Where the Wild Things are in Argentina: Off the Beaten Track

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Kissing LionsHaving lived in Buenos Aires for two years I was beginning to think I had seen it all and a feeling of boredom with tango shows, steak houses, estancias and picturesque villages was beginning to set in. I wanted to get off the beaten track and go somewhere different. Somewhere that had not yet been recommended by international guidebooks. Somewhere authentically Argentine without the ubiquitous tourist traps. I started to wonder where ordinary porteños would go for a day trip. One day a taxi driver recommended Lujan. I looked it up on Google and was reassured to find that very little had been written about this place. At last, somewhere new to be explored!

My three men, my husband Dan, 34, and two sons Raphael, 5, and Casper, 3, were happy enough to accompany me. One fine Saturday morning we bundled the kids into our ugly green van and drove down the quiet route 7 to Lujan.

Basilica NacionalWe arrived at what seemed to be vast impromptu parking lot in front of the gothic Basilica Nacional. We paid a five peso parking fee to an old gent and decided to see the church first while the kids were still relatively happy and then find something fun for them to do.

The century old cathedral is imposing, but the sheer amount of people visiting the church to pray is even more impressive. It was so packed we almost couldn’t get in. Once we were in, my youngest son Casper immediately announced, as three year olds often do, that he had to pee. I thus missed seeing the famous statue of the Virgin, but couldn’t sum up the courage to wrestle my way back into the building.

Surrounding the cathedral is a somewhat rundown funfair with all kinds of noisy bumpy rides as well as numerous souvenir stalls. There are various parilla places and chorizo stalls and after a ride on a very smoky train, we sat down for a good old fashioned bit of beef and chicken and a few nice cold beers.

We wandered around the town for a bit but soon realized that there was an obvious reason this place had not had a write up in the guide books: after the church and the funfair we had obviously seen all there is to see in Lujan. But we were wrong. Outside of town is the Lujan Zoo where the lions are only too happy to cuddle with your little ones.

Oh Baby, it’s a wild world

The whole Lujan Zoo experience was unlike any zoo I have ever been to. Visitors drive their cars straight into the center of the zoo onto a large lawn lined with barbecues. There is a little train and a tractor driven carriage, as well as dozens of ancient steam engines and tractors that children can climb onto and play with (Not EU Health and Safety approved, beware of sharp rusty edges). Many grown up men seemed to enjoy this as much as the children did and people of all sizes and ages were climbing onto the ancient farm machinery. My children absolutely loved it, as there is something very exciting about sitting on a real tractor instead of a sturdy safe Little Tikes version.

When we finally got to the animals, we realized this was a genuinely interactive zoo. You can feed the farm animals (mainly goats) and ride around the field on an elephant or a camel. Again, my boys adored this and it was a great success. I felt a bit sorry for the animals though and decided not to burden them with a 150 pound big mama.

The highlight of a trip to the Lujan Zoo is getting into the cages with the lions and tigers and playing with their cubs. I have to admit that I did not let Raphael or Casper anywhere near the big cats, thinking that there must be a valid reason zoos in America and Europe do not allow this practice (is there?!).

Most local parents did not seem to have such qualms. Experienced zookeepers opened the gate and let in a few people at a time. It was obvious that both parents and children were enchanted when they were allowed to stroke and feed the lion cubs. The lions didn’t seem to mind it too much either. I asked a zookeeper if the animals were drugged, but she told me they were just very well adapted.

Dan was very keen to give it a try, and when I took the kids off for a train ride, he sneaked back into the lions’ den. It was a relief when I saw him coming out of the cage in one piece.

All in all, the day trip to Lujan made for a very interesting, if unusual, day out. And best of all, it was a genuine Argentine day out. And we didn’t see a fellow foreigner all day, which is getting to be quite an achievement in itself really these days.

How to get there from BA:

By Car: Acceso Oeste km 58, take ruta 5 or ruta 7

By Bus: Bus Company Atlantida has buses going from Palermo to Lujan, and back (02323-434957).

Or, book a private bus online

5 Comments

Emily Crawford on April 8, 08

You know, kissing lions. Always one of my favorite activities!

Beatrice M on April 8, 08

I asked a zookeeper if the animals were drugged, but she told me they were just very well adapted. I too asked if they were drugged, but she said that they had been fed and were digesting. Indeed, I did see the lions being fed in a cage near the old farm equipment. I can understand being in a food coma. 😀

I took photos of this amazing zoo. It was such a treat to pet and interact with the animals in such a hands on manner. Maybe your boys can go in when they’re a little older. I think they would love it.

Sam Jay on July 10, 08

Thank you for this fantastic recommendation. The kids loved it!

A Quirky Argentine Zoo on April 7, 09

[…] in BA, we’ve got the best ones. Thanks for visiting!Fortuno has just posted a slew of photos of the Lujan Zoo.  There are all the usual mammals- lions, tigers and bears, but what makes this zoo special is […]

Carole Wesley on October 9, 09

Nowhere else in the world do zoo animals behave like this. The danger is real. Children and adults could so easily be hurt. If you feel the same, there’s a petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/Lujan-Zoo-petition

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