A zoo leading the way – Amaru Zoo in Cuenca, Ecuador

I don’t like zoos. Animals aren’t meant to be locked up in cages for humans to stare at them. It’s not natural. Animals belong in the wild.

Because of these beliefs, there was no way I was going to visit the zoo in Cuenca. No way.

In my mind, a first world zoo is one thing, but a zoo in a developing country was going to be worse. Much worse. I didn’t want to go.

peacock Amaru Zoo Double-Barrelled Travel

Peacock at the Amaru Zoo

Amaru Zoo in Cuenca

But a friend from our Spanish school went and said we must visit Amaru Zoo. “It’s unlike any zoo I’ve ever been too,” she told us, eyes wide as she pointed to the photos on her iPad. “The animals are practically roaming free – they could leave if they want to but they choose to stay.”

The photos looked pleasant. There weren’t any concrete cages and the animals looked healthy.

She was swaying me. “I think we should go,” Dave said. “I reckon it’ll be good.”

And that was how I found myself hiking up to the Amaru Zoo in Cuenca’s south-east side yesterday.

copybara Amaru Zoo Double-Barrelled Travel


alpaca Amaru Zoo Double-Barrelled Travel


llama Amaru Zoo Double-Barrelled Travel


falcon Amaru Zoo Double-Barrelled Travel


bird Amaru Zoo Double-Barrelled Travel

Hawk (?)

alligator Amaru Zoo Double-Barrelled Travel


The rustic yet charming zoo

From the get go it was evident this wasn’t an ordinary zoo. The paths are all dirt and a rickety boardwalk leads you up to the entrance. It’s rustic. But it’s charming.

The zoo is set on the side of a mountain so we spent the whole time walking up a hill to look at the animal exhibits. It’s a great hike, but probably not suited to the elderly or those in a wheelchair. Parents should leave their prams at home too.

The zoo’s designer has made the best of the mountainside and built all the enclosures into the cliff-face giving the animals sprawling grounds to roam around in.

Free to have fun

We spent a good three hours in the zoo and true to my Spanish school friend’s word, there were animals running around free.

A cuchuchos had escaped from its enclosure and was trying to scale the fence and get back in. Never before had I seen an animal trying to get back into its cage.

cuchuchos Amaru Zoo Double-Barrelled Travel

The cuchuchos trying to get back into his enclosure

The Andean bear’s enclosure was almost a park in itself, stretching far and wide. The bear wasn’t roaming free though, although I did feel he could’ve easily climbed a tree and got out if he wanted to.

Andean bear enclosure Amaru Zoo Double-Barrelled Travel

The Andean bear’s enclosure – looks like it would in the wild

Andean bear Amaru Zoo Double-Barrelled Travel

Andean bear in his enclosure

My favourite part of the afternoon was watching the big cats. The pumas were hand fed raw meat through the cage right in front of us. I’d never seen that before.

puma being fed Amaru Zoo Double-Barrelled Travel

puma Amaru Zoo Double-Barrelled Travel

The jaguars were so close to me that I could’ve reached out and touched them. Literally. There was wire mesh at the bottom of the cage and I could’ve stuck a finger in…

jaguar Amaru Zoo Double-Barrelled Travel

The macaws weren’t in cages and were just sitting in the trees scattered throughout their area of the zoo. The monkeys were running around everywhere, climbing all over the zoo keepers to steal food out of their pockets.

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The monkeys… on the outside of their cages

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Me in front of the monkey enclosure… which isn’t actually enclosed

The only animals looking a little unhappy was an Andean deer who clearly wanted another deer to keep it company, and the condor. I don’t think the condors should be kept in a zoo. They’re meant to soar above canyons and having him locked in a cage (even if the cage was enormous) just didn’t feel right.

Condor Amaru Zoo Double-Barrelled Travel

Condors can grow this large. Therefore they shouldn’t be in any type of cage anywhere

A pleasant afternoon trip

But all in all, considering there’s hundreds of animals in the zoo, I was pleasantly surprised by the way the animals were being treated.

The enclosures have been built to mimic the natural habitat of the animals as closely as possible and there wasn’t a concrete slab in sight.

In fact, I’d probably go as far as to say it was the best zoo I’ve ever been to.

I never thought I’d find my favourite zoo in South America.

I’m still not a pro-zoo person but I think all zoos could learn something from Amaru Zoo – the more natural a zoo is in its setting, the more the animals will enjoy being kept in captivity.

What’s the best or worst zoo you’ve ever been to?

view from Amaru Zoo Double-Barrelled Travel

The view from the Amaru Zoo is pretty lush

What you need to know:

Cost: It’s US$4 entry for an adult. This is an absolute bargain. In comparison, entry to the zoo in my home town of Perth is something like $27 for an adult.

How to get there: The zoo is opposite the Hospital del Rio, on the other side of the highway and up the mountain. You have to turn right off the highway and onto a dirt track which winds its way up to the zoo. It can be hard to miss but it is signposted as Amaru Zoologica. A taxi from the centre of Cuenca costs around $4 – $5. It’s easy getting one there but you might have to call one to get back, or hitch a ride with a family heading back into town like we did.

When to go: The Amaru Zoo is open 9am – 6pm Monday to Friday, and 10am – 5pm Saturday, Sunday and public holidays.

Anything else: Don’t bring any food as you won’t allowed to bring it into the grounds. Considering there are monkeys running around, the food wouldn’t stay in your possession for long anyway. There’s a cafe halfway through the zoo walk if you want to grab a bite to eat. Bottled water’s allowed.

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About the author

Carmen has been nomadic since May 2013 and the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel. She loves experiencing new cultures and learning new languages. She is having the most fun when skiing down a mountain, scuba diving in the Caribbean or curled up with a good book.

11 comments on “A zoo leading the way – Amaru Zoo in Cuenca, Ecuador”

  1. Andrea Anastasiou Reply

    That’s incredible! I also really dislike zoos – the animals usually look miserable to be there, and understandably so. Nice to know that somewhere in the world someone is getting it right…

  2. Micheline Reply

    I visited Amaru zoo in May and I enjoyed it mostly because I felt at home. I am volunteering at Ecomuseum zoo at Montreal (Quebec, Canada) which is a small zoo where all the animals couldn’t be released in nature. They are all native in Quebec, born in captivity in other zoos, found orphans or had medical issues. Every one is working hard to give them a nice, peaceful and natural habitat to spend the rest of their lives.
    Enjoy !

  3. Paul Acee Reply

    Greetings! I live in Cuenca and can’t find the place. I’ve been out that way three times so far via mountain bike parked at hospital del rio and can’t find it.

    Can you post some more details about that?


    Paul Acee
    Paul Acee recently posted…Anarchy in CuencaMy Profile

    • Carmen Allan-Petale Reply

      Hi Paul,

      I will email you a screen shot 🙂

      And if all else fails, you can always get a taxi and they’ll know where to take you.

      Will drop you an email now.


  4. Pingback: Monarto Zoo: An African safari in Australia - Double Barrelled Travel

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