In terms of natural wonders, Singapore isn’t exactly the first place that comes to mind. It’s a crowded city state that most people go to either as a stopover on the way to somewhere else or for a shopping and eating city break.
With a high population and not much space, wildlife and rainforests are not readily associated with Singapore, but seek and ye shall find. Aside from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Singapore is said to be the only city in the world to have natural rainforest within its boundaries. Admittedly, there’s not much of it left, but some stretches have been deliberately preserved.
Inside one of these remaining patches of rainforest is Singapore Zoo. Regularly cited as one of the best – if not the best – in the world, the zoo gets a lot of things right.
The first key aspect of it is that the animals are presented in what is as close to their natural environment as possible. Instead of locking the animals away behind barred cages, most are separated from visitors by deep moats that they are not able to get across. Because the moat is essentially obscured from view, you feel as though you’re right up close with the creatures and could potentially interact with them should you wish.
Of course, not all animals can be safely contained in this manner. Leopards, for example, are rather good at jumping. But instead of hiding them in a dismal cage, they are put behind a see-through acrylic barrier. This way, you get incredibly close to them, with only a window between you. Prepare for a frightened jump/ yelp if the big cat moves suddenly.
The other thing that the Singapore Zoo gets right is that it has plenty going on for when you get bored of wandering from enclosure to enclosure. The ‘Rainforest Fights Back’ show is a slightly cheesy tale of tribesmen and native animals fighting to reclaim their native habitat, but there’s far more on offer than that. It’s possible to have breakfast with the orangutans and watch a whole host of animals being fed.
You can hand feed many of the animals yourself. The giraffes, kangaroos and baboons are amongst those who will gleefully take food from you.
The elephants will do so as well, but they are the stars of the show in another way. The Elephants At Work And Play show demonstrates how the big grey giants are used in South-East Asian logging camps, although there’s an element of fun too. Get lucky, and you might get to see an elephant with a brush in trunk, attempting to paint something that Picasso would be proud of.
Singapore Zoo’s reputation is entirely justified – the whole thing is extremely well done, and your only regret is likely to be not leaving more time to explore it.
The Night Safari
Right next to Singapore Zoo, but separate to it, is Singapore’s other highly innovative wildlife attraction. One of the major problems with zoos is that they can be something of a letdown during the day. Many of the animals you’re most excited about seeing are nocturnal beasts, and in the daylight hours they can often be found in the back corner of the enclosure having a sleep.
The Night Safari, as the name suggests, is only open at night. And this means that it’s possible to see the nocturnal creatures at their most active.
The best way to get around – at least initially – is to hop on board one of the trams that completes a circuit. The rhinos, Himalayan goats, hyenas and hippos all tend to be up and about.
The key thing is that they’re brilliantly lit up. The enclosures are illuminated by low level lighting that makes it look as though the animals are bathed in moonlight. No flash photography is allowed, as it disturbs the animals and annoys other guests, which means you’re unlikely to get great photos. But put the camera down and use your eyes, and it’s magnificent.
Like at Singapore Zoo, most of the animals are in moated enclosures, which give the real feeling of being on safari and peering out upon creatures in the wild.
Not all of the animals can be seen from the tram, however, and it’s advisable to take a few strolls along the specially-created walking trails to see the rest. Porcupines, hog badgers, gharials and otters are amongst those that can’t be seen from the road, and the same applies to the fabulous flying squirrels.
To get to these amusing little scamps, you need to pass through two security doors. The reason becomes abundantly clear once you get inside the enclosure – they glide right over the path from tree to tree.
Another great thing about the Night Safari is that it hosts a lot of bizarre animals that most visitors are unlikely to have heard of. You end up leaving with plenty of new favourites – capybaras, pangolins, sloth bears and binturongs are amongst the most lovable.
Viator offers two Night Safari options – one with the buffet dinner and one without. Those taking the buffet dinner option should be aware that it will eat into their time available at the Night Safari; you’ll inevitably have to make choices about what you’re going to see. For example, if you do the tram rides and walks, you’re unlikely to be able to squeeze in the tribal fire dancing performance or Creatures of the Night Show.
For a natural escape without lions and tigers, Pulau Ubin is Singapore’s best bet. Reached by ferry from Changi Village, this offshore island has a far more relaxed feel than the rest of the city state. It’s largely green, and has great views of both the main island and Johor Bahru in Malaysia.
Most people tend to get around by bike, and there are plenty of places to hire one near the jetty. For those who find Singapore a little too claustrophobic – and it undoubtedly can be – Pulau Ubin is a beautifully refreshing escape.
Planning a trip? Browse Viator’s things to do in Singapore, like the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari. Searching on your phone? Bookmark our Singapore Night Safari mobile page for quick and easy access on the go.