The Maharajah Jungle Trek is a self guided walking tour that brings you face to face with beautiful tigers, huge bats, and many other endangered species of wildlife. This tour is not your typical walk through the zoo though. This is Disney, so you know there is a rich story behind the Maharajah Jungle Trek. According to Disney Imagineers, you are about to meander through the ancient ruins of a kingdom in Anandapur. While the rajahs ruling over this kingdom go further back, the story of the Maharajah Jungle Trek begins in 1544 with King Bhima Disampati.
Sadly, this King was not a friend to the animals back in his reign. In fact, during his reign the king had the nearby forest enclosed so he and his royal hunting party could find their game with greater ease. Unfortunately for King Bhima Disampati, he met his untimely demise on one of his own hunting expeditions. Over time, a greater respect for the relationship between man and the animal kingdom developed. Rather than continue hunting, the locals chose to live in harmony with the beasts and birds now trapped inside the forest. They transformed this former hunting ground into a Royal Preserve and 1949 it became known as the Maharajah Jungle Trek.
Today, guests from all around the world are welcomed by the villagers of Anandapur to view their temple ruins and endangered animals. The real trek begins just outside Kali River Rapids where visitors can have fun watching the Gibbons swing around the temple ruins. While it may look like these furry guys with long arms are monkeying around, it would be more accurate to say “aping around.” Well, I guess “aping” isn’t really a phrase. What I’m trying to say is that Gibbons are a part of the ape family. They may look more like monkeys, but check out their little back sides and you will notice they, like all apes, don’t have tails. You will also see two colors of Gibbons, one with a very light golden brown shade of fur, and the other with a dark black coat. The light colored Gibbons are the females and the black are the males. While both colors are equally adorable, it is not their looks that Gibbons are known for. No, it is their vocal cords! They have a unique ability to expand their vocal sac, sometimes as large as their own head, which allows their sound to travel up to 2 miles! Yep, you might hear this group going ape all the way from the park’s entrance.
Once you have made friends with the Gibbons, it is time to move into the Jungle. Be sure and grab a Tour Guide as you begin your journey. These handy maps will help you know what to look for along the way. There are also some great hand drawn illustrations of the animals which will have matching sign posts near their respective habitats. This can be a fun little scavenger hunt for any little ones included in your expedition.
One of your first stops will have you turning your head upside down. Why is that? To say hello to the bats of course! Hanging out in this part of the jungle is an incredible collection of two species of bats. First, there is the cute and cuddly Rodrigues Fruit Bat. These tiny little guys look like they have had some highlights added to the top of their head. Their black bodies are contrasted by the golden tops, making them much less menacing in appearance than their nearby cousins, the Malayan Flying Fox bats. They are huge! If you have never seen one of these bats, just imagine Dracula when not in human form. These jet black beauties are among the biggest bats in the world. They can grow to have a wingspan of 6 feet! Think about that. That’s taller than most of the onlookers viewing these bats everyday. If that sounds a little too scary, don’t worry. There is actually a path that allows you to bypass the bats altogether. My wife is very familiar with this less intense portion of the trail. As for me, I highly recommend checking out the bats. Although they are mostly nocturnal, they can still be seen hanging upside down throughout the enclosure. The natural sunlight comes through the trees and brings these fascinating little creatures to life. You can stand here and watch them as long as you like, as well as read all about the two species in this section of the trek.
When you have your fill of bats you can keep trekking through the jungle. Soon you will see a sign warning that tigers are frequently encountered in the ruins up ahead. The upcoming tigers and their temple habitat is the real centerpiece of the Maharajah Jungle Trek. As I said before, this is not like visiting your local zoo. There are not concrete walls or tall fences separating you from the striped beauty of the Asian Tigers. Instead, there are temple ruins with large openings containing thick glass. You feel like you occupy the same space as the tigers, when in reality you are safely separated from these powerful cats. As you first pass under the crumbling arches, look for the mural of the man shooting his bow and arrow. This is a depiction of King Bhima Disampati. Across from him you will see 3 murals depicting his successors. These kings have swapped their weapons for signs of peace, further illustrating the story of the area’s transformation. As you keep moving you will notice there are several viewing spots along the temple ruins. If you don’t see any tigers in the first spot, don’t worry. Keep moving and you will find them. It may look like the jungle goes on for miles just beyond the hill, but in reality the tigers are confined to this smaller viewing area, meaning they are never far away. You can usually catch one or two up close to one of the viewing areas. One of my favorite spots is near the end of the tiger’s landing. Here there is a cozy little space for the tigers to curl up for a nice cat nap. If you are lucky, you can get a close look at the biggest cats in the jungle.
Once you have moved on from the tigers you will pass over a bridge. If you look up above you will see an array of colorful prayer flags hanging overhead. You will then enter a large open area just beyond the bridge. Here you will find several animals roaming the jungle together, including the world’s tallest flying bird! The Sarus Crane is hard to miss as it struts its six foot self around the jungle. The birds are striking in appearance, boasting a bright red head on a cool gray body. If you are lucky enough to see one open its wings, check out the ten foot wingspan. The elegant birds will be walking the same ground as the Blackbuck Antelope and Elds Deer. The Blackbuck is easily distinguished by its two twisted horns. It also has the distinction of being one of the fastest antelopes in the world, capable of reaching speeds of 50 mph! The Elds Deer is known for, um, well, being a deer a guess. Yep, these guys don’t have any particular bragging rights, other than being very rare. Oh, they do have some impressive antlers as well. This endangered species was first discovered in India in 1939. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is one of the few places you have the opportunity to see them.
