Marine Iguana-Florian

The Wildlife of the Galapagos

A journey to the Galapagos Islands is a fun immersion into the endemic animals that call the archipelago home. Few other places in the world have such a diversity of species that vie for the attention around every turn.

The remote location of the islands is an enclave of nature where predators are in short supply. This lends itself to seeing animals that aren’t afraid of encounters with people, making the trip unlike those to other natural hotspots.

Keep reading for an overview of some of the fascinating animals that you can expect to see during your time in the islands.

Galapagos Penguins

Galapagos Penguin-Randal Sheppard

Galapagos penguins are the only one of their species to live on the equator, and are amongst the smallest in the world. The birds are most often spotted off the shores of Puerto Villamil on  Isabela, and around Pinnacle Rock in the bay of Bartolome Island, where snorkeling means a good chance of seeing the quickly moving animal swimming alongside you.

Penguins in the Galapagos migrate according to the temperature of the water. For the traveler, this means that they move with the coming and going of the cool Humboldt current. In the wet season when the waters are warmer, they are most commonly found around the western shores of Isabela. In June, when the cooler waters spread through the islands, penguins are seen more frequently at other stops on cruises.

Galapagos Tortoises

Tourtise on walk

Giant tortoises are found on many islands in the Galapagos. The highlands of Santa Cruz are home to tortoise reserves, as are the wetlands of Isabela. When visiting these sites you can find the gentle giants slowly making their way to resting points besides lagoons, or eating the low hanging cactus and bushes.

Depending on where you visit, Galapagos tortoises have different adaptations according to their environment. The tortoises on Santa Fe have shorter necks and domed shells, as the vegetation of the island hangs low to the ground. On Isabela there are five sub-species of tortoises, divided by the six volcanoes of the island.

With the arrival of the dry season on Santa Cruz, Galapagos tortoises migrate from the highlands to the coast in search of nesting sites; a six-mile journey that can take as long as two weeks to complete.

Marine Iguanas

Marine Iguana-Florian


Only found in the Galapagos, marine iguanas frequent the nooks and crannies of the shores of many islands, including Isabela, Santa Cruz, and North Seymour.

During their breeding season, the reptile changes colors; turning from grayish-green to bright shades of red, orange, and brown.

These creatures are often spotted while snorkeling, and have a quirky habit that’s attributed to their diet. Marine iguanas sneeze out excess salt in their system by way of special glands, making for funny moments when catching them in the act.

Blue-Footed Boobies

Blue footed Boobies-Florian Lagnes


An icon of the islands for their clumsy mating dance, blue-footed boobies are found in groups diving for fish off the shores of Santa Cruz, Bartolome, and other gathering spots on cruises. One place where they are seen frequently is North Seymour, where they perform an intricate mating ritual along an inland path that leads to colonies of frigate birds. Male boobies enact a strut that highlights their feet, the bluer the color the more attractive to the opposite sex.

The booby’s feet also play a part after eggs are laid; they use them to incubate the nest, pairs taking turns and standing guard before the hatchlings arrive.

Keep checking back for more information about the Galapagos and the places we arrange tours for in Ecuador. For details about the cruises and land-based options to the islands on our site, contact a member of our team.

By Jon Jared

Charles Darwin’s Galapagos Finches

galapagos-finches-ecuadorFinches were one of the many birds Darwin studied in the Galápagos Islands before publishing his monumental work on natural selection. Today, the mangrove finch is on the verge of extinction in the Galápagos. There are around 100 left, with just 20 breeding pairs. To keep the finches from disappearing altogether, the Charles Darwin Research Station and San Diego Zoo have engaged in a captive breeding program.

Recently, a third group of fledging mangrove finches were released on Isabela island. All birds are fitted with miniature tracking devices. Some returned to the aviary, but several finches released in past years have been seen in the wild. This showed finches raised in captivity are able to survive long-term.

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Medicinal plants of Ecuador

medicinal-herbs-plantsIt’s estimated seven out of ten Ