Galápagos Opens at the Houston Zoo

galapagos houston zoo

See sharks, sea lions, penguins, and more!

Visit the Galápagos Islands right here in Houston! The Houston Zoo opened its newest exhibit, Galápagos Islands, on April 7, just in time to close out the Zoo’s 100th anniversary. Explore this first-of-its-kind exhibit and become immersed in the unique landscapes and ocean habitats of the famous island chain. See giant tortoises, sea lions, sharks, penguins, and more as you make the journey through the exhibit.

The Galápagos Islands are located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador.

The islands are home to unique and wonderful creatures, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth and are some of the world’s most endangered species. The islands are on the equator and are surrounded by different ocean currents — some warm, some cold. It’s this mix of currents that makes the islands’ variety of species so unique. Most of the animals in the Galápagos Islands exhibit at Houston Zoo are closely related species and serve as ambassadors for their Galápagos cousins.


Journey through the Galápagos Islands

When you enter Houston Zoo, you immediately see the rocky cliffs of the Sea Lion Coast area. You can watch California sea lions sun themselves as waves crash on the rocks. The cliffs surrounding the sea cave were created to look as if they were formed by lava — just like the Galápagos Islands. This Sea Lion Coast is one of several viewing areas to see sea lions.

As you enter the exhibit you can see a meadow, where giant Galápagos tortoises lumber about, grazing on grasses, or wallowing in muddy puddles. You can get up-close to these gentle giants by booking a Galápagos tortoise encounter. During the experience, you’ll have special access into the tortoise exhibit, learning all about these special animals while feeding them their favorite treats. After viewing the tortoise habitat from the outdoor trail, move inside for another view of the tortoise herd and to see blue iguanas sunning themselves on the ledges of their rocky habitat. Blue iguanas in the Caribbean and the four species of iguanas found in the Galápagos share similar evolutionary origins and threats to their survival.

After the tortoises and Blue iguanas, enter a sea cave, designed to look like the caves in the Galápagos that are created by waves. From here you get another view of the sea lions as they swim through their new home. Colorful Sally Lightfoot crabs are visible in a nearby opening in the rocks and scurry about in the splashing waves. See how many you can spot hiding in the cracks of the lava rock.

Emerge from the path into a 40-foot-long acrylic tunnel fully submerged under the water, surrounded by sea lions swimming on both sides and overhead. The playful sea lions seem to dance around the tunnel and even sit on top overhead!

After you leave the sea lion tunnel you can walk right up to a 40-foot floor to ceiling aquarium that looks as if it extends deep into the open ocean. The One Ocean Aquarium is home to many marine animals, including blacktip reef sharks, bonnethead sharks, fish, cownose rays, and many more. It’s here where you can also see fan-favorite, Bobbie the sea turtle! After being rescued Bobbie was determined to be non-releasable and now makes the Zoo her home.

The Houston Zoo has been saving sea turtles in the wild through rescue, rehabilitation, and release for over 30 years, but this is the first time that sea-turtles are highlighted in a large multi-species habitat at the Zoo.

As you leave the One Ocean Aquarium, you’ll see an opening in the lava tunnel wall containing an aquarium featuring giant sea horses, colorful sea stars and sea cucumbers. Look carefully and you can see creatures hiding in the branches. Coming up from the lava tunnel, playful Humboldt penguins come into view, waddling along the rocks, and swimming through the water—these penguins are the first ever for Houston Zoo. Galápagos penguins are the most endangered penguin species, this is why the Zoo is home to Humboldt penguins to represent their endangered relatives. Humboldt penguins are from the coastal areas of Chile and Peru where temperatures can reach 100°F and are an ideal fit for Houston’s climate, although their exhibit at the Zoo is climate controlled.

Saving Marine Animals in the Wild

By visiting the new Galápagos Islands at the Houston Zoo, you are helping save marine animals in the wild! Houston Zoo partners with Galápagos and Texas conservation programs to protect the wild counterparts of the species in the Galápagos exhibit.

The Zoo has provided training and support for Ecology Project International Galápagos, a program that empowers Galapagueño teenagers to be the next generation of Galápagos conservation leaders and the Giant Tortoise Movement Ecology Program and Marine conservation programs in Argentina protecting sea turtles, sea lions, penguins, and other marine wildlife. The Zoo also helps save wildlife right here in Texas! They support sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation on the Texas coast by working with partners to reduce threats to the wild counterparts of the animals in the Galápagos exhibit.

Entry to the Galápagos Islands exhibit is included with general Houston Zoo admission and is free for members.

To buy tickets, or become a member, visit houstonzoo.org.

10 Exhibition Fun Facts

  1. The Houston Zoo is the first zoo in the world to open an exhibit based on the Galápagos Islands.
  2. More than 90% of the exhibit is indoors and air-conditioned
  3. perfect for the summer!
  4. 765,000+ gallons water are used to fill the aquatic spaces in the exhibit.
  5. Galápagos tortoises can live up to 150 years.
  6. Watch sea lions swim overhead from a 40’ long underwater viewing tunnel.
  7. The sea horses in the exhibit can grow up to a foot tall.
  8. One Ocean aquarium holds 290,000 gallons of water
  9. enough to fill around 7,000 bathtubs!
  10. Over 1,275 different types of plants are used to represent the landscapes of the Galápagos.

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