Whether you want to trek with llamas, feed a meerkat or chat with chimpanzees, you’ll find enough species on the Isle of Wight to fill Noah’s Ark — and your tour starts here. As part of The Wildlife Trust, the Isle of Wight Zoo specialises in caring for rescued animals and raising awareness of endangered species. Its newest arrivals are five adult tigers, who spent their formative years in a Spanish circus before being liberated by animal rescue charity AAP and brought to the Island’s zoo. These beautiful big cats join the zoo’s two white lions, Casper and Frosty, along with a collection of animals including monkeys, meerkats, raccoons and lemurs. There are free Walking Safaris throughout the day, where visitors can watch the animals being fed and learn all about their individual habits and habitats. Book an Animal Encounter (from £10) to get even closer to your favourite creature. Facilities include a café, outside seating areas where you can enjoy your own picnic, and also a children’s playground
DON’T MISS! Buy a Zookeeper For The Day experience and follow in the footsteps of the keepers. You can also adopt an animal, with the money used to build more enclosures so that the zoo can care for more animals in need.
A shell’s throw along Sandown seafront is a pterodactyl-shaped museum dedicated to the creatures who populated the Island 120 million years ago. Dinosaur Isle showcases skeletal reconstructions, full-size, fleshed models and two animatronic dinosaurs, plus more than 1,000 fossils — the Natural History Museum says the Island is the UK’s best place to find them. There’s also a shop and picnic area outside.
DON’T MISS! Book a field trip with one of the museum’s experts on a guided walk at a site of paleontological interest.
Occupying 55 acres of lush green pasture near Wroxall, the Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary is home to more than 100 donkeys and ponies, which have been abandoned, donated or rescued. Visitors can wander around the site, stroke any obliging donkeys and chat to their caring keepers. Admission is free, but the charity relies entirely on donations, adoptions and fundraising. Well-behaved dogs on leads are allowed — apparently the donkeys enjoy the canine company. As well as a gift shop and café, visitors will also find a bric-a-brac shop, which all raise funds.
DON’T MISS! Donkey Experiences are available, which include grooming sessions, walking a donkey around the stables, or taking a mini Shetland pony for a walk.
Located on the outskirts of Newport, Monkey Haven cares for meerkats, lemurs, snakes, kookaburras, tortoises, owls and a bearded dragon, along with 10 species of primate. The monkeys’ vast enclosures are equipped with climbing frames, greenery and toys to stimulate their occupants, and many of these sociable animals will call out, hoot and sing to attract the attention of visitors. The friendly staff clearly enjoy interacting with their charges and it’s easy to see why this superb sanctuary won a gold award from Visit England for best Small Visitor Attraction. Facilities include two playgrounds, an on-site cafe, shaded picnic areas and an ice-cream hut in the summer.
DON’T MISS! Download Monkey Haven’s free App for the latest schedule of talks and feeding times to set up alerts for your visit. There’s also the App’s Banana Trail treasure hunt.
Nearby Butterfly World is the perfect solution to a wet weather day, as you are instantly immersed into a sub-tropical biosphere, where hundreds of colourful butterflies and moths fly freely among lush vegetation. Children will be fascinated to learn about the life cycle of a butterfly, with caterpillars, cocoons and pupae visible at different times of the year. Afterwards, you can walk through to adjacent Fountain World to see pools of Koi Carp or head to The Hungry Caterpillar café for a bite to eat.
DON’T MISS! As well as attending Koi Carp keepers’ talks, there is also the opportunity to hand-feed the fish.
Be transported to the heart of the rainforest at Amazon World Zoo Park. An incredible 200 species are cared for at this zoo near Arreton, from South American natives such as flamingos, sloths and ocelots to animals from further afield, including African penguins and red pandas. Visitors can walk freely through some of the enclosures — as well as a recreated rainforest — to see animals and birds such as wallabies,lemurs and parrots at close quarters. The zoo also features displays highlighting the impact of deforestation in South America. There’s also a playground, café and gift shop.
DON’T MISS! Animal Experiences give the chanceto feed and sometimes groom a selected animal in their enclosure.
In the verdant countryside near Yarmouth, West Wight Alpacas is home to around 60 alpacas and 13 llamas. This notable stud farm also counts mini Mediterranean donkeys, black-nosed Kerry Hill sheep, pygmy goats, Oxford Sandy and Black pigs and rare-breed chickens among its residents. The farm’s shop, Yarn Barn, sells soft alpaca yarn, as well as hand-knitted alpaca hats and socks. Visit the The Llama Tree bistro to sample its tasty pizza and top Peruvian coffee.
DON’T MISS! Book an alpaca walk or llama trek with an experienced guide and learn all about these fascinating creatures.
Tapnell Farm Park near Freshwater is a family-friendly wonderland. The West Wight farmland is populated with alpacas, wallabies, meerkats, donkeys, goats and Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, as well as rabbits, guinea pigs and an eclectic selection of insects in the fascinating Bugs & Beasties zone. Two vast play barns are a godsend on rainy days, or wander through its specially commissioned “Art Herd” — ornamental life-size cows, each uniquely decorated by Island businesses. On-site restaurant The Cow has some of the best burgers, steaks and hand-cut chips on the island.
DON’T MISS! There are animal feeding, donkey grooming and rabbit petting sessions — and pick up a Young Explorers activity trail booklet for your child to fill in.
Based at the Isle of Wight Steam Railway in Havenstreet, Haven Falconry gives visitors the chance to meet over 50 magnificent birds of prey. The centre also cares for kestrels, hawks, eagles and several different species of owls. There are daily flying displays (weather dependent) and talks, where you can learn all about the birds’ characteristics and hunting habits. There’s also a pets corner, gift shop and picnic area.
DON’T MISS! A one-hour Bird of Prey Experience or Owl Encounter gives you the chance to handle some of these creatures. Or take a Hawk Walk through the countryside to see the birds in their natural habitat.