After admiring the deer, your jungle trek will begin to wind down. Eventually, you will come to a temple. This was once the burial place of the ancient king of Anandapur. Today, it has been given a new life as host to the birds of the Maharaja Jungle Trek. Right before you enter the temple be sure and grab one of the bird sanctuary guides. It will help you locate and identify some of the 50 species of birds that call this temple home. Inside you will find a very peaceful atmosphere thanks to the sound of waterfalls and birds chirping. There are also some serene ponds throughout the temple, making this a great place to stop, relax, and just enjoy this quiet corner of the park. Unlike some aviaries, the birds are not behind nets or screens. Here inside the temple, they are free to fly all around you, making close encounters likely. If there are any bird enthusiasts or photographers in your group they may want to stay here for a while! Come to think of it, the entire Maharajah Jungle Trek is certain to be one of the highlights of your day when it comes to taking pictures.
When you leave this final temple you can begin to hear the sounds of the Chakrandi River in the background. You will exit the Maharajah Jungle Trek and be back at Kali River Rapids. Hopefully you have enjoyed the rich detail in the temple ruins and dense vegetation of the forest trail. Even without the bats, tigers, deer, birds, and more, this is a beautiful place to enjoy a nice peaceful walk. This area is one that makes Disney’s Animal Kingdom truly unique from the other three Disney parks. You can’t really think of the Animal Kingdom as just a theme park, nor is it a typical zoo. This collection of rides, shows, animals, and nature is a species in and of itself. When you plan your day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, it is important to keep this in mind so you don’t miss out on neat spots like the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Speaking of planning, when is a good time to experience the Maharajah Jungle Trek? Well, let’s talk about one of my favorite things, touring tips!
Let’s start with what NOT to do. The jungle trek is located in Asia in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, meaning it is all the way in the back of the park. This means most visitors will start their day going left towards Kilimanjaro Safaris, or right towards Dinoland U.S.A. Eventually, they will all end up in the middle at the back of the park in Asia about midday. With that being the case, the Maharajah Jungle Trek will be most crowded at the hottest point in the day. Now, the trek does have a lot of shade from the surrounding jungle. Still, add more people and it is difficult to get up close to see the animals. Also the warmer temps make it harder to appreciate the detail in the theming as you fight the crowds. Chances are you will wind up rushing through the Maharaja Jungle Trek and miss out on everything this experience has to offer.
Keep that in mind as I offer two touring strategies. First, make the long hike back to Asia at the beginning of the day. I have done this before and actually been the first one on the jungle trail. This allows you to explore the jungle at your own pace in the cool morning temperatures. The animals are usually all out and fairly active during this cooler period. With very few other guests on the trail, you can get some great pictures and get up close to the animals. This makes for a nice relaxing way to start your day. When you finish with the trek you will be right there for Kali River Rapids. The lines for this ride should still be very short that early in the day. If you haven’t already, be sure and listen to our podcast on Kali River Rapids where I give tips for when and how to tackle this ride. If you do opt for this early jungle tour followed by Kali River Rapids, I highly recommend you wear something fast drying or bring a change of clothes. After completing these two rides you can hop over to Expedition Everest, and hopefully use that Fastpass + I recommend you obtain! One other option would be to add Kilimanjaro Safaris to the beginning of this touring plan.
Now, if that first option doesn’t sound like your cup of Anandapur Tea, here is a second strategy. Tour the park in any order you like, but save this part of Asia for the end of your day. If you wait till the late afternoon the animals will again be more active. They know when the end of the day is coming because it means they will soon get to go backstage for some dinner! By this time the crowds will also be thinning out as the park will soon be closing. You can enjoy a nice afternoon stroll through the jungle and then hit Kali River Rapids as your last stop. If you get soaked, no big deal. You are on your way out and can either change before leaving the park, or back at your nearby resort if staying on property. Again, you can also add Kilimanjaro Safaris to this touring plan right before the Maharajah Jungle Trek. I will get into that more next week though as we wrap up our exploration of jungle themed rides at Walt Disney World.
Both of these touring strategies put the Maharajah Jungle Trek on your list in the cooler times of day. I like this strategy because it makes walking and viewing the animals more enjoyable. When things start to heat up you can take a break and get something to eat, or enjoy some indoor shows like Finding Nemo – The Musical, Festival of the Lion King, or It’s Tough to be a Bug!
For now, it is time to say goodbye to another great experience from Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Thank you so much for joining me today! It has been my pleasure to once again share my passion for Disney with you in the hopes it makes your next Disney vacation a little more magical. If you have any questions or comments about today’s ride please drop me a line. You can comment over at our Facebook page or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We would also really appreciate you sharing our podcast with anyone you know planning a Disney trip. You can follow us on Pinterest or Facebook. For now, have a great week and remember to make each day a ride worth taking!