- 2601 Central Ave. NW at the intersection of Central and New York Avenues, just east of the Central Avenue bridge over the Rio Grande.
- 311 locally or (505) 768-2000
- 9:00am-5:00pm daily, except January 1, Thanksgiving Day and December 25. Ticket booths close one half-hour before closing and no one will be admitted after this time.
- Adults $7 for both attractions, kids $3, and children under 3 get in free. For an extra $5 you can also get admission to the Albuquerque Zoo and a train ride.
- Stroller & wheelchair friendly, but a few paths are cinder and it’s a little harder than normal to push.
I began our visit to the Rio Grande Botanic Gardens & Albuquerque Aquarium thinking I would love the gardens but my 2 1/2 year old would be bored silly. I thought we wouldn’t stay very long. Boy, was I wrong. He ended up loving it so much we went back again 2 days later.
The first thing you see when you enter the garden is a giant castle.
This is the start of the adventure–the Childrens Fantasy Garden. I’d say we spent 75% of our time in this area. It’s a wonderful labyrinthine world that begins when you walk under the curling tail of a dragon with smoke puffing out of his nostrils and over a moat. Inside the castle walls are fruit and flowering trees and a tower with a sand floor, perfect for sitting and digging in.
In the next section of the fantasy garden you seem to have been magically shrunk down to the size of a bug. Everything is huge–the vegetables and tools in the garden, the ants and bees, the pinecones. It’s truly as if you’ve gone through the looking glass. There’s also a giant pumpkin to climb inside with a spongy gym floor perfect for tumbling.
Back outside the castle grounds you move on to a model train village that winds though the trees. The train wasn’t running when we were there but we had just as much fun looking at all the little houses and farms in the village. Then it was on to a big duck pond.
The second major highlight of the garden is the butterfly enclosure.
It’s just beautiful and amazing. Your not supposed to touch the butterflies but that doesn’t mean they can’t touch you! I recommend wearing bright clothing if you want to attract them. A woman with a silk flower in her hair got the most attention, but with my red hair, I had a little halo of them as well. We used the charts on the wall to identify a few of them and my son had a great time yelling out the few varieties he learned when he spotted them. There’s also a display where you can watch butterflies hatch out of their chrysalis. It’s amazing.
Though the fantasy garden and butterfly enclosure were easily the highlights we also enjoyed the rose garden, the herb garden (both great for little kids who like to sniff), the koi pond in the Japanese garden, and farm with its chickens, apple orchard and towering sunflowers.
If junk food isn’t your bag, skip the snack stand and bring your own lunch. There’s a wonderful open lawn in the middle of the garden with plenty of shade for a picnic and enough room for a great game of chase.
Now I’ve spent all this time talking about the Botanic Gardens and you’re probably wondering about the Aquarium. I have to say, I thought it was kind of lame. It’s small. It does have a couple of large tanks, one with sharks. It also has a very cool jelly fish display. But for the most part, we liked it mainly as an opportunity to get out of the heat at the end of our visit to the garden. Kids very into fish will still like it, but I think I’ve been ruined by the amazing Aquariums I’ve been to in Dallas & New York.
If you live in this area and have small children, it’s well worth the cost to invest in a yearly pass just for the garden and the zoo (post on that to come…). Can you tell how much I loved this place?