Discover the Galapagos
Waddling penguins. Sunning sea lions. Dinosaur-esque lizards.
Look around. There are no fences, cages, or zookeepers in sight. You’re not in an artificial compound; you’re face-to-face with nature at its best. You’re at the Galapagos Islands.
Situated 600 miles off mainland Ecuador’s Pacific coast, the Galapagos Islands are one of the true wonders of the world. Discovered in 1535, used by pirates as a hideout in the early 1800s, annexed by Ecuador in 1832, and visited by Charles Darwin in 1835, these islands have a past that is almost as interesting as its present.
Today, there are two ways to visit the islands: a Galapagos cruise, during which you’ll live on a boat and sail to various islands with a set itinerary, or on a Galapagos island hopping tour, during which you’ll stay in a hotel on one of the main islands and take flexible day trips to nearby attractions.
Either way, you’re sure to see fascinating, super-sized wildlife while visiting the Galapagos Islands. Because the islands were not inhabited by humans until the 1800s, and the islands without permanent settlement soon received protection status, the native animals of the Galapagos still have little fear of people. This means you can crawl along next to a tortoise, creep up on an iguana, and swim with sea lions, things you can’t do anywhere else in the wild.
Some of our favorite Galapagos animals:
Galapagos Tortoise. The Galapagos tortoise is the largest tortoise in the world; the biggest one ever recorded weighed 550 pounds! There are several subspecies of Galapagos tortoises found on the island. Sadly, some have become endangered or extinct. One of the island’s most famous residents is Lonesome George, the last known living Pinta Island tortoise. George is over 100 years old and scientists have been trying unsuccessfully for nearly 20 years to help him reproduce. You can visit him at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island.
Blue-Footed Boobie. Perhaps the silliest animal found in the Galapagos, the Blue-footed Boobie is an aptly named seabird that is clumsy on land and swift in the water. Half of all wild breeding pairs live in the Galapagos Islands.
Photo copyright Tom Giebel.
Marine Iguana. This fierce looking iguana is actually a harmless herbivore, existing on an unexciting diet of seaweed and algae. Scientists believe marine iguanas evolved from land iguanas millions of years ago after washing up on shore from mainland Ecuador. The color, size, and shape of the marine iguanas in the Galapagos vary depending on the island.
Galapagos Sea Lion. The friendly yet noisy Galapagos Sea Lion is noticeably smaller than sea lions found elsewhere in the world. This cute critter is not only unafraid of humans, it’s actively interested. They live exclusively in large colonies on several of the Galapagos Islands.
Galapagos Penguin. The only penguin found north of the equator, this endangered species lives solely in the Galapagos Islands, most commonly on Fernandina and Isabela Islands. They mate for life and have no regular breeding season, which is uncommon for penguins.
Photo by David L. Govoni © 2005, reproduced by permission, all rights reserved.
Flightless Cormorant. An excellent example of evolution, the Flightless Cormorant is the only cormorant (of which there are more than 30 types) that cannot fly. Living in a land free of predators, these birds simply had no survival reason for flight, and as they say, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Today, with man-introduced predators such as domestic cats, the Flightless Cormorant is considered an endangered species.
Galapagos Land Iguana. The vibrant Galapagos Land Iguana is considered the most primitive of all iguana types. When Charles Darwin first landed in the Galapagos he wrote that “…we could not for some time find a spot free from their burrows on which to pitch our single tent,” and that they were “ugly animals, of a yellowish orange beneath, and of a brownish-red colour above: from their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance.” But we think they’re kind of cute!
To see these animals in person by visiting the Galapagos Islands, contact one of our expert travel advisors.