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April 21, 2015

Safari adventures that won't hurt your budget

Unique wildlife-viewing experiences much closer to home

Travel Adventures
04202015_PhillyZoo_AP Matt Rourke/AP

Four-year-old African lion mother Tajiri licks one of her cubs during their debut at the Philadelphia Zoo.

For animal lovers, seeing lions, cheetahs, elephants and giraffes roam free during an African safari sounds like a dream. 

But let's face it: Africa is far and not exactly cheap to get to. 

Hey, if you have the money, go for it. But before you decide to cut into your life savings to purchase a plane ticket and safari guide, consider some of these unique wildlife-viewing experiences that are much closer to home (and much easier on your wallet).

1. Philadelphia Zoo - Zoo360

This first one is practically in your backyard. The Philadelphia Zoo's Zoo360 plan is a campus-wide system of trails that allows animals more freedom to roam around and above zoo grounds. 

The Treetop Trail, Great Ape Trail, KidZooU and Big Cat Crossing currently link existing animal habitats, allowing those with similar habitat requirements to utilize each other’s spaces. The 300-foot Gorilla Treeway project is set to open this May. Last month, the Philadelphia Art Commission unanimously approved the concept for the zoo’s African Plains project, which will connect the African Plains exhibits.

Admission is $20 for adults and $18 for children ages 2 to 11.

2. Six Flags Great Adventure - Safari Off-Road Adventure

The Safari Off-Road Adventure at Six Flags in Jackson, New Jersey, is a step closer to an authentic African safari. Guests climb aboard the safari vehicle and are transported through the 350-acre preserve. This interactive adventure boasts 1,200 animals from six continents, including elephants, rhinos, tigers, giraffes and lions.

The Safari Off-Road Adventure is included with general theme park admission ($67.99). Discounted tickets are available for purchase onlineJackson is about an hour-and-a-half drive from Philadelphia.

3. San Diego Zoo Safari Park

If you're willing to leave the East Coast, the San Diego Zoo's Safari Park is worth the trip.

This 1,800-acre zoo in Escondido offers visitors numerous ways to experience the expansive wildlife. Guests can take a ride on the cart or caravan safaris, where they'll see herds of wild animals in a natural setting. There is also a cheetah safari, overnight camping and the Flightline Safari, a zip lining experience that will send you soaring as high as 130 feet above the ground with animals in the fields below.

If you want to personalize your adventure, the zoo offers the Ultimate Safari, which allows visitors to customize their visit with their own personal tour guide. While the customized tour starts at $599, it is still significantly cheaper than flying to Africa.

Prices vary for the other exhibits and activities.

Keep in mind, the vast wildlife right here in the U.S. extends beyond the African creatures mentioned above. America's national parks are teeming with impressive animals like bears, bison, moose and even alligators and armadillos.

Don't forget your binoculars!