Where to Spot the Galapagos’ Spectacular Endemic Wildlife


Awe-inspiring biodiversity, inquisitive creatures and spectacular sights – the Galapagos Islands have it all.

The Galapagos Islands are home to an incredible variety of animal species. In fact, this incredible tropical archipelago boasts some of the highest levels of endemism in the world (species that are unique to one region). A staggering 97% of the land mammals and reptiles and 80% of the land birds in the Galapagos are endemic, making this one of the most biodiverse places on earth.

Planning a trip to this beautiful paradise? The best way to see all the islands and get up close and personal with the local wildlife is by taking a cruise trip. Wildlife tourism in the region is strictly controlled, and only tourists accompanied by licenced local guides are allowed on the islands. Here’s an introductory guide to where and when to see five of the most famous and unique endemic species in the Galapagos Islands.

giant tortoises galapagos

Giant Tortoises

No list of the endemic wildlife of the Galapagos Islands would be complete without a special mention for the Galapagos Giant Tortoise. Capable of growing to a staggering 500 pounds in weight, the giant tortoise can live for over 100 years. There are many different subspecies of giant tortoise on the islands, each with a slightly different shell shape.

Where: Much of the wild habitat of the giant tortoise is off limits for visitors. However, Santa Cruz Island is home to several farms where you can visit the tortoises in their natural habitat. There are also several conservation centres on the islands where you can get up close to turtles of all ages and shapes. Popular centres include the Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Center on Isabela Island and the Charles Darwin Research Centre in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island.

When: Although they can be spotted all year round, the best time to catch a glimpse of the giant tortoise is between April and June, when you may be able to see baby giant tortoises beginning to hatch.

 galapagos marine iguana

Galapagos Marine Iguanas  

The Galapagos Marine Iguana is the only sea-going iguana in the world. These fascinating animals live on the land but feed in the sea and can grow to be 3 feet long. They can usually be found sunbathing on the rocky shores of the islands and their black and grey colouring helps them to blend in to the lava rock.

Where: Native to this corner of the world, they can be found across all the islands in the Galapagos, with the total population estimated at roughly 300,000 individuals.

When: Baby iguanas begin to hatch between April and June, but these beautiful creatures are pretty easy to spot at any time of year.

galapagos sea lions

Galapagos Sea Lions

The playful and inquisitive Galapagos Sea Lion is a tourist favourite. It’s common to see the pups lazing around and playing together in the sun, watched over by a single female (cow) as the other mothers feed. There are approximately 50,000 sea lions in the Galapagos.

Where: Colonies of sea lions can be found on most of the beaches and rocky shores of the islands, including Plaza Sur Island, Rabida Island and Puerto Egas on Santiago Island.

When: Galapagos sea lions can be found in the Galapagos Islands all year round.

galapagos penguins

Galapagos Penguins

A must-see when you’re on a trip to the islands, the Galapagos Penguin is the world’s rarest penguin species and the only wild penguin species in the Northern Hemisphere. It is thought that there are as few as 1,500 Galapagos penguins left in the wild, and the species is now endangered.

Where: Much of the Galapagos penguin population is concentrated on Isabela and Fernandina islands in the western region of the archipelago, but smaller groups can also be spotted off the coast of a couple of other islands in the region.

When: While the penguins are present all year round, you’ll want to visit between May and January to catch a glimpse of them courting and nesting.

galapagos green sea turtle

Galapagos Green Sea Turtle

The Galapagos Green Sea Turtle lives and nests in the Galapagos, and is the only turtle in the world to do so. It is believed that there are as many as 3,000 green sea turtles nesting across the islands, although not every island attracts them. They are an endangered species. Although these enchanting creatures spend much of their life in the sea and the males never leave the ocean (they are excellent swimmers and have been known to swim as far as 1,500 miles from the Galapagos).

Where: The green sea turtle can be found in the coastal waters across many of the islands. There is also a permanent nesting camp on Isabela Island where rangers track and protect the hatchlings.

When: They can be spotted throughout the year, however the best time to see them is between December and March, when the females make multiple trips on land to lay their eggs.

flightless cormorants galapagos

Flightless Cormorants

The Flightless Cormorant, sometimes called the Galapagos Cormorant, is one of the rarest birds in the world and the only cormorant in the world without the ability to fly. These fascinating birds have duck-like features, but their glands do not produce much oil, meaning their feathers are not completely waterproof.

Where: Flightless cormorants are endemic to Fernandina and Isabela islands – they prefer the colder, nutrient-rich waters of the western islands.

When: The birds gather together in small breeding colonies of 10-12 pairs between April and October. During the breeding season, flightless cormorants perform elaborate mating rituals along the shoreline and in the water. However, they rarely travel more than 1km away from their breeding grounds, even for feeding.

Would you like to explore the Galapagos Islands and get up close and personal with these incredible creatures? We offer some great deals on Galapagos exploration cruises, allowing you to discover this magical corner of the world for less. Give our cruise specialists a call on 0808 2746 777 for more information on our latest deals.

Where to Spot the Galapagos' Spectacular Endemic Wildlife
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Where to Spot the Galapagos' Spectacular Endemic Wildlife
With some of the highest levels of endemism in the world, Galapagos Islands are home to an incredible variety of animal species - in fact, around 97% of the land mammals and reptiles and 80% of the land birds in the Galapagos are unique to the region. Here, we look at some of the region's most amazing wildlife, and where to find them.

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Claire has worked in the travel industry since leaving college in 1994. One of this blog's most regular contributors, Claire covers cruise news and industry trends.

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