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Zoological Wildlife Foundation
Photograph: Courtesy Zoological Wildlife Foundation

The top wildlife sanctuaries in Miami and South Florida

Spend the day at these top wildlife sanctuaries in Miami and South Florida, offering unforgettable Instagram-worthy close encounters

Virginia Gil
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Virginia Gil
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When was the last time you really got up close to something wild? (And we’re not talking about the peacocks frolicking about Miami’s Coconut Grove, or the people you’re likely to encounter at one of the best clubs in Miami.) For a chance to meet monkeys, pose for pics with a sloth and handle creepy-crawlies of all types, skip the typical animal encounter (and South Beach!) for a visit to one of the top wildlife animal sanctuaries in Miami and South Florida.

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Top wildlife sanctuaries in Miami and South Florida

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The 90-year-old botanical gardens is one of the oldest animal sanctuaries in the region and has been continually dedicated to preserving aviary species, butterflies and the state’s unofficial mascot, the flamingo. Observe native species such as alligators and eagles in a special section dedicated to the living creatures of the Everglades. There’s also an area sectioned off for wading birds and another for birds of prey, featuring a large collection of raptors. With plenty of gardens to explore, it’s best to hop on one of the trams to get the lay of the land. 
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The animals at this private facility have been rescued from large zoos or donated. Guests meander through ZWF as part of small guided tours that include stops at every enclosure. What sets this place apart are the numerous encounters offered: Free with admission is the chance to feed camels—put a carrot in your mouth and watch one take it right from you!—pet an owl and hold two of the smallest tenants, capuchin monkeys Amaya and Ahmed. For a few hundred dollars extra, you can take pictures with a baby chimpanzee, play with lion cubs and race a sloth. 

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Spread over five acres, this privately owned and funded rescue facility is home to more than 120 species, 15 of which you’re welcome to pet, hold and take selfies with. (Sloths are very photogenic.) Bring change for the food vending machines if you want to feed the lemurs or bottle-feed the adorable pot-bellied pigs. Visits are self-guided but Edventure volunteers lead several hands-on presentations, giving everyone the opportunity to hold baby alligators, snakes and all sorts of other creatures.

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It’s been nearly three decades since Bob Freer and his wife Barbara began rescuing and rehabilitating the area’s injured animals.  Their privately owned wildlife sanctuary, which operates as a nonprofit, is home to snakes, alligators and other native Florida creatures. In addition to hosting school groups and offering guided tours (free for groups of more than 15), Everglades Outpost offers alligator shows and an on-site archeology exhibit, among other types of educational programming.
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Director Mark McCarthy has been rescuing animals in SoFlo since the ’70s, nursing back to health everything from owls and hawks to panthers. The longtime wildlife expert has 200 animals you can meet during one of three guided tours offered daily at his Palm Beach facility; you’ll have photo ops with lemurs and macaws along the way. Bonus for the bold: a room that houses spiders, snakes and an albino python you can wear around your neck—just as Britney Spears did. 
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South Florida Wildlife Center’s mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured animals that find their way into the Fort Lauderdale facility. Occasionally, when creatures need extra attention, they’ll stick around (such as during re-nesting) until they’re well enough to be set free in the wild. SFWC also works to educate the community on animal mishandling, the leading cause of wildlife injuries. Once a month, the center opens its doors to the public for guided tours through various habitats, though visits are limited to just 25 people.  

Explore more of Florida

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As most of the state is bordered by either the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean, the best beaches in Florida happen to be plentiful and diverse: the Gulf coast offers the crystal-quartz sands of western Florida as well as the glittering green/blue hues of the calm waters on the panhandle’s Emerald Coast.

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