The Parque de las Leyendas is Lima's traditional zoo. But it's much more than that. It is located amidst a big part of Lima's most extensive ancient city and is one of the most important pre-Hispanic complexes at the central Peruvian coast called the Archaeological Complex of Maranga. The park successfully combines ecology, archaeology, education and relaxation.
While wandering around the extensive area, you can't miss the pyramidal structures that served different ingenious civilizations as temples and burial grounds. In the Parque de las Leyendas are some very interesting museums like the Museo Ernst. W. Middendorf, displaying artifacts and mummies found in the different religious and ceremonial center's, the Museo Petroleo, offering an educational exhibition about the process of exploration, exploitation and the transforming of crude oil and its derivatives and finally the Museo Celestino Kalinosky with an amazing butterfly exhibition.
The zoo itself is focusing on the Peruvian flora and fauna. It's divided into the three principle climatic regions of Peru: costa, sierra and selva (coast, highlands and jungle). Animals from all over Peru can be observed here. The coastal region is represented by pelicans, cormorants, sea lions, penguins and turtles; the highlands by llamas, vicunas, guanacos, pumas, condors and owls; the jungle by monkeys, jaguars, snakes, toucans, parrots, coatis and crocodiles.
But you find "international animals" as well. In 2010 the big cats were freed from their tiny cages and moved to more species-appropriate big enclosure, the "Felinario" which resembles more their natural habitat. Here you find lions, pumas, tigers and jaguars sleeping in the shade, running around or playing. Other non Peruvian animals include giraffes, hippos, zebras, buffalo, bears and ostriches.
There's also a "baby zoo" for young animals and a petting zoo for small visitors.
The Parque de las Leyendas has been ill-reputed for many years, but improved the conditions for the animals immensely. While unfortunately some animals are still penned in small cages, others have already species appropriate enclosures or shelters. And the park is constantly working on enhancing the conditions by recreating step by step the natural habitat of these animals as far this is possible in a zoo.
Over all the Parque de las Leyendas is an ideal place to spend a day watching animals, learning more about the Peruvian history and ancient cultures or just relaxing and enjoying the a boat ride on the artificial lagoon, the cactus garden, picnic area, playground, horse riding, the unique flora and of course the food in one of the restaurants. It is an amazing natural treasure within the chaotic 8 million metropolis and a great chance to learn about Peru's rich biodiversity and Lima's ancient past.
To really enjoy the park you should avoid going there on weekends and public holidays as it might be too crowded!