A Brief Guide To Pairi Daiza, Belgium

Animal park Pairi Daiza has a habit of drawing you in with its adorable giant pandas, only to discover whole beautiful continents lie in wait | © Sam.Romilly/Flickr
Animal park Pairi Daiza has a habit of drawing you in with its adorable giant pandas, only to discover whole beautiful continents lie in wait | © Sam.Romilly/Flickr
Often called Belgium‘s most beloved zoo, Pairi Daiza in the Hainaut region boasts more than just a cute giant panda family. The privately owned animal park with botanical gardens has turned itself into a miniature rendition of the world by dividing up its 55 hectares into eight sub-worlds, each with its own fauna and flora.

Kids dreaming of becoming world travelers, animal-loving adults or really just about anyone with a passion for biology can get a taste of the enormous diversity our globe has to offer at Pairi Daiza. Standing on the site of the old Cistercian Cambron Abbey in the peaceful Walloon area of Brugelette, the former bird sanctuary is now home to over 5,000 animals. Yet even with the familiar sights of penguins, elephants and giraffes, Pairi Daiza – meaning ‘closed garden’ in Persian – is far from your conventional zoo.

Standing on the unique giraffe platform, you can look one of these elegant longnecks straight in the eye as you're feeding them Sam.Romilly/Flickr

The designers of the unique project have much more in mind, such as showing visitors the essential connection that exists between animals and other elements of nature, including cultures cultivated by man. Let’s take the Kingdom of Ganesha, which opened in 2009. Here Pairi Daiza’s four lady elephants like to take their baths in the Holy Pool while the duo of white Bengal tigers prefers to lounge about in Tiger Temple, a structure built in honor of Cambodia. Its Indonesian garden – the largest in Europe – even houses rice fields and Balinese temples so authentic that local Hindu communities actually use them as places of worship.

The park's Large Balinese Temple in front was built with the greatest precision in honor of Ganesha © Stephane Mignon/Flickr

Pairi Daiza, being a former bird park, has gradually expanded and La Porte du Ciel – or Heaven’s Gate – is the place where feathered creatures have retained their rule. With the ruins of Cambron Abbey rising up in the middle of this world, all sorts of birds can be seen soaring over the Rose Garden and the Monks Cemetery, the beautifully landscaped final resting place of over 700 men of the cloth. You’ll hear brightly colored parrots and macaws chatter away, and find red ibis and flamboyant flamingo in Europe’s largest cathedral aviary.

Exotic bird such as the flamingo find a Belgian home in Pairi Daiza's grand aviary © Stephane Mignon/Flickr

And while the opening of the brand-new world La Terre du Froid – the Land of the Cold – where the fauna and flora of chillier areas such as the great American plains, Siberia, Lapland and Canada will receive attention – is hotly anticipated, the biggest draw for at least a while will remain Pairi Daiza’s resident dream couple, Hao Hao and Xing Hui. These giant pandas, on a 15-year loan from Japan, recently became the proud parents to Baby P., a cub whose cuteness has already coaxed an abundance of ooh’s and aah’s from the crowd on the few occasions the public was able to see him. Soon the black-and-white bundle of joy will be venturing outside of his mum’s cave to munch on the bamboo trees of the family’s very own forest.

Xing Hui munching on bamboo in Pairi Daiza, one of the 17 zoos in the world to house these endangered animals Nigel Swales/Flickr

Add to all of this an always-smiling, water-splashing bunch of hippos, the world’s largest Japanese and Chinese gardens, elevated walkways that provide panoramic views of the park’s different continents, and the nocturnes that highlight cultural customs from all around the globe, and you’ve got yourself a paradise well worth exploring.