We visited the limited-time annual Butterfly Jungle exhibit at the San Diego Safari Park! Here's what to expect, how to optimize your visit, and what else to see while you're at the park.
Butterfly Jungle is Seasonal
Every spring, starting around March, butterflies fill the San Diego area right in line with the timing of Southern California's super bloom. To capitalize on the sudden surge of interest and help educate the public, the San Diego Safari Park opens the specially-created Butterfly Jungle exhibit.
What is Butterfly Jungle?
Butterfly Jungle is a widely-anticipated greenhouse setup with thousands of butterflies of all shapes and sizes. At the Safari Park, Butterfly Jungle is setup in the area of the park usually called the Hidden Jungle. This lush, rainforest setting is the perfect backdrop for your butterfly exploration.
How do you Visit?
Butterfly Jungle is included with the price of admission to San Diego Safari Park – although you CAN pay an extra fee to skip the line.
Priority Viewing Tickets
These “Priority Viewing Tickets” are available for purchase right before the Butterly Jungle entrance at Nairobi Village. There are a ton of San Diego Safari Park staff around to help guide you. The Priority Viewing Tickets don't give you any sort of special seating within Butterfly Jungle – they merely get you in faster. Whether or not the Priority Viewing Tickets are worth purchasing will completely depend on the crowds when you visit. We went on opening day of Butterfly Jungle and it was exceptionally busy, with wait time for the exhibit topping two and a half hours.
There is also a special two hour Behind-the-Scenes Safari where guides let participants skip the line and give an up-close tour of the Butterfly Jungle and share insider knowledge about fruit bats and lorikeets. Those special tours must be booked in advance on the San Diego Safari Park website.
Also on the website, you'll find special breakfast and dinner events that allow intimate access to Butterly Jungle, up-close viewings and unique access to butterfly experts. Those are on specific dates, with reservations and sales being handled online.
Worth noting is that there are NO strollers allowed in Butterfly Jungle (unless your stroller is used as a wheelchair). You will be asked to park your stroller before entering the Butterfly Jungle line, so it's a good idea to bring a carrier or baby wrap if you have a squirmy little one, toddlers or preschoolers who tend to dart away.
How to Maximize your Visit
There are some tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your visit to Butterfly Jungle and San Diego Safari Park.
What to Wear
Wearing bright colors will help the butterflies notice and be drawn to you! Our son clipped a yellow emoji accessory to his shirt, and the butterflies seemed to like him a lot. Colors that they didn't seem as fond of include blue, red and green. People wearing pink or salmon-colored shirts were being swarmed the day we went!
Little cups of watermelon bits are sold right outside the Butterfly Jungle entrance. If you buy Priority Viewing Tickets, it's easy to miss the booth that sells these, so make sure to ask the park employees where to get your watermelon! Butterflies love watermelon and are more likely to land on you if you are holding a cup. If you don't want to purchase watermelon bits, a smart idea is to make a bee-line to the Butterfly Jungle exit after you get in, and see if people leaving would be willing to give you their used cups. The butterflies land on the watermelon pieces but don't actually consume them in any visibly noticeable way, so it's smart to conserve by asking for used cups. Once inside the Butterfly Jungle greenhouse, you're free to walk from the entry area to the exit area and back as long as you don't step out of the doors, so you won't be missing anything by taking this approach.
Be sure to take a high-quality camera with a macro-capable lens to get up-close photos of the butterflies. The “Live Focus” and “Pro” features on our phone cameras were helpful as well. You should definitely take a buddy, so they can capture pictures of you when the butterflies land! Remember: it's important to hold very, very still so that the butterflies aren't scared off.
Get Involved Beyond your Butterfly Jungle Visit
There are special search-and-find pamphlets handed out by zoo staff to help you identify different types of butterflies. This is a great way to keep kids busy in line and keep them engaged while they're in the Butterfly Jungle. You can even access the butterfly I.D. guide on the San Diego Safari Park website ahead of time to get the whole family excited.
There's also a butterfly jungle Instagram contest happening this season. Share your butterfly jungle photos on Instagram with hashtag #ButterflyJungle for your chance to win a flightline safari for four people!
San Diego Safari Park and the San Diego Zoo
One thing worth nothing is that San Diego Safari Park is run by the San Diego Zoo, but it is in a whole separate location. Technically called the “San Diego Zoo Safari Park,” the Safari Park is in north county San Diego, in a town called Escondido. This is about 40 minutes north of the San Diego Zoo's main Balboa Park location.
San Diego Safari Park Favorites
As you exit the Butterfly Jungle, you'll go through a series of several enclosed spaces just as you did when you enter. This is so no butterflies escape! Park employees will be carefully looking you over and even swabbing in and around bags with what looks like a big duster to shake out any sneaky butterflies.
Don't miss the amazing birds hanging out in the first exit space. These are one of our favorite creatures to visit at the San Diego Safari Park, and the Hidden Jungle is their usual hangout.
Also among our San Diego Safari Park favorites are the playground area (near Nairobi Village where the food is, just a short walk from Butterfly Jungle), the Cheetah Run, Balloon Safari (we like to watch this giant balloon go up and down), Savanna Cool Zone when it's hot out and the infamous must-do Africa Tram. It's a bit of a hike on the other side of the park to get to the Tiger Trail, but that's well worth the experience as well.
Have you ever been to a Butterfly Jungle?