The open gates of Animaya invite me in like a city park (free-of-charge), leading me directly to the monumental stela. Inscriptions formed in the style of ancient Maya hieroglyphs maze up the enormous monument, telling a story about the tree of life and the place that animals have on the Earth. In ancient Maya archaeology, stelae were much smaller limestone slabs placed in front of important buildings to record the heroic deeds of kings.

At Animaya, the stela is amplified to serve as a marker that visitors can see from all parts of the park. From below the monument, I feel the power of history looming over me, and when I ride the elevator to the top, I see the future sprawling out across Yucatán in the growing metropolis that is Mérida.

A large, luscious lake forms an oasis inside of a safari-style pasture where many species of wild animals graze together, separated into groups based on region: African, American, and Euro-Asian. The several-kilometer long walking track loops around this safari scene, where visitors can see the animals from infinite viewpoints. I watched a pair of zebras who befriended a lonely mountain goat, and postulated exactly how hard it must be for a person to ride an emu.

Botanical gardens, roaming peacocks, and hidden paths leading to secret ponds and lazy lions add to the mystique of the experience. The creators of Animaya combined the idea of a public park with a zoo to create a relaxing, ample space for leisurely strolling or more upbeat exercise. The park breaks the stereotypes placed on typical zoos: zero lineups, no crowds, and animals with plenty of space to ramble and play.

Arrive between 10 am and 4 pm to go on a safari or take a ride on a catamaran on the lake ($5 pesos per person). Bring snacks for a picnic on a park bench or at the tables. Animaya welcomes the entire family, but also ranks high on my list for ideal date spots. Plan for several hours of slow-moving perusing—the park has a way of making you lose track of time.

Tuesday – Sunday, 6 am – 6 pm
Calle 60 #866 x 95
Ciudad Caucel, Mérida

By Amanda Strickland

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