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The Galapagos Big 5

3 min read

There's really no other place on earth like the Galapagos Islands, where you can interact with an unrivaled diversity of wildlife on land and sea. Catching a glimpse of the endangered Galapagos sea turtle, the giant Galapagos tortoise, or the cartoonish blue-footed booby nesting on bare rocky islands is truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Sea lions on the beach - Photo credit: Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism
Photo credit: Ecuador's Ministry of Tourism

Graceful Galapagos sea lions and three species of prehistoric Galapagos land Iguanas are plentiful on the Islands. You'll discover that the Galapagos, which has evolved in isolation, has produced an astonishing array of wildlife. Here are just five of the incredible species you might see on your Galapagos Islands expedition:

Galapagos Sea Lions

According to the Galapagos Conservancy, approximately 50,000 sea lions inhabit the Galapagos Islands. Sea lions are social by nature and incredibly curious. During a Galapagos cruise, you're certain to hear their noisy bark and find them sunbathing on sandy shores, making them a fan favorite on the islands.

Galapagos sea lions - Photo credit: Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism
Galapagos sea lions - Photo credit: Ecuador's Ministry of Tourism

Sea lions have a pointy whiskered nose and a male can weigh up to 550 pounds. They feast mostly on fish and from time to time travel for days to hunt for sardines. On land, groups of female sea lions form harems that one male bull will defend. Other males live in colonies. Females give birth to one pup yearly and raise them for up to three years.

Galapagos Land Iguanas

One of the area's most famous inhabitants are the Galapagos land iguana. These creatures are tough and can go without food and water for days. Thirty years ago, they were put at risk by incidents with feral dogs. The iguanas were then relocated and artificial nesting areas were created. These actions may have saved the creatures from destruction.

Galapagos Iguana - Photo credit: Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism
Galapagos Iguana - Photo credit: Ecuador's Ministry of Tourism

There are three species of land iguana now living in the Galapagos; the yellow conolophus subcristatus, the conolophus pallidus and the pink or rosada conolophus marthae. They can grow up to three feet long, weigh up to 30 pounds and can live up to 50 years.

On your Galapagos Island holiday, you can watch them soak up the sun in the morning, or on an excursion, you may witness a Darwin finch removing ticks from these captivating creatures.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise

The endangered Galapagos giant tortoise is one of the most celebrated tortoises, and is one of the only giant tortoises in the world, according to the Galapagos Conservancy. In fact, the Galapagos Islands are named after the tortoise, as the Spanish word for tortoise is ‘Galapagos'.

"Galapagos giant tortoise Geochelone elephantopus" by Mfield, Matthew Field, - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -
Galapagos giant tortoise Geochelone elephantopus" by Mfield, Matthew Field, - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

The massive creatures can weigh up to 550 pounds and are about 5 feet in length, with an average lifespan of about 100 years. There are approximately 25,000 wild tortoises to be spotted on the Galapagos Islands. They lead a simple life, feeding on grass, cactus and leaves, basking in the sun, and napping virtually 16 hours per day.

Blue-footed Boobies

Blue-footed Boobies really do have blue feet, and they're a key element in its animated courtship spectacle. During mating ceremonies, male birds attract prospective mates with their brilliant feet. Their feet are also great for protecting their young and keeping them warm.

Blue-footed Booby - Photo credit: Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism
Blue-footed Booby - Photo credit: Ecuador's Ministry of Tourism

Boobies are outstanding fisherman, flying up to 80 feet before diving into the water at a speed of 65 miles per hour to feed.

Galapagos Sea Turtles

A trip to the region wouldn't be complete without a swim in crystal blue waters alongside the Galapagos sea turtle. These fascinating swimmers return to the Galapagos Islands to nest where their lives began. They lay eggs every 2-3 years and live up to 100 years.


The Galapagos sea turtle is a relative of the green sea turtle, but smaller. These turtles are often energetic, feeding on algae, relaxing on the sea bottom, and offering excellent up-close encounters.

See these fascinating and friendly species, many of which you won't see anywhere else on earth, on Quark's Galápagos Expedition: Darwin's Playground, Central and North, the Galápagos Expedition: Darwin's Playground, Far West or the Galápagos and Antarctica: Equator to Pole expeditions.

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