Tucked away in an area known as Goya (not far from Gate 2 Street by Kadena Air Base) is the Okinawa Zoo and Wonder Museum. This is one of the many places that I have known about but for one reason or another never visited until today.
One of the main reasons for visiting, other than my quest to fulfill the needs of my inner child, is because I have received many questions about the Okinawa Zoo and Wonder Museum in the past few months. Most of the questions that I received had a very similar tone; people were concerned about the reviews and comments left on other travel websites. Although some were positive and expressed that the Zoo and Wonder Museum made a great day trip for the family others painted a pretty nasty picture of unhealthy animals in dilapidated cages. With such mixed reviews the only way to truly gain perspective on what type of experience the Zoo and Wonder Museum had to offer was to visit and see for myself.
The first thing you will notice when you enter the large (and extremely adorable) gate to the zoo is a decent size parking lot. Since I arrived right as the zoo was opening there was plenty of parking but it is important to note that as the day presses on the parking lot can fill up quickly. Once you have parked the car and gathered your gear follow the signs to the entrance which is down a large set of stairs (elevator is available). Once you purchase your tickets you’re on your way. At this point you have the option to visit the zoo first or the Wonder Museum. I strongly recommend (especially in the summer months) saving the Wonder Museum for the end.
Now that you’re in it’s time to determine the route you want to take. I suppose that if you visit during a time when there are a bunch of people it becomes very obvious which direction you are supposed to go but I was one of about 5 people in the entire zoo at the time which had me lost within about 100 feet of the front gate. (That’s right I’m not ashamed to say it.)
The Okinawa Zoo starts you off pretty easy with some of the animals you probably have seen around Okinawa to include flying foxes, osprey and buzzards. Down the path a bit are various monkeys, emu and even a bear from Hokkaido. The bigger most impressive animals are in the deepest part of the zoo to include elephants, deer, hippos (I really liked the hippos) and giraffes.
Near the end of the zoo itself is the petting zoo. This area has various animals for your kids to pet and play with including goats, chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs and turtles. There was even a dog named “Chunky” but he had not come out to play so early in the day.
Once you’ve washed your hands you’re pretty much done with the zoo. At this point you can head back to the main gate and enjoy the Wonder Museum (extra fee), ride on some kiddy rides or just head out for the day.
After spending a good chunk of time enjoying the zoo and seeing all the animals (at least all the animals who were awake that is) I can say with confidence that those who made such negative comments about this zoo don’t have a leg to stand on. First and foremost it’s important to understand that the Okinawa Zoo is not Disney’s Animal Kingdom; it’s a zoo on the small island of Okinawa. There are animals in cages and enclosures made of concrete to withstand the harsh conditions that we get here in Okinawa. This is not always the pretties thing and can sometimes look old and beat up (much like every other concrete building in Okinawa) but everything was in good shape and most importantly clean. Another thing to note is that although the animals were not in the wide open spaces they may have in their natural habitat they are allotted plenty of space to move around.
Once I was done with the zoo and found my unconventional way back to the main gate I figured I might as well check out the Wonder Museum. The Wonder Museum is an additional ¥200 for adults, less for children of course, and I have to say worth every penny. . . . although I have to admit I was a bit out of place being a grown adult without a child playing with the various toys and exhibits. After about 45 minutes of channeling my inner child (and resisting the urge to ask a nearby dad to take my picture in an oversized egg shell) I can only describe the Wonder Museum as a place where the line between science and fun is blurred. Sure there was some scientific reason that when I waved my arms various colors were created on a screen in front of my but it wasn’t important. . . . . I was watching myself dance in some sort of psychedelic light show! Groooooovy!
Worn out and knees aching it was time for me to head back home. By this time (roughly 11AM) the parking lot was full and there were many more people just entering. Overall I think this is a great place to spend the day. . . and you certainly can spend the entire day here if you wanted to. There is food, vending machines and even a theater where various shows take place throughout the year. If you’re here in Okinawa and looking for something fun to do one weekend why not give the Okinawa Zoo and Wonder Museum a shot!?