The main draw of the Galapagos Islands is its incredibly diverse and colourful inhabitants. Due to the geographical location of the islands, their natural bounties and few predators, a variety of jaw-dropping species have been able to develop and thrive here over the centuries, and many are unique to the Galapagos. Not only that, but they have little fear of humans, meaning you are rewarded with prime vantage points and ideal photo opportunities (as long as you stay within the strict conservation and ecological rules of this UNESCO world heritage site).
Here are our top ten tips for wildlife you should watch out for during your visit:
A legend of the Galapagos, the islands are named after their tortoises (the Spanish word for tortoise is ‘galapago’). These gentle giants can reach over five feet in length and over 500 lbs in weight, and can live up to 150 years. They sleep about 16 hours a day and can survive up to a year without eating or drinking. There are about 11 types of tortoise on the islands today.
These finches, which comprise about 15 species with varying sizes and features, were collected by Darwin on his famous visit to the islands, and are largely unique to the Galapagos.
Also unique to the Galapagos Islands, the Galapagos penguin is the only (wild) penguin that lives north of the Equator, and is the second smallest species of penguin in the world (as well as one of the rarest). They mate for life, and lay their eggs in caves and crevices to avoid the sunlight.
Galapagos sea lions have distinctive long pointy noses that make them stand out from other species. Males are competitive and can create harems of up to 25 females during mating season, which they fiercely guard from other males.
The largest birds in the Galapagos, waved albatrosses are spectacular endurance flyers and spend most of their time at sea, but come ashore on these islands to breed. Their elaborate courtship ritual involves circling, bowing and playfighting with their distinctive yellow beaks.
The kaleidoscopically-coloured marine iguana (the male varies in colour with the seasons) is one of the most exotic and flamboyant residents of the Galapagos. This particular species of iguana can only be found on these islands, and unique to this species is their ability to live and forage in the sea- they can dive over 30 ft into the water. Darwin wasn’t too impressed though, calling them ‘disgusting, clumsy lizards.’
As their name suggests, these birds are known for their distinctive bright blue feet, which males display by strutting in front of females during mating season. ‘Booby’ comes from the Spanish word ‘Bobo’ which means ‘stupid’ or ‘fool’- like many seabirds, they are clumsy on land. They are also regarded as foolish for their apparent fearlessness of humans- though this is a common trait of wildlife in the Galapagos.
These spectacular birds have a bright red throat pouch that males puff out to attract females, along with vibrating their wings and sending out a mating call. They are impressive flyers, flying both day and night (the only other bird to do this is the swift), but they are not able to land on water. They are known to harass other seabirds and steal their food.
Another species spotted by Darwin during his visit, these unique crabs are nimble and light-footed, hence the name- which also comes from the Sally Lightfoot of sailor lore, an also-nimble Caribbean dancer who wore brightly-coloured dresses. Young Sally Lightfoot crabs are dark and blend in well with the volcanic Galapagos Islands, but adult crabs can be a variety of colours, such as a distinctive red that’s almost luminescent.
These powerful and majestic birds soar above the islands, screeching and swooping down on their prey- their varied diet includes young marine iguanas, sea turtles and tortoises. Their incredible vision means they are likely to spot you long before you spot them.