San Antonio This Texas city charms you with its wonderful mix of historical heritage and modern-day must-haves such as malls and adventure parks
San Antonio, Texas, is a city revelling in its rich historical heritage, distinctly defined by the presence of The Alamo, a war fortress dating back to 1836. Now, a popularly visited museum in the heart of downtown, it has intriguing relics from the Battle of The Alamo — the Texas War of Independence. Stepping out of The Alamo into the busy roads of downtown San Antonio is quite some time travel! While The Alamo has its charm, nothing beats the experience of the San Antonio River Walk.
The high point of a stroll downtown, flanked by splendidly picturesque European buildings, is the Rivercenter mall, which houses a portion of the San Antonio River. Boat tours of downtown begin here, and we cruise by keenly listening to the captain explain the history of the numerous heritage buildings by the riverside. We wave to people sitting at restaurants and bars on the banks. No matter how many times I take this ride, it is fascinating to me. The grand finale is sitting by the water and sipping wine, as we listen to live music performed by a band from Puerto Rico.
An adventure park, Sea World has a gigantic aquarium filled with penguins, dolphins, whales and sea lions. There are whale and sea lion shows on the hour, which always run full-house. The whale show is filled with an endless stream of whale pranks, the pinnacle being the star whale ‘Shamu' squirting water on the audience on command from trainers. The sea lion show is theatrical, with a script and story — a little circus drama where sea otters are cast as character artistes! Both the shows were brilliant, worth every minute we spent in the sweltering heat.
My most memorable ride at Sea World is the Steel Eel, a gargantuan green eel roller-coaster. As I approached it, I heard people screaming. Already terrified, we still ventured. At the height of 150 feet, with a serpentine course, the drop to the ground was the ultimate experience of weightlessness in the pit of my stomach. I howled through the ride, was glad to get off and yet felt a great sense of accomplishment and conquest. Will I do it again? Most likely not, actually no! But I strongly recommend it for a once-in-a-lifetime roller-coaster experience.
I enjoyed the relatively more calming experience of heights on the elevator ride of the 750-ft tall Tower of the Americas. Although the wait is aggravating because of the long queue, atop the tower and out on the observation deck, we had the finest view of the entire city — definitely worth the wait!
A mini-African Safari in our own car at the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch was packed with giraffes, antelopes, elks, over-friendly zebras, and audacious ostriches! We could feed the animals by throwing out the food handed to us at the entrance but were specifically warned not to feed them by hand. Like the other cars ahead, we broke that rule too, and tried feeding zebras by hand. And paid the price for it — to my shock, a zebra poked its head into our car right through the passenger window, where I was seated.
The window was quickly pulled up, and I realised it was not pleasant having a zebra's large white teeth so close to my face! We headed on only to be stopped by an ostrich that pecked the windshield of our car for the longest time. Finally it tired and moved on to the next car. The wildlife ranch positively had some unforgettable take-home encounters.
The guided tour of the Natural Bridge Caverns is a marvel with an unbelievable abundance of stalagmites and stalactites. Over a km walk, the tour lasts about an hour. It is dark and extremely humid inside, rocky, steep and slippery with hand rails for support. There were halts at some of the prettiest spots where we witnessed stunning rock formations that took my breath away.
San Antonio has it all — roller-coaster rides hurtling us through the skies, caverns underground, sea animals' antics, a safari, and the river walk for a glass of wine and dinner to treat all those adrenalin highs, finally winding us down!
Location: San Antonio is located in Texas, the U.S., about 300 km from Houston, and about 118 km from Austin
Best time to visit: Spring and summer months — from March through September to take advantage of water activities and some electrifying roller-coaster rides. Temperatures range from a pleasant 25 to 30 degree Celsius in March, climbing to about 35 or 40 in summer.
Things to do: Sea World — roller coasters, whale and sea lion shows, aquarium; Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch — mini African safari, tour Natural Bridge Caverns; the River Walk boat cruise, elevator ride in the Tower of the Americas, downtown shopping, and visit The Alamo.