt like the bears had a wide mountainous space to roam.

Relaxing Bear

Bears are siesta experts.

Seeing Bears

Nora enjoyed the bears.


Next up, the long-necked enclosure containing giraffes and ostriches.

Ostrich coming for Nora

Nora kept saying, "The duck is coming!"

Intimate Giraffes

We saw a pair of giraffes engage in this intimate kama-sutra-esque you-scratch-my-neck-and-I'll-scratch-yours routine. It was as sensual as it was awkward-looking.

Sleeping Wolves

Next, we came to the wolf enclosure. I thought that Nora would enjoy this one more than others, since she's very aware of The Big Bad Wolf in all his fairy tale roles, but she didn't seem to care much. It took a while to spot them, but there were two wolves sleeping in a patch of dirt.

Before the wolves, we had been to the hyena enclosure and not seen a single beast. Yes, they're nocturnal, but it was a little disappointing, and the other visitors also seemed disappointed and confused. So when we had finally found the wolves, I made a casual remark to a guy walking near the enclosure that, "If you're looking for them, they're over there sleeping." He responded that, thanks, but he knew where they were because he visits at least once a week. Not only did he know where several more wolves were hiding in the enclosure, he knew their names and how old they were. We continued to converse, and he told us the names of all the gorillas, guessing which two young ones we probably saw that ventured out for the noon feeding, and lots, lots, lots more information about the animals at the zoo. They just got a new hyena in from Prague last week, don't you know!

Our new friends don't work at the zoo, but visit often and avidly, enjoying the sport of finding all the beasts in their enclosures with binoculars, a hobby which must stimulate ancient hunting neurons. The man and his wife live locally and have many animals of their own; in fact, they run a petting zoo of sorts called Armoní­a Animal that specializes in miniature ponies and how they can be used for therapy for autistic children. They are the only Spanish branch of the American organization Personal Ponies. After asking Nora her name (she was busy moving small pebbles from the gravel walkway inside the wolf enclosure fence), they told us that, of all their many, many animals that they have, the one that everyone loves the most is their parrot named Nora. They gave us a business card and ensured us that they know how to show non-autistic kids a good time, too. We might have to check them out sometime.

Howling Nora

I'm pretty sure we were the first people ever to think of howling at the napping wolves.


Then we saw some bison and other African ungulates.

Nora with Zebra

When we drove up to the zebra enclosure, I suggested we might even skip it, since they were just in their stables eating hay. My estimate of enjoyment was way off the mark. It was nice to actually pet them. I had never touched a zebra before. As with most animals, their fur was slightly more bristly than their domesticated counterpart.

Nora with Zebra

Nora had a good time reaching in to touch them.

Camel and Ruin

The dromedary exhibit included this cool church ruin. This bactrian had a droopy hump.


I thought Nora would love the elephants, who were also the same color as the bears and wolves and rocks, but she was pretty indifferent.

Nora with Elephants

Nora and the elephants. They were bigger than she remembers.

Picnic Lunch

Then it was picnic time! Nora has figured out that sandwiches are for suckers, and that a clever food hacker can just eat the meat from inside and avoid the boring bread.

Picnic Lunch

Feeding time at the primate exhibit.


Then we saw some wallabies, which are pretty much enormous Australian rats, not as cuddly as I thought they would be.


Then we saw the lions, which were very far away and being lazy felines.

Nora and Lions





I didn't like the baboon exhibit too much because I got annoyed at the primates on my side of the fence who couldn't overcome their own egos and think about just how bad their crackers and cookies might be for their captive cousins.

Lions and View

Here you can see, zoomed out, the size of the lion enclosure and the general landscape that we enjoyed during our entire visit.

After visiting the baboons, we continued on our way. When we came up over a hill, my wife and I both gasped in surprise at the magnificence of the view that greeted us. Behold:


The city of Santander. We had no idea we were this close or that we would have a view like this.


The lynxes were also being very feline.

Finally we parked at the main restaurant and farm facility. There was a bird of prey exhibition going on with a trainer sending owls and hawks flying over a crowd of people, but we were tired and headed instead to the small animal enclosures.

Prairie Dog

The prairie dogs were hard to spot.


The meerkats were easier to see.


There were about a billion turtles.


And the award for Least Cuddly Creature goes to…the porcupine!


And finally, on to Nora's favorite animal of them all: the goat.


She had an absolute ball reaching her hand through the fence and letting the goat lick her fingers. She would squeal with delight and announce to everyone within earshot that the goat had licked her hand before placing it through the fence again. We literally had to drag her kicking and screaming away from the goat exhibit.

Tractor and Mountains

After a visit to the bathroom, we were ready to head home. Except there was one little animal we had yet to see and didn't want to miss…

Pygmy Hippo

The propane tank pygmy hippopotamus!

Pygmy Hippo

The hippos must have been quite bored, because they were yawning a lot. Great for photos!

Yawning like Hippo

It was contagious!

Roaming Beasts

Overall we left the park with mixed feelings. My wife and I enjoyed ourselves quite a bit, but we were disappointed by how disinterested Nora was about the whole thing. She had a fun day out, but really wasn't all that bothered about the wild animals. Although she said "I don't want to get in the car!" each of the twenty times we had to get into the car, the car rides weren't the obstacle to enjoyment that we had feared. She most enjoyed the zebras and goats that she could touch and interact with. The visual stimulus of a faraway lion or tiger or gorilla meant little to her. I think we will wait a year or two and see if she develops more of an interest in animals before we consider going back.