Did you know there’s a rainforest in downtown Dallas? That’s right a full on rainforest with big trees, monkeys, a big waterfall, tropical birds, colorful reptiles and a sloth all tucked nicely in the shadows of tall glass skyscrapers. It’s The Dallas World Aquarium. On Saturday, I had another adventure at this extreme slice of the tropics with a few friends. It is definitely worth a visit.
This is one of my most favorite places in Dallas. I’ve seen it grow from a small aquarium with about a dozen large fish displays and penguins when I visited in 6th grade to a zoological wonderland with two rainforests, hundreds of different animals, outdoor habitats and one of those cool shark tunnels. I’ve seen it in each stage as a new feature or habitat was added and have loved seeing this private institution grow giving visitors a grander experience while increasing conservation efforts.
The Dallas World Aquarium is located in the West End District of downtown Dallas. It is only a couple of minutes from the Arts District, the American Airlines Center, the convention center, and a couple of blocks from the West End DART Rail stop. Winding through tropical plants and outdoor animal exhibits you find yourself at the ticket desk. After seeing admission prices, around $20 for adults, you may have doubts but just take a look around and you’ll quickly decide to give it a shot, especially with a tree kangaroo and penguins there to greet you.
Orinoco – Secrets of the River
From this point, head up the stairs to the canopy of the Orinoco River rainforest. Just take a look around and you’ll not think twice about your choice to visit. From here you’re greeted by an anteater and can overlook the lagoon with river manatees and Monkey Island. The cascading waterfall and free-flying birds make downtown disappear and transport you to South America.
This rainforest is one of two at the aquarium. It features several animals including the manatees, giant river otters, vampire bats, a ginormous Orinoco crocodile, and my friend’s favorite a sloth. These creatures can be explored from many angles by following the paths that lead you from the canopy to the forest floor to a cave and then under the water where you can come face to face with the gentle water mammals.
The next exhibits are the original aquarium displays exhibiting sea life from different bodies of water all over the world. Some of the more exotic include the largest collection of leafy sea dragons and some giant clams. It is very interesting to see how underwater environments and wildlife varies around the world. This area also has one of DWA’s two tunnels that give a 180-degree, under-water experience to visitors. When I first visited the aquarium many years ago, their group of penguins also lived in this space. Now those penguins are outside in their South Africa and Madagascar exhibit.
South Africa and Madagascar
This outside exhibit is home to the aquarium’s penguins. No matter how much these flightless birds stink, they are always a favorite of visitors. The penguins are outside all year but the other outdoor exhibits are only seasonal so be sure to visit during the summer months to see rock hyraxes and the animals of Madagascar including chameleons.
Whereas the Orinoco exhibit is South America, this exhibit is all about the land of the Mayans featuring wildlife and scenery of Central America and the Yucatan. Many of the animals on display have significant meaning to the ancient Mayan culture. To enter this rainforest you pass through exhibits of reptiles and amphibians, burrowing owls and rabbits to lead to the Cenote, which represents the many underground pools found in the region.
The tunnel that takes you through the Cenote allows for a 180-degree, immersive experience with sharks, rays and sea turtles swimming all around and overhead. Unlike many other similar aquarium tunnels with no real ceiling or anything to look at beyond the fish, this tunnel lets you look right up into the Mayan jungle with greenery reaching over the waters and an occasional flamingo head popping into view.
The path then leads you through the Serpent’s Den with more reptiles and amphibians to watch before winding up to the jungle floor where the flock of flamingos and the jaguar can be observed. From this vantage point you can look down on the Cenote and see a grand picture of sharks below the jungle with birds flying overhead and other animals all around. Other animals in Mundo Maya include bats, wild turkeys, hummingbirds, and agoutis. Throughout the weekend a Mayan performing group gives performances in this exhibit. You can hear it from the Orinoco as well.
My favorite area of The Dallas World Aquarium is the Orinoco exhibit. I basically saw it built and rooted for the aquarium as it attempted to get river dolphins but instead got the manatees. It is a dense winding path through the rainforest with a great feeling of immersion. I could spend and have spent hours there. The Mundo Maya isn’t as dense or all-encompassing but is still pretty cool.
The Dallas World Aquarium is a must-see attraction. Not just once but go back again and again. It is constantly changing just like the real rainforest. You never know if you’ll see a new baby monkey or sloth or if you get to see the otters or jaguar playing around in their habitats. It is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Now, as they say on their website, visit to “Experience Nature’s Adventure.”
To get directions to The Dallas World Aquarium go to my Adventure Patches Google Map. For more pictures, visit my Facebook page. I did not receive any compensation for writing this review except for the enjoyment of the adventure, however, I would love working there if the opportunity presented itself.