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The Suburbanite
  • Tropical paradise awaits at the Cleveland Rainforest

  • A quick fix for the winter blues is available about an hour’s drive from here. Inside the Rainforest at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, it’s a humid 80 degrees year-round, the greenery is lush and colorful, and the animal life is exotic and lively.

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  • We in Ohio tend to daydream about warm tropical places during the gray, bleak, frigid, depressing and seemingly endless winter.
    A quick fix is available about an hour’s drive from here. Inside the Rainforest at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, it’s a humid 80 degrees year-round, the greenery is lush and colorful, and the animal life is exotic and lively.
    The two-story immersive environment engages all of the senses from the moment of entry, where a rushing 25-foot waterfall surrounded by foliage welcomes vistors. During a leisurely Rainforest visit, the drab chill outside is soon forgotten.
    Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Rainforest is a notably affordable family destination, with winter admission rates (which include the entire zoo) just $8.25 for ages 12 and older, and $5.25 for ages 2 through 11, through the end of March. Parking is free.
    During a recent visit, it was an added treat to watch preschoolers checking out the tiny, inquisitive faces of golden lion tamarins, with their two 10-day-old babies, and Francois langur monkeys, who frolic in a two-story playground of branches, vines and rope.
    “It’s always some little kid’s first day seeing an animal they’ve only seen in pictures or on TV,” said  Joe Yachanin, zoo marketing specialist. “They get so excited they take off running.”
    Kids of all ages can enjoy climbing up the spiral staircase inside a replica of a kapok tree to reach the rainforest’s second floor, which contains a detailed replica of a researcher’s jungle hut and expansive tropical environments where birds fly freely.
    The more you stand and look around, the more is revealed through the foliage. From one spot along the path, this visitor spied a scarlet ibis lunching on leaves near a waterfall, two capybaras with their baby, an anteater, a spoonbill, and ring teal ducks and a large tortoise swimming.
    Other animal highlights included a fishing cat, resembling a small leopard, pacing its area; Bali mynahs, a critically endangered bird, singing brightly; porcupines and a crocodile in lazy repose; and orangutans who have no qualms about staring directly at visitors. In the ground-level lower forest, landscaped glass cases offer closeup views of tarantulas, snakes, chameleons, toads and tortoises. A fascinating stop is a vast case containing many fruit bats can be studied safely behind windows, eating, flying, and hanging upside-down, just inches away.
    The opening of the Rainforest in November 1992 “truly made the zoo a year-round attraction,” Yachanin said. “Before that, attendance had been hovering around 880,000 a year. With the Rainforest, we’ve had an average of 1.2 million visitors through the gate every year.”
    The Rainforest has a well-stocked gift shop and an eatery offering soups, a salad bar, deli sandwiches, pizza and a daily food special. Visitors also may bring their own meals. Dressing in removable layers is recommended due to the heat.
    Page 2 of 2 - Visitors to the adjacent zoo this time of year are transported by heated shuttle buses from attraction to attraction, both indoors (Primate, Cat & Aquatics area, Wolf Wilderness Lodge,  African Elephant Crossing viewing area, koala bears) and outdoors (lions, bears, reindeer, tigers).