We’re fond of visiting aquariums when we go off travelling (you can see this for yourself on the Aquarium tag) and seeing that La Rochelle had one as we were dropped off in the city in the morning we knew we’d be hitting its underwater zoo at some point in our day there.
Aquarium La Rochelle is a hard-to-miss building on the quayside to the south of the tourist information centre and west of the city’s train station. When we arrived there was a queue of perhaps twenty people outside the building in a section that could clearly cope with a queue of a few hundred so we didn’t think that was too bad. However, it’s worth noting that the queue continues inside the building, doubling back alongside the queue outside so that twenty was probably closer to fifty.
There were signs outside advising people to buy their tickets online and I did consider doing that to skip the queue but ultimately opted not to; checking their site they recommend allowing two hours from purchase before using the ticket so it’s a good thing I didn’t try that.
It’s also worth noting that there appeared to be a couple of ticket machines inside the building too but nobody in the queue was using them so, again, I didn’t look them over. If you’re a general visitor to the city then you might want to look at either of those ways to beat the queue but if you’re a cruise visitor (and we were, this being the second stop on our week-long Sapphire Princess cruise) then you can present your boarding card at the desk for a small discount of two euros each. Weigh up the saving in money over the saving in time and make a decision there.
Tickets purchased, you enter a room simulating an elevator descent. After some rumblings and clankings a second door opens and you pass through a circular tunnel with cascading water around its edges.
From here on you’re in the main aquarium and you can expect the usual array of tanks filled with fishes and other forms of sealife plus plenty of information boards. La Rochelle aquarium is large, spread over two floors, and with very clean glass on the vast majority of tanks (commendable indeed with the number of children present during our visit) allowing for good, clear views of the aquatic life and plenty of chances for decent photo-taking. The ambient light – sensibly, like most aquariums – is very low, though, so you’ll need to ramp that ISO setting up on your camera.
I’m always pleased to see jellies in an aquarium. It’s long been a wish to have a wall of the peaceful, fluorescing creatures next to where I work so that any time I need a relaxation break I can just turn and look at them.
In addition to the marine-oriented nature of the majority of the exhibits in the aquarium there was also a tropical zone. We’ve been in some places like this before where the ambient heat and humidity plays havoc with your camera lens but I’m happy to report this wasn’t the case in La Rochelle. There wasn’t a huge amount to see in this area for me, although if you are a keen botanist you’re bound to find things of interest, but my wife has a thing for turtles, terrapins, and tortoises and she, at least, was pleased to see a fair few of the favoured creatures around.
There wasn’t anything unique about the variety of sealife on display in La Rochelle Aquarium but if you’re fond of this sort of diversion when you’re out and about then it’s a very good example and a recommended visit. The layout was particularly good, guiding you through the rooms with their tanks well, and even though the place was a little more child-heavy than I typically like (being a curmudgeon) it never felt crowded or too noisy.
By far the most impressive places were the full-wall tank-viewing rooms looking into impressively large volumes of water. In these rooms were rows of seating, much of which was filled when we were there by people quietly contemplating the view and immersing themselves in the serenity such an experience seems to exude. These were the places to see the sharks and turtles, both of which I’m always happy to see at an aquarium and both of which I’m sure are big draws for most people too.