Review: The penguins are a firm family favourite on a day out at Colchester Zoo


Lemur - Credit: Archant

Train rides, the elephant feed and the penguin house, all highlights of a winter’s day out at Colchester Zoo.

Don't miss the giraffe feed

Don't miss the giraffe feed - Credit:

It might not strike you as the obvious destination for a family outing on a bleak Sunday afternoon, but why not?

At this time of year the crowds are thinner, and children can get a much better view of their favourite animals, plus there are plenty of under-cover attractions should the weather close in.

We always start with the monkeys, and the orangutans, because a) they are near the entrance and b) what creature better symbolises a day out at the zoo?

These intelligent animals fascinate me, the way their movements mimic our own, and they never fail to entertain the children, getting them fired up for the day ahead.

The lion sleeps tonight...

The lion sleeps tonight... - Credit:

Next it is down to the sealion enclosure, and although it is nice to sit and watch the show in sunnier months, at this time of year we offer just a cursory glance before moving onto a firm family favourite - the penguins.

You can go down inside this exhibit and watch these charming characters from within - perfect on a wet day.

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All around the zoo there are information boards with in depth detail about the plight of the chosen species, their threats in the wild and successful breeding programmes, but also clever tactile aids to help children understand more about the creatures they are visiting.

Penguin shores has some life-sized cutouts of the various types of penguin, detailing where each is found, which very cleverly entertains younger children while educating older, more inquiring minds.

Thanks to Aleksandr Orlov and his friends it is virtually impossible to see the meerkats some sunny summer days, but a winter trip means you can stand and watch them skirt around the enclosure, taking it in turns to take on sentinel duty, at your leisure.

And if the kids really are enthused by the cheeky critters, you can always nip off to the neighbouring Meerkat Hangout for a quick coffee.

Depending on timing, you can take in the bird display (if they are flying), watch the otters or head up further to feed the farmyard animals, watch the lumbering tortoises and, if you are brave enough, step inside the wallaby enclosure.

This is one of a new generation of exhibits at Colchester which allows you to walk through the heart of the wallabies habitat, with no fences or glass panels to obstruct your view, and if you are lucky, they will pop out and greet you, face to face.

But make sure you hurry on round to the elephants for 2.15pm, feeding time.

Visitors line up along the side of the enclosure for their turn to feed these giant beasts - and then it is the turn of the fellow safari dweller, the graceful giraffe.

The hand washing station is at the bottom of the slope, and from here you can walk up the boardwalk to the elephant house - the humid atmosphere is particularly enticing on a miserable day.

The African-themed centre lets you look down on the safari greats, as well as watching the amazing ant army in action.

Finally, why not let the Lost Madagascar Express do the hard work and take you around the remaining enclosures before heading home - avoiding the gift shop if you are lucky?

Admission prices are reduced in the winter months, to £14.99 for an adult and £10.99 for children.

Father Christmas is in residence at weekends from the end of November, and daily once the schools break up, right up to Christmas Eve. Tickets for a santa gift are priced at £6.