Judging by the way it was trying to bite into the rearview mirror of our car, the grizzly bear couldn’t tell the difference between the Land Rover delivering food and the one taking four travel bloggers around the compound. We, containing the exclamations, did not stop looking and photographing the dozens of specimens that – less curious – had shared the bread, the apples and the pieces of chicken that were part of their diet.

This scene is just one part of the “Wild Visit” to the Cabárceno Nature Park, in Cantabria, an original and fun way to get to know first-hand – literally – giraffes, elephants, zebras or rhinoceroses, to name just a few the species that we can touch.

The experience takes place just over a dozen kilometers from Santander, in Cabárceno. There we can find a hundred animal species, from the five continents, roaming the length and breadth of the 750 hectares that make up the Nature Park.Feeding an elephant in CabárcenoFeeding an elephant in Cabárceno.

Situated on land that was once an open-pit mining operation , it is neither a zoo nor a Nature Park, although it shares traits with both. Here the animals have ample space to roam freely, although there are fences to separate the different parts of the enclosure.

During a normal visit, which given the distances it is advisable to do in your own car, you go along the 20 kilometers of roads that link the enclaves of the different species. Approaching the fences, we can be very close to ostriches or dromedaries with the certainty that if we travel with children, they will be delighted with it.

But for those who want to go one step further , in the Cabárceno Nature Park they have developed the “Wild Visit” for groups of a minimum of 2 people and a maximum of 4 and with a duration of about 8 hours (approximately from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and includes a special menu at the on-site restaurant).

In the case of the bears, we (Ignacio, from Chronicles of a camera, Cristina from Viaja en mi Mochila, Guillermo, the cameraman from Minube and Cristina de Cantur) entered the enclosure in a different Land Rover, the one in the field , functional and no frills). Eduardo, our companion and guide, did not need to explain to us the reason for the change of vehicle as soon as we saw the confidence that some specimens took.Oso amorous en CabárcenoBears in Cabárceno park.

The visit to the Cabárceno Nature Park had started in a much less hectic way, feeding the giraffes from a higher ground. Their rough tongue – cat-like in that regard – deftly curled around each carrot we offered them. When a vegetable accidentally fell to the ground, the huge animals could not bend down for it from their almost three meters high (giraffes, by the way, sleep standing up).

In addition to petting the giraffes – or rather touching them, as they are very shy animals – we had the opportunity to give apples to Cristina, a baby elephant, visit the pachyderm box area, feed several zebras and, something that I never I would have imagined touching a white rhinoceros .

Beyond the hardness of its gray skin – which, like that of many other animals in the park, is covered with a reddish crust of the earth in which they roll – the enormous size of its head caught my attention, perhaps an evolutionary adaptation of the changes in diet with respect to their ancestors millions of years ago.White Rhino in CabarcenoWhite Rhino in Cabarceno park. 

Unfortunately, superstition threatens the existence of these gigantic mammals (the third largest on earth) and they are hunted for their horn, which is said to have medicinal properties .

It is not a dish for all tastes, but the visit also includes access to the Reptilario where lizards and snakes (the venomous ones, by the way, do not have their venom extracted) are exhibited in terrariums.

More appetizing is the visit to the area of ​​birds of prey , where we can – duly protected with a rigid glove that reaches almost to the elbow – feel like feudal nobles for a day. From the top of a promontory, we hold a small piece of food with our outstretched hand and in a few seconds we will notice a muffled flapping of wings and how claws cling to the glove.Ignacio Izquierdo with bird of prey in CabárcenoIgnatius Left with bird of prey in Cabárceno park.

A few inches from our face, a beautiful bird of prey gazes at us almost indifferently. Her curved beak has quickly realized the bait and for a few seconds, until her keeper claims her, she is all ours to look at (personally, with a mixture of admiration and respect).

These birds will later participate in a demonstration for the general public. While the spectators remain seated on some stands located – like 99% of the installations – in an open space, several specimens fly over it from one end to the other. As if it were about gaining confidence, after a while, hawks and eagles already graze the heads of people with their evolutions, who follow their maneuvers with their mouths open.

I leave for last the visit to the gorilla enclosure where, separated only by floor-to-ceiling glass in the covered area, a pair of males – one of them the dominant one, a silverback – and a female hung out. She this last one she carried, at times on her back, at times on her chest, a small baby that was the object of the “oes” and “aes” of all those present.Gorilla and baby in CabárcenoGorilla and breeding in Cabárceno park.

In short, the “Wild Visit” to the Cabárceno Nature Park is a way of observing behind the scenes of the theater of wildlife, accessing exclusive areas for park staff and being able to touch rhinoceroses and elephants, something prohibited to visitors. 

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