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4 fascinating creatures to spot in the Galápagos

4 fascinating creatures to spot in the Galápagos

4 fascinating creatures to spot in the Galápagos

21 Jan 2019 Ocean Cruise, Tours, Travel Tips
The Galápagos Islands are a wildlife watcher's paradise. It's nearly 200 years since Charles Darwin made his famous voyage to the eastern Pacific islands, coming back with research that continues to inform how we understand life on planet Earth.

As anyone who has been can tell you, it's no wonder that the great scientist referred to the archipelago as "a little world within itself". The wildlife here is so unique, and perfectly adapted to the conditions, that it's easy to forget that anything exists beyond the islands' golden sands and glittering waters.

However, in a place where you risk quite literally tripping over the local species, how do you know which to actively seek out? Here are our top four...

The marine iguana

Known to the world for its starring role in the BBC's Planet Earth 2, the marine iguana is a truly remarkable creature. Endemic to the Galápagos Islands, this is the only lizard in the world capable of hunting and living under the sea. While somewhat clumsy on land, marine iguanas are powerhouses in the water, capable of diving to depths of over nine metres. 

They feed on algae below the waves, and then return to land to warm up and sneeze out the salt they inevitably ingest. There are in fact six subspecies of marine iguanas, each hailing from a different island within the archipelago and showing variations in size, colour and shape.

How to spot them
Fully developed marine iguanas are black for the majority of the year, with the males changing colour to attract a mate. This is where the colour differences become most obvious, with those from Española and Floreana islands showing the greatest changes, turning bright green and red.

When to spot them
You can find marine iguanas in the Galápagos all year round. To witness the vibrant colours of mating season, plan your trip between January and March.

Where to spot them
Marine iguanas are common on and around the islands of Santa Cruz, Fernandina, Isabela, Floreana and Española.

The Galápagos penguin

Another must see species is the Galápagos penguin. Of the 17 species of penguin in the world, this is the only one that can be found in the Northern Hemisphere. 

With an average height of only 49 centimetres, this is one of the world's smallest penguins, and again can only be seen in the Galápagos. The reason that this traditionally cold-loving bird is able to survive in the tropics is thanks to the chilly food-laden waters of the Humboldt Current. However, Galápagos penguins are incredibly susceptible to strong El Niño events, where warm currents drastically reduce the amount of available prey, leading to radical drops in chick survival. This fact means that, with a population of around 2,000, the species is currently listed as endangered.

How to spot them
Chicks are a dark brown colour, but fully-fledged adults have a white stomach, and black back and wings.

When to spot them
This species can be found in the Galápagos all year round.

Where to spot them
While you can see these birds on Floreana, Bartolome and Santiago, the main concentrations of Galápagos penguins are found on Fernandina and Isabela islands.

Darwin's finches

While perhaps not as eye-catching as some of the other species found on the Galápagos Islands, Darwin's finches, or Galápagos finches, are the most scientifically important. There are, in fact, 14 different finches that belong to this family, but they have been given a collective name due to the impact they had on Charles Darwin's development of the Theory of Evolution. 

As a result of the large distances between the islands in the archipelago, the finches were unable to interbreed, and each had to adapt specifically to the food sources available to them. For example, the warbler finch has a finer bill than any of the other species, which is perfectly designed for preying upon small insects. By comparison, the large ground finch has a huge beak, ideal for crushing seeds.

How to spot them
Darwin's finches are found throughout the Galápagos, but the real skill is being able to tell them apart. We recommend having a trusty field guide to hand at all times!

When to spot them
This species can be found in the Galápagos all year round.

Where to spot them
Depending which islands you visit, chances are you'll see a different finch. Planning a careful itinerary with one of our travel experts is your best way to see them all.

Giant tortoises

From the diminutive finch to something a little bigger... While Lonesome George may no longer be with us, the giant tortoises of the Galápagos are one of the last bastions of a remarkable species that used to be found across many of the world's continents. 

In fact, this is the creature that gives the islands their name. The old Spanish world galapago means 'saddle', which explorers thought suited the shape of their shells. 

There are currently 11 existing species of Galápagos tortoises, spread across seven of the islands. With the death of Lonesome George in 2012, the number of extinct species reached three, and great efforts are being taken by conservationists to protect these fascinating creatures, who can easily live past 100 years old.

How to spot them
If you see one of these gentle giants, chances are you won't mistake it for anything else!

When to spot them
These guys can be found in the Galápagos throughout the year. They're most active in the late afternoon or early morning in the hot season, and around midday in the cool season.

Where to spot them
As mentioned, giant tortoises are found on seven of the islands, but the highest concentrations are around Alcedo Volcano on Isabela Island, or the Santa Cruz highlands.


Picking just four species to show you from this wildlife paradise was tough, and so much more awaits when you touch down at one of the archipelago's two airports. To find out more about the options that exist to get up close and personal with the wildlife of the Galápagos Islands, get in touch with your local Travellers Choice agent today.

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