If you’ve ever been to a world-class zoo – the Bronx Zoo comes to mind – you’ll have seen an indoor tropical rainforest before. Visitors walk on prescribed paths and bridges, while the birds and other animals fly or roam where they choose within their building-sized cages.
The Green Planet Dubai is one such indoor tropical rainforest, boasting the world’s “largest indoor man-made and life-sustaining tree” (As I’ve mentioned before, Dubai does love its superlatives!). According to its website, over 3000 species are represented within this “bio-dome.”
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The building itself is worth describing just for its one-of-a-kind design. A large cube punctuated with round windows, it partially reveals an internal glass cylinder extending from the ground to the roof.
I realized, as I walked around its perimeter, that the design is particularly clever in Dubai’s climate. In a place where it can reach 50 degrees Celsius in the summer, a glass-walled building, even if it houses plants accustomed to heat, would get extra hot, burning the plants as the sunlight is magnified by the glass.
Instead, the sunlight passes through the holes in the outer building first, which means that the shafts of direct light would never stay in one place for too long. While I didn’t watch the building over the course of the day, it looks to me like the exposed sections of the internal cylinder probably only get direct sunlight early or late in the day.
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Exploring an indoor tropical rainforest
Entering at ground level, we arrived in a fish tank. When I say “in”, what I mean was that the sides of the room are ringed with a large tank extending from the floor to well above our heads, which means that the fish inside could swim around us. Large fake tree roots twining around a small pool in the center introduced the rainforest theme, leading us – I was there with a friend – to look upwards. Far above we could see the edges of walkways, with greenery of all sorts draped over them. Birds flashed by from time to time, and at the very top, the central glass ceiling let in the sunlight.
Our next step was an elevator to the fourth floor, so that we could walk back down from there.
Emerging from the elevator, we were level with the very top of the artificial tree that forms the center column of the cylinder. A perch hosted a couple of colorful birds, and plenty of employees stood ready to tell about the birds, animals and insects we spotted. Next to the open perch a cage held a tarantula – or maybe more. A sloth, not in a cage, slept tucked into the greenery, undisturbed when we snapped pictures.
From level four, a ramp circles the cylinder counter-clockwise downwards. At each level, signs explain some of the species to look for. I have to admit, though, that we spent most of our time spotting birds and trying to photograph them before they took off again.
The artificial tree at the center, as far as we could tell, is made of concrete, with clusters of large fake leaves at the ends of the branches. That sounds worse than it is, though. Here and there on the thick trunk and along the branches we could see various epiphytes, orchids, ferns and other plants. The overall effect is of a tree that is very much alive.
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On the outside edge of the cylinder, in the sections without windows to the outside, cages paralleled the ramp, providing a home to several different species of monkeys. They were entertaining, of course, as monkeys always are, but not always easy to see because of the dappled lighting.
Here and there along the ramp, employees held talks about a variety of creatures. One woman carried a snake and was ready to tell all sorts of interesting facts about it. A young man pulled a very large millipede from a box and, like the snake, we were allowed to touch it. The same goes for the biggest cockroach I had ever seen, but I had no desire to touch that.
Other tanks held a variety of insects and lizards … or were they amphibians? I’m not sure.
In a few places, small bridges linked the outer ramp to the central tree trunk, allowing some different perspectives.
The birds were the highlights, though. Tropical birds tend to have bright colors, so we’d see flashes as they passed. I enjoyed the challenge of photographing them, and some more sedentary birds – parrots, I think – allowed people to get quite close for pictures.
While the idea is to mimic a tropical forest, I should note that the choices of species to include are not authentic to any particular tropical forest. Green Planet includes species from a lot of different places in a relatively small space.
Our visit to the Green Planet
We spent, I would guess, about 45 minutes there. Depending on how many demonstrations you watch or signs you read, you could easily spend a couple of hours. I presume that with kids in tow, it would likely be a quicker stop, unless they are budding biologists.
Additional experiences are also available: for a price, of course. We didn’t spend the extra money for either of them, so I can’t say if they’re worth it.
- For an extra AED149 (about $40 or €34), you can take part in a 20-30 minute “sloth encounter.” This involves learning about the sloth and its place in the rainforest ecosystem, and being able to pose with one.
- For the same price, AED149, you can participate in a “sugar glider encounter.” A sugar glider is a small marsupial that can “fly” in the same way a flying squirrel flies. Like the sloth encounter, this takes 20-30 minutes and includes an opportunity to pose with a sugar glider.
While we enjoyed our visit, I don’t think I’d recommend going out of your way to see Green Planet. On the other hand, if you happen to be in that part of Dubai, why not visit? It won’t take much time. If you need to keep kids entertained, but don’t want to spend all day, this would work. The kids might even learn something in the process.
On a side note, across the street at the City Walk shopping center you can find several very pleasant-looking restaurants. We ate at one called Enab Beirut where the food was excellent, but what I especially liked was the drink. I ordered a “lemon mint,” a fresh lemonade with mint ground into it that is a very common non-alcoholic drink for a hot day in Dubai.
The waiter paused and gave me a very serious look. “No, you need a lemon pomegranate,” he stated.
Amused, I agreed.
He was right: the lemon pomegranate was fantastic and refreshing, even more so than the lemon mint would have been.
The Green Planet: City Walk, Jumeirah, Dubai.
Open Sunday-Wednesday 10:00-19:00 and Thursday-Saturday 10:00-20:00.
Admission: AED99 (about $27 or €23) for adults, AED74 (about $20 or €17) for children. Ordering tickets through this link will get you in quickly, without waiting in line.
Parking is free and the building is completely wheelchair accessible, except for the interior bridges to the trunk.
Have you ever been to an indoor tropical rainforest like Green Planet Dubai? Which one, and would you recommend it? Please comment below!
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