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I haven’t been to the San Antonio Zoo and Aquarium since my daughter’s Girl Scout troop spent a sleepless night camping out with a kinkajou, a nocturnal Brazilian rainforest mammal, more than five years ago. So when friends from Austin wanted to visit recently, I was game.

I’ve always thought the San Antonio Zoo and Aquarium was one of the Alamo City’s best destinations, and I’m here to tell you that it’s gotten even better. The new Africa Live! area is a fabulous way to take a vicarious trip to the African continent to learn about its majestic animals and their conservation issues.

Other highlights of the 35-acre park include Butterflies! Caterpillar Flight School, Kronkosky’s Tiny Tot Play Spot, TOADally!, Lory Landing, Amazonia, the Hixon Bird House and the Friedrich Aquarium.

Seven days a week, you may watch the zookeepers feed condors (10:45 a.m.), elephants (11:30 a.m.), and hippos (3 p.m.). To get up close and personal with some of the other residents, go to the Nature Spot entrance at 10:15 a.m., 12 noon, and 4:15 p.m. Who knows? You might get to pat a Madagascar hissing cockroach?

In the summer–and truthfully pretty much all year long–I recommend that you get to the zoo early. The animals are friskier in the mornings when it’s cooler, and you can enjoy watching them eat their breakfasts. It will take you more than one day to see all 3,500 of the zoo’s amphibians, birds, reptiles and mammals, so grab a map and and wear comfortable walking shoes. Be sure to see the Golden Lion Tamarin monkeys, my personal favorites.

The San Antonio Zoo and Aquarium opens at 9 a.m. 365 days a year. Admission is free for children 2 and under; $8 for children ages 3 to 11; and $10.75 for adults. You may even download a $1-off coupon to help defray the entrance cost.  Zoo memberships are $70 for the entire family. Ice chests are welcomed on zoo grounds, as long as they don’t contain glass or alcoholic beverages.

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