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A dream destination for any wildlife enthusiast, the Galapagos Islands are magical. Dedicated a UNESCO area of Outstanding Universal Value, the islands have a dynamic abundance of endemic animals. Best of all, the Galapagos wildlife does not have an inherent fear of humans, so you can get incredibly close. This makes it very easy to get great photographs.
We went to the Galapagos in the shoulder season of October. The weather was perfect, and allowed us relatively comfortable access to the land and water. Plus, it was the ideal time to see some of the mating and nesting animals and birds.
Galapagos Wildlife: Land Animals
The tortoise is a symbol of the Galapagos Islands. In the early days of exploration, Spanish explorers named the islands from the word galápago, meaning tortoise.
Making their way back from near extinction, 10 of the original 15 subspecies survive today. Largely with the help of conservation efforts. Visit a research and breading center to see several subspecies in various life stages.
- Charles Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz Island
Centro de Crianza Tortugas Gigantes Arnaldo Tupiza Chamaidan on Isabela Island
We were really lucky to catch this big fella walking out of the bushes. He found us along the trail to the Wall of Tears on Isabela Island.
Galapagos Land Iguana
One of the most interesting examples of Galapagos wildlife evolution are the iguanas. There are two types of iguana. Marine and land, each with multiple species variations.
Endemic to six islands in the Galapagos, the Land Iguana varies in appearance from island to island. Typically with bright yellow skin, they are mostly herbivores, feeding off prickly pears. The fellow pictured below ate one in front of us, cactus needles and all.
Santa Fe Land Iguana
There are two other species of Land Iguana in the Galapagos Islands. The Pink Land Iguana, found only on the slopes of Wolf Volcano. The other, Santa Fe Land Iguana, only found on Santa Fe Island.
Though the Santa Fe Land Iguana closely resembles the iguanas found on other Galapagos islands, their snout is longer and more tapered. Their dorsal spines are more pronounced and they are a paler yellow.
It’s also worth noting, there is a rare marine-land hybrid iguana only found on South Plaza Island. Consider yourself very lucky if you see one.
Found throughout most of the Galapagos, these tiny reptiles sun themselves on the side of most trails. You’ll notice incredible variations in their colors and patterns.
Galapagos Wildlife: Marine Animals
Definitely one of the most interesting creatures on the Galapagos, the Marine Iguana is the only lizard in the world who forages for food in the sea. This unique specimen can not only swim, but they dive underwater to feed on algae. You’ll find them in various sizes. From just slightly bigger than a common lizard, to this big guy below. He was about the size of a pit bull.
One of the easiest animals to see in the Galapagos are the Sea Lions. They are literally everywhere. You’ll see them sleeping on the beaches, but also on benches and walkways. Even at the ferry terminal.
Though considered the shoulder season in the Galapagos, one of the best reasons to visit in September or October are for the sea lion pups. Head out on one of the uninhabited island tours to get a full dose of cute.
Sally Lightfoot Crab
Probably because they have more natural predators than most, the Sally Lightfoot Crabs were the only skittish wildlife we found in the Galapagos. Beautifully colored, these crabs decorate the shoreline of most of the islands.
Though not our favorite photos from the trip, we wanted to point out that you don’t have to be in the water to see some of the underwater life.
After dark, go to the ferry terminal at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. Peer into the lit up water. You’ll find at least a dozen or more sharks feasting on the smorgasbord of fish attracted to the lights.
On the other side of Santa Cruz is Caleta Tortuga Negra (Black Turtle Cove). These mangroves serve as a refuge and nursery to a variety of Galapagos wildlife. In addition to the baby hammerheads, we saw sea turtles, sting rays, and so many birds. You must take a panga, large dinghy boat, tour to access this area.
Galapagos Wildlife: Birds
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