Review/Gallery: Have a wild day out at Colchester Zoo

Ellen and her children at Colchester Zoo

Ellen and her children at Colchester Zoo - Credit: Archant

Take a journey from the wilds of Africa to the jungles of South America via the depths of the ocean - all in the space of an afternoon.

The biggest attraction in Essex - Colchester Zoo - celebrates its 50th year in 2013 and there is a lot to shout about.

I visited with my two children, aged three and five, who were already fans of London Zoo.

But what our capital city cannot offer us – and Colchester can - is spectacular space and size, allowing for more than 260 species in a 60 acre plot.

The biggest and best beasts among them roam freely through the Kingdom of the Wild right at the heart of the complex.

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Among the animals living there are elephants, giraffes, zebra and rhino so it’s like getting the perfect snapshot of a genuine safari.

Viewing areas in many parts of the zoo are designed for maximum impact, fences and barriers are kept to a minimum and often you are given the impression that you are just metres away from the animals on display.

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My son was particularly impressed with the lion enclosure, where he climbed up a wooden platform to look down directly on the dangerous cats below.

And my daughter adored the monkeys which fearlessly pressed their little bodies up against the glass and begged and gestured at her bag of crisps.

If you are planning a visit this summer, make sure you take in the sealion show and pop into the underwater tunnel to watch them twist and turn as they dive for toys.

You should also take a ride on the Lost Madagascar Express and keep an eye out for any displays, animal training or feeding times.

The zoo also boasts four playground areas for kids, a range of ice cream points and lots of convenient toilet stops.

As far as I can see there is only one catch in a day trip here and that’s the price. But if you take your own picnic (the park has a lovely area for you to enjoy sandwiches) and avoid too many gift shops, it is well worth the money.

And if you love it as much as we did, you could consider buying an annual pass which is much more cost effective.

Top tips

Food: There is a picnic area as well as a licensed restaurant, Ice-cream parlour, Coffee Shop, Southern Fried Chicken Outlet, Pizza Bar, Hot-dog outlet, Chip n Dip Outlet and several snack shops. Cafe UmPhafa serves a range of healthy eating options as well as a selection of organic and additive free meals.

Toilets: There are disabled toilets in every toilet block. Baby changing facilities for females are in every toilet block, and in 60% of male toilet blocks. There are also baby feeding rooms in most toilet blocks.

Access: The zoo requires a lot of walking. If you are bringing a young child, bring a buggy too. You can hire manual push wheelchairs and locker facilities if you need to. The zoo is naturally hilly but an easy route for wheelchair users is marked out.

Cost: Admission prices are £19.99 per adult in the high season, £13.50 per child age three and over, £17.50 a senior ticket and £9.99 for a disabled visitor or a carer. There is a slight reduction if you book tickets in advance online.

Annual zoo passes start from £48.99 per adult, £29.99 per child, £37.99 for a senior and £23.99 for disabled visitors and their carers.

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