Located just off Al Kurnaysh Road on Jeddah’s north corniche, Fakieh Aquarium is the first marine exhibition of its kind in Saudi Arabia, and it’s no coincidence that it finds itself within earshot of the city’s lapping Red Sea.
The sprawling tunnels and vast tanks that make up the aquarium house over 200 species and around 85 percent of them are native to Jeddah’s undisturbed coral reefs. It makes this colorful window onto the Red Sea the next best way to experience the region’s vibrant underwater ecosystem without needing to squeeze into scuba gear.
Accompanied by a meditative soundtrack and enclosed in cavern walls, a trip through the aquarium brings you face-to-face with some of the 800 Red Sea oddities that don’t exist anywhere else on the planet.
Throughout the tour, detailed information is provided in both English and Arabic. It means visitors can find out how the Red Sea got its name (hint: it’s to do with blooms of algae), and learn about fish like the Napoleon wrasse, which are all born female before some transform into males on maturity. There’s also the territorial sohal surgeonfish, endemic to the Red Sea and named for its scalpel-sharp fin.
For more peculiarities, seek out the upside-down jellyfish known as the Cassiopea, or the thin, long garden eels with their playful tendency to bob up and down in the sand as visitors approach.
Less amusing is the fish you’ll be relieved to see in a tank rather than in the open sea; a stern-looking stonefish deemed the most venomous fish in the world, possessing enough venom to kill a fully-grown man in under five minutes.
The knowledgeable staff are also proud to inform visitors that some of the endangered marine life – including giant turtles – have been rescued following injury or illness. Those that are able to fully recover are then released back into their natural habitat.
Naturally, the sharks and penguins are its big attraction, and a stroll through the immersive acrylic tunnel casts visitors amid deep blue waters, surrounded by bulky guitarfish, zebra sharks, giant groupers and sand tiger sharks - the only shark known to gulp and store air in its stomach to maintain buoyancy.
There’s also marine life on show from the Arabian Gulf, Cape Verde, the Maldives, Japan and Australia (including a bewitching group of leafy sea dragons), along with four Humboldt penguins from Peru, who add plenty of charm to a tour that closes with a tank of undulating jellyfish lit up in shades of purple, green and blue.
The aquarium opens at 10am on weekdays, 1.30pm on Fridays and 1pm on Saturdays, staying open until 11pm. Tickets cost SAR55 (US$14.66) with free entry for those under two years old.
Prayer rooms are located on the second floor, along with a gift store and a cafe serving fast food. And if you can’t wait to share that snap of a grinning shark staring down your lens, free Wi-Fi is available.
If a tour of the aquarium has built up an appetite, there’s no shortage of options nearby. Blue Ocean Restaurant is a 10-minute walk away and allows visitors to enjoy expansive views of the Red Sea.
For those in search of more diversion, the Fakieh Aquarium’s neighbors serve up a family-friendly entertainment bundle, including the Fakieh Planetarium, the lively Al Shallal Theme Park and the popular Jeddah Beach.
For the latest information on aquarium opening times, head to fakiehaquarium.com.