7 Aquariums in Latin America you must visit

If size matters, then you might need to plan several trips before you decide which is the biggest aquarium in Latin America, since at least three make the claim. But that doesn’t mean that they’re all worth a visit

If size matters, then you might need to plan several trips before you decide which is the biggest aquarium in Latin America, since at least three make the claim. But that doesn’t mean that they’re all worth a visit — and with a brand-new aquarium due to open in Rio de Janeiro this year, there will be more opportunities than ever to get up close to a wide variety of marine life during your next Latin America vacation. Here are seven places to put on your itinerary.

Aquário Marinho do Rio de Janeiro (AquaRio), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil:
Rio is in the news this year for various reasons — including its role as the host of the Olympics. But Brazil‘s original jet-set vacation destination has several new attractions that aim to attract travelers long after the games are gone. One of them is the Aquário Marinho do Rio de Janeiro (Rio Marine Aquarium or AquaRio), a much-delayed new facility that is to open sometime this year. The management claims that this will be the largest aquarium in Latin America when it debuts in the Zona Portuária (Port Zone) in a former warehouse, with 22,000 square meters of space and five floors of exhibits and activities. Some 8,000 animals representing 350 species will be on view, including sharks, sea turtles, sting rays and fish. The largest tank (called O Recinto Oceânico e de Mergulho, or the Oceanic and Diving Enclosure) will hold 3.3 million liters of water, and visitors will be able to dive among the resident sharks and other species. If you don’t feel like diving, you’ll still be able to get pretty close, by walking through a six-ton aquatic tunnel made of bullet-proof acrylic (are they afraid the sharks may have guns?). Evening programs will allow kids to spend the night at the aquarium and sleep in the tunnel.

Aquário de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil:
Billed as the largest aquarium in Latin America (for now), the São Paulo aquarium is home to some 3,000 specimens representing 300 species. Brazilian forests are the focus in the first exhibit area, with a focus on fresh water and issues including river pollution and endangered species. In this 3,000-square-meter wing, you can view alligators, lizards, iguanas, snakes and the offspring of albino alligators, which the facility claims are the only ones on display in the world. The Oceanarium section has more than 1 million liters of water, with sharks and rays among the residents. Other displays feature the Tapajós, a baby manatee, as well as monkeys, toucans, otters and anteater. You can also take night tours to observe the nocturnal activities of sharks and thousands of other fish, as well as large snakes, giant bats and alligators. Every visitor gets a flashlight for the tour, which includes dinner served in the aquarium’s restaurant.

Acuario Inbursa, Mexico City, Mexico:
Also billed as the largest aquarium in Latin America, the Inbursa Aquarium in Mexico City is home to 5,000 animals from more than 230 different species. There are 48 exhibits with thousands of species distributed over five enormous aquariums and tanks. The animals that can be seen here include sharks, turtles, crocodiles, jellyfish, piranhas, penguins and corals. It consists of four underground floors, and the tour begins on the lowest level, where there is a sunken ship. On the second floor there are jellyfish, clown fish and other marine species. On the third floor there are freshwater species like the axolotl and reptiles, while the shopping area takes up the top floor. Tickets are free for kids under 3.

Mundo Marino, San Clemente del Tuyú, Argentina:
Attractions at this aquarium in Argentina include a penguin colony, an Encuentro Submarino that provides a panoramic underwater view of the dolphin habitat, a multimedia nature presentation and a hippo habitat (they also still do an orca show and, unlike SeaWorld, have not announced any plans to discontinue it).

Acuario de Veracruz (Veracruz Aquarium), Veracruz, Mexico:
Founded in the 1980s but not open until 1992, this aquarium has a total of eight rooms, and the tour begins from a room that replicates the ecosystem of the Los Tuxtlas jungle, where you can admire toucans, orchids, turtles and even boa constrictors. Its Fresh water Gallery exhibits 13 species of Asian, African, South American and Mexican aquatic animals. Other water tanks holds 30 species of fish, including tambaquias, arowanas, pacus, red-tailed catfish, jackknife fish and African cichlids. The reef fish tank houses hundreds of multi-colored species from the reefs of Veracruz, the Red Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Don’t miss out on the moray eels, the seahorses and the clown fish, and watch how divers feed the sharks as they swim above your head.

Acuario y Museo del Mar del Rodadero (Rodadero Aquarium and Museum of the Sea), Santa Marta, Colombia:
Founded in 1965 in northern Colombia, this aquarium has 13 tanks, more than 100 species and 900 animals, including fish, reptiles and birds. The museum section exhibits dissected specimens and nautical equipment, as well as information about the pre-Columbian Tairona culture and its connection to the sea.

Acuario Nacional de la República Dominicana (National Aquarium of the Dominican Republic), Dominican Republic:
This government-run aquarium, founded in 1990, offers guided and non-guided tours that offer views of some 90 fish tanks and seven larger tanks, with a total of about 500,000 gallons of water. About 250 species are on exhibit here, including moray eels, manta rays, sharks, sea horses and starfish. The submarine tunnel provides an especially fun view.

LAtin Flyer |by Mark Chesnut

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