Parque de las Leyendas, a zoo built among the ruins of a pre-Inca city, somehow manages to successfully mix ecology and archaeology, attracting hundreds of Peruvian families each day. Off the usual tourist trail for foreigners, it could make a good half-day trip and is a great chance to learn about Peru’s rich biodiversity and about Lima’s ancient past.
Zoos aren’t the nicest places when you really think about it, perhaps that’s why so many of them in the developed world have made the transition from places that display caged animals to centres of conservation and breeding. Lima has two zoos, Huachipa and Parque de las Leyendas, with the latter being the most accessible.
The conditions the animals are kept in are not the best, not quite meeting those in big zoos around the world. The habitats are often on the small side with little to keep the animals occupied. For some creatures, their captivity and 24hr room service is welcome, the spectacled bears seem perfectly happy to be laid flat out on their backs all day with a constant supply of food.
For others, like the jaguars and other roaming animals, life is not as pleasant and they walk in circles for hours with nothing to do. Seeing caged condors with nowhere to majestically glide through the air is also somewhat depressing.
Despite these problems that afflict all zoos, they do provide visitors with an interest in local wildlife but without time to see each creature in its local habitat with an easy way to check the animals off their must-see lists. In Peru this counts double, well maybe triple – with three major regions, coast, mountains and jungle, each with dozens of distinct climatic zones with unique species – there are so many animals to see that no-one but a determined biologist with months to spare could see even a fraction.
This is where Parque de las Leyendas comes in. With the zoo split into Coast, Sierra and Selva regions, animals found all over Peru can be observed in one place – the question is, is seeing them in a zoo better or worse than not seeing them at all?
More than a Zoo
My interest in Parque de las Leyendas has more to do with what used to be there, and what in part still is. Where the zoo now stands was once the very centre of the ancient coastal power centre of Maranga.
The pre-Inca city stretched out about 4km in every direction from here, before giving way to green fertile fields that separated it from other towns and villages now buried in the most part below the modern Spanish city of Lima. The houses, streets and fields have long since been destroyed, but on and around the grounds of the zoo still stand what couldn’t easily be pulled down, huge pyramidal structures that served as temples and burial mounds during different ages of indigenous civilisation.
As you walk around the zoo, you will see many of these structures in ruins, or have to use stairs to cross over the remains of city walls. These are the most recent structures, built around 1000 years ago until about 500 years ago ago when the people who inhabited the Lima area called themselves the Ichma. A small museum on site shows how their colourfully painted and impressive adobe pyramids would have looked, and also displays some artefacts recovered from excavation, including a mummy.
The zoo and archaeological site is found in the district of San Miguel, just a short walk from the up scale Plaza San Miguel shopping centre on Avenida La Marina. Several buses run to La Marina from Miraflores, the journey can take about 45 minutes. Wait for buses on Larco across from Parque Kennedy. Ask to off at Plaza San Miguel and walk for a few seconds in the same direction as the bus was going. Turn right off the La Marina and onto leafy Riva Aguero. You will see a adobe pyramid and a sign pointing to the zoo. At the end of the park, turn left, then right.
Buses will cost about S./1.50, with a taxi almost ten times that. Entrance is less than the taxi fare.