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My 6am alarm hadn’t yet sounded, though I woke quite abruptly. I could have sworn I was woken by the intense sound of a lion roar. Though that was surely a ridiculous concept. I wasn’t in Africa – I was in a luxury four poster canopy bed in Australia’s national capitol. It must have been a vivid dream.

Though as I began to doze off again I suddenly had the feeling we were being watched. And as I pulled back the curtains I was stunned by what I saw. We were in fact being watched. There was a Giraffe peering in from outside our room. Review of Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra

Jamala Wildlife Lodge. There was a Giraffe peering in from outside our room.

If you’ve ever dreamed of an intimate experience with African animals, Australia has the lodge for you. While there are a number of zoos that offer overnight sleepovers, Jamala Wildlife Lodge takes the concept to a completely different level. Where can I sleep at the zoo in Australia

Built into Canberra’s National Zoo & Aquarium, guests wake up to lions at their bedside, and tigers besides their bath. Giraffes allow you to feed them from the balcony of your room, you can sit and watch cheetahs from your lounge, or look directly into a 5 metre deep ocean aquarium which extends across the wall of your room. You’re not dreaming if you’re watching TV and a black tipped reef shark swims past. Best zoo sleepovers in Australia

With 6 Giraffe Tree Houses, 7 rooms in the main lodge, and a series of luxury bungalows that are built backing onto various animal enclosures throughout the zoo, the accommodation has been built to blend into the animals habitat, putting you within centimeters of some of the most dangerous and endangered species on earth. The only thing separating your bed from the lion’s den is a pane of very strong floor to ceiling glass. Luxury zoo accommodation

When you book a room at Jamala Wildlife Lodge you’re booking a room with a zoo. You’re entering your room to find a bear in there too!

The Jamala Experience

A stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge is an all inclusive experience, and guests are transported to the deepest Africa as soon as they arrive.

Reception is located in the main house of the lodge, and afternoon tea is served as guests start arriving around 1.30pm. Shown into the living room of the lodge where a magnificent shark tank extends from one end of the room to the other, and with Colobus monkeys watching from the other side, those who can tear themselves away from the wildlife enclosures will be equally as impressed with the authenticity of the space. Fine carvings, artworks and artefacts come together to create an authentic African theme, every piece having been shipped directly from South Africa. Luxury zoo sleepover accommodation

For those who arrive early, there is plenty to do before other guests arrive. An outdoor entertaining area is only meters from the edge of Lake Burley Griffin and offers magnificent views across the lake to Black Mountain. It is here too that you can enjoy watching the lemurs and Colobus monkeys jump around.

As we awaited the arrival of other guests, our guides Fiona and Tanya emerged wearing two beautiful snakes around their necks, allowing us to introduce ourselves and touch their slithery skin before we departed on a two hour group tour of the zoo. Sleep with African animals

The afternoon safari which departs at 2.20pm is optional, and the passion from the tour guides shines through. A tour of the aquarium and zoo, we learned some amazing facts about different species from around the world before we were delivered to our room around 4pm.

Pro Tip: For those who aren’t fond of tours with a group, you can choose to arrive a little later and explore the zoo at your own pace until your guide escorts you to your rooms.

A fairly standard zoo tour, the real adventure and excitement kicked in after the zoo closed it’s doors and it was time for the public to leave. Listening to the zoo come alive as the school groups departed was incredible, and we were left with exclusive after hours access to each of the enclosures, to wander the zoo as we pleased. We were completely alone inside the zoo. That is, bar a bear or two!!

The following morning you also have the run of the zoo, and the animals are much more active at this time, as they tend to sleep during the hottest part of the day. Where can I sleep over at the zoo sleep inside a zoo

There is a morning group tour after breakfast (also optional) which includes an exclusive behind the scenes visit to the enclosure of white rhinos – a section which is not yet publicly accessible as part of the zoo. We were fortunate enough to get up close and personal with these magnificent chunky unicorns, allowed to pet them, while learning about the importance of Rhino conservation and the fight against illegal trafficking.

Accommodation

The accommodation options at Jamala are obviously unique. This is a once in a lifetime accommodation experience which makes guests feel like they are immersed in nature, and to allows for an intimate interaction with the animals.

In fact, getting as close to the animals as possible, this is probably the best interaction you’ll get anywhere else in the world. Guests have been known to lie on the floor to be face to face to lions and tigers and bears; a fully immersive experience which has been designed to establish a connection that makes people want to do something for the animals once they get home.

There are three choices of accommodation when booking to stay at Jamala – 7 rooms in the Ushaka Lodge, 6 Giraffe Tree Houses, and 5 Jungle Bungalows, each option with their own unique wildlife experience.

The Giraffe Treehouses are set amongst lush surroundings overlooking a private Giraffe enclosure, and at the end of our afternoon tour we had the opportunity to feed the resident Giraffe, Hummer, from our balcony.

Our Treehouse room was stunning. Modern luxury amenities came together with traditional African themed design, and the room featured a king bed, bath tub, shower with stunning Giraffe mosaic on the tiled wall, bath robes, optional climate control, fold out sofa bed, complimentary wireless internet, music system with MP3 input, television with complimentary Foxtel and premium amenities like products by Molten Brown. Jamala Wildlife Lodge review

The furnishings and artwork were incredible, with everything once again having been flown from South Africa for authenticity of the interior design. The accommodation was at the high end of luxury and comfort.

Rooms in uShaka Lodge form part of the main building which backs onto the aquarium, and offers guests the choice of varying room sizes and designs. The reef room has a large viewing window which looks straight into the aquarium, and the Lemur room looks directly into the lemur enclosure where you can watch this fascinating troop play! Best wildlife lodges in Australia

There are then room options which back into a terrace and tropical garden instead of an animal enclosure, though these guests are then taken into the zoo in the morning for a private meeting with the cheetahs or hyenas.

Jungle Bungalows

The Jungle Bungalows are the unique luxurious individual suites which adjoin the animal enclosures and put you within centimeters of a pride of lions, cheetahs, tiger, brown bears or a Malayan sun bear! The lodge notes that guests in these rooms may experience some disruption during the night as the animals move around their enclosures, or if the lions decide to start roaring loudly at 2am which they have been known to do. Where are the best wildlife lodges in the world.

Though lying in bed listening to a lion roar is one of the most unique and thrilling experiences not even those who travel to Africa have the opportunity to do.

The most important aspect of this experience is that the animals are never made to do anything that they don’t want to do (though bribery is of course ok!). The main mission of the zoo is conservation, and owner Richard Tindale and his wife Maureen continue to rescue animals from circuses, poachers and the vicious wildlife trade. Best zoo sleepovers in the world

It is for this reason that when guests book the jungle bungalows, they have no idea which animal might have on the other side. It could be the two cheetahs, the tiger, a pride of lions or perhaps a bear. The biggest focus is on respecting the animals, and the addition of Jamala Wildlife Lodge is a major step to bolster the breeding and conservation programs that are run by the zoo.

Dining

Dining at Jamala is a community event, guests joining each other at long tables in a communal eating area just like a traditional African lodge. And while the three course meal with the chef’s selection of local and African inspired dishes is superb, the real highlight of the dinner are the white lions Jake and Mishka who are free to roam – the dinner enclosure is just one of their dens, though each night they generally chose to walk in and watch on as guests eat.

With dinner and drinks as part of an all inclusive package, Moet & Chandon flows freely as you watch hyenas and snow leopards enjoy their own food. Lisa was the dinner attendant who made sure my glass was never empty!

The evening starts with pre-dinner drinks on the outdoor terrace, and then dinner is a two hour experience of mouthwatering treats and delicious African themed food. African themed restaurants in Australia.

What You Pay For

An experience at Jamala is an expensive one, though well worth the splurge if this intimate wildlife setting sounds like an experience for you. Packages start from $899 per night and the rate includes your overnight accommodation, all food and dinner beverages, as well as exclusive tours. No other lodge in the world offers the same kind of immersive experience; the opportunity to have lunch with a giraffe, to pet a white rhino, or to sleep next to the lion enclosure while they roar in their den. Eat with African animals

The itinerary for each stay is highly social. Based off the format of a traditional African game lodge, this is an experience where decent amounts of time are spent in a group with other guests. Dinner and breakfast foster a community atmosphere, served at one set time and eaten with other guests, and tours of the zoo are completed in two groups. Though you do have some time of your own to explore too. Sleepover at Australia zoo

The passion of the staff truly shines through, and the service here is first class. Staff during our stay were friendly, enthusiastic and flexible, always willing to go out of their way to ensure a wonderful time. Your bags are left at reception upon arrival and are already in your rooms upon returning from your zoo tour. Should you wish to have your bags collected upon departure so that you don’t have to walk with them through the zoo, the staff will do this too. They were all incredibly knowledgeable, always wore a smile, and appeared genuinely pleased to be attending to you. We have never felt more welcomed than we were at Jamala Lodge. Review of Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra.

The zoo itself was never set up to be a profit making enterprise and only receives outside funding from the private owners. As such, funds from Jamala Lodge are funnelled straight back into the breeding programs run by the zoo. The aim is that Jamala will contribute funds that will allow the zoo to continue to grow its contribution to helping protect the future of the animal kingdom.

So if looking for an immersive wildlife experience, a luxury take on a zoo sleepover, and a way to financially contribute to breeding and animal conservation, Jamala Wildlife Lodge is for you. It’s a little slice of Africa in Canberra, Australia. When you book here you’re booking a room with a zoo!

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Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging since 2007, with the main aim of inspiring others to embark on their own worldwide adventure. Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

Follow their journey on Facebook, TwitterYouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.

We were guests of Jamala Wildlife Lodge. All opinions are our own. 

    28 Comments

  1. LOVE the opening line of this post, haha! Waking up to a lion roaring?! Totally pulled me in. This whole experience sounds incredible and loaded with fun. That “Jungle Bungalow” is awesome!!

    • Thanks Dariece! The Jungle Bungalows are definitely one of the biggest draws – I did enjoy being in the Giraffe Treehouses though lol and I didn’t feel like I was missing out not having the room with the lion den – you could hear them fairly well from every corner of the zoo!!

  2. Awesome review Megan, sounds like a great experience.

    • Thanks Trevor! It was a fabulous experience – if you find yourself in Canberra anytime soon I highly recommend splurging and staying a night. Though try to get a Bungalow room – they’re a little more unique than the rooms in the main lodge :)

  3. What a great concept – and what a way to get people who wouldn’t normally visit a zoo up close and personal with animals. Sounds like a rich experience – and a lot of fun.

    • They’ve really struck gold with the idea – it’s such a unique concept and as you said, a fabulous way to provide an immersive experience with the animals while still providing a responsible experience; something which is quite a difficult balance to get right these days.

  4. How cool! I love the bear laying just outside the bathroom. I would love to spend at least one night there.

    • Something a bit different – watching a bear watching you as you take a bath :D I hope you can organize a trip to Canberra soon!

  5. Sounds like an awesome spot and your accompanying photos are great! Thanks for sharing your experience at Jamala.

    • Really is Nathalie. Glad you enjoyed the photographs :)

  6. What a cool concept – love that you basically had a slumber party with giraffes. I love that they seerve African food as well – was it more East African or South African?

    • Exactly!! I’m honestly not sure whether the food was more Eastern or Southern Africa – though the whole lodge theme is based around the owner’s experience in South Africa, so I would guess South :)

  7. This sounds like such an incredible experience! And it’s so great to see that by staying, you are helping to fund programmes for the zoo.

    • It was beyond anything we have experienced before – such an intimate experience with the animals, and you know that by staying there you’re contributing to breeding programs and that the animals are well treated and safe.

      Thanks for reading John :)

  8. What an amazing experice! I’de definitely like to do a sleepover at a zoo one day! Lovely pics as well!

    • Hope you can visit us in Canberra soon then!

  9. Ah, a jungle bungalow! I’d love to stay in one. I love animals and waking up with a giraffe next to my bed would be quite all right (but not with the lion!). This must have been quite an experience for you, Meg. I imagine for young children this must be even more exciting. You must be still a child at heart (like me!).

    • This experience definitely has a way of bringing out the inner child in you, in terms of the excitement you feel that is!! It’s just such a surreal experience, and you can’t even get this close to the animals in Africa, so it’s definitely worth what you pay.

      The giraffe treehouses were amazing – I could hear the lions from my room across the zoo lol so I can’t even imagine how loud it would have been to be sleeping next to their den!

  10. We did a similar experience at Western Plains zoo a few years ago. Yes, it was expensive, but with great meals, and all the extra tours we got included we felt it was good value. We arrived in our accommodation in the dark, so it was only when we got up in the morning that we realised we were overlooking an African savannah!

    These sorts of activities are definitely worth splurging for!

    • Wow I imagine that would have been an amazing surprise to wake up to! How spectacular :) I’ll have to check into Western Plains Zoo too – sounds like a great experience. And I agree – absolutely worth splurging for :)

  11. Sounds like you had an amazing experience, personally I would rather not see African animals in Australia and would wait for the opportunity to see them in Africa..but it’s good to know some of the money is going towards conservation. I am not big fans of zoos or aquarium unless they have a strong ethos towards conservation, which I hope this one does.

    • It’s a fantastic opportunity for those who aren’t able to make it to Africa, and you actually manage to get closer to the animals than you normally would on safari there.

      I’m right there with you on only supporting zoos with a strong ethos towards conservation – that’s why we chose the sleepover here :)

  12. Wow !
    Amazing pictures.I think this the best for childrens :D

    • Children and adults alike :D The experience has a way of bringing out the inner child in you!

  13. Wow! How cool is that, and right in the middle of Canberra too! I never knew this was an option. It sounds like a fantastic night’s stay and like you said, really immersive. I can’t say I’ve ever had a balcony that comes complete with a giraffe to feed!

    • A little slice of Africa in Canberra :D Definitely not something I think most people expect, especially since the concept is so unique.

      It really was a fantastic night’s stay – can highly recommend the Giraffe Treehouses – sharing a balcony with Hummer was great!

  14. WOW! Sounds like a fantastic stay! Thanks for the detailed experiences – will have to check it out one day with the family!

    • It is indeed – truly unique! So glad you enjoyed the post Cathy – I hope you have the opportunity to visit with your family at some stage :)

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