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Galapagos penguin | © peterstuartmill / Pixabay
Galapagos penguin | © peterstuartmill / Pixabay
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A Guide to Discovering the Different Wildlife in the Galapagos Islands

Picture of Vibeke Johannessen
Updated: 11 October 2017
The Galapagos Islands are unique in that the archipelago is home to creatures that you won’t see anywhere else on the planet. There are 13 major islands in the Galapagos, along with six smaller ones. The list below features some of the species that you will see on most of the islands and some that you can only spot on one or two of them.

Birdlife

The Galapagos Islands are famous for its birdlife. You can find 42 different kinds of seabirds, 32 different types of shorebirds, 21 species of waterbirds and 13 sub-species of Darwin’s finches. Below are five of the most famous bird species seen on the islands.

Blue-footed boobies

These funny little creatures are a must-see in the Galapagos Islands. If you are lucky, they might even dance for you. It is easy to spot the nests of the blue-footed boobies – also called Los Piqueros de Patas Azules – because they are always on the ground.

Where to find them: North Seymour, San Cristobal and Española

Blue-Footed Booby
Blue-Footed Booby | © Vibeke Johannessen / The Viking Abroad

Frigatebirds

The magnificent frigatebirds have an incredibly large wingspan and can spend days soaring in the sky. They also steal food from other birds, a trait that gave them another name, ‘Pirate Birds’. The male has a large red throat pouch that inflates during the breeding season. At North Seymour, you can see frigate babies, eggs and the juvenile frigatebirds.

Where to find them: North Seymour, Isabela and San Cristobal

Galapagos penguins

In the Galapagos Islands, you can find the second smallest penguin in the world. The Galapagos penguins are super cute and love to soak up the sun and jump from cliffs into the water.

Where to find them: Isabela Island, Bartolome Island and Fernandina Island

Galapagos penguin
Galapagos penguin | © peterstuartmill / Pixabay

Galapagos flamingos

The Galapagos flamingos are known to have a brighter pink colour than the European flamingos, which is due to their diet of brine shrimp.

Where to find them: Isabela, Rabida, Floreana, Santiago and Santa Cruz

Flamingos
Flamingos | © Vibeke Johannessen / The Viking Abroad

Darwin’s finches

There are 13 sub-species of finches recorded on the Galapagos Islands. Charles Darwin discovered these birds on the islands during the second voyage of the Beagle and noted that they were different from island to island. Daphne Minor Island dedicates itself to scientific research of finches and is, therefore, off limits to tourists.

Where to find them: Most islands

Darwin’s Large Ground Finch
Darwin’s Large Ground Finch | © Steven Bedard/ Flickr

Reptiles

The Galapagos Islands are a must-see if you love reptiles, as there are 28 different species recorded on the islands. You will find the friendly giant tortoises – an important sight for many travellers. Also, it is easy to spot marine iguanas, but land iguanas are harder to find.

Giant tortoises

The giant tortoises are one of the most important sights for many people who travel to the islands. They can get just as old as humans, and it is fascinating to see how slow they walk and mate.

Where to find them: The Charles Darwin Research Station in Santa Cruz, the Reserva El Chato on Santa Cruz Island, the Galapaguera Cerro Colorado on San Cristobal Island, or at Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Center on Isabela Island

Giant tortoises
Giant tortoises | © Arnie Papp / Flickr

Galapagos land iguana

The land iguanas are not as commonly seen as the marine iguanas. They are usually yellowish-orange in colour and have a more pointy nose than their marine counterpart.

Where to find them: Santa Cruz, North Seymour, Isabela, Fernandina and Baltra

Land Iguana
Land Iguana | © Vibeke Johannessen / The Viking Abroad

Marine iguanas

The marine iguanas are unique because you can’t spot them anywhere else on the planet. You can swim with them too, as they are not scared of humans.

Where to find them: Santa Cruz Island, Isabela Island, North Seymour Island and Fernandina Island

Marine iguana
Marine iguana | © Vibeke Johannessen / The Viking Abroad

Mammals

There are 32 different species of mammals recorded in the Galapagos Islands, with sea lions being very common throughout the area. You can also find two types of dolphins, blackfish, sperm whales, bats, rats and whales.

Sea lions

As with the marine iguanas, you can find them pretty much everywhere, especially in Isabela, Rabida, Santa Fe and Santa Cruz. These mammals are visible where you would least expect it, such as under benches or next to the rubbish bin.

Where to find them: Almost everywhere

Galapagos sea lion
Galapagos sea lion | © Vibeke Johannessen / The Viking Abroad

Dolphins

The best time to spot dolphins is between June and October. The most common type of dolphin to see in the Galapagos Islands are the bottlenose dolphins. They live in large pods, which makes them easier to spot (and they are entertaining).

Where to find them: Everywhere, especially near boats

Three dolphins jumping
Three dolphins jumping | © Tim Kelley / Flickr

You can also see humpback whales and sharks in the Galapagos Islands. The sharks are not really aggressive, and there has only been one accident, which was non-fatal. If you dare, you can safely dive and snorkel close to them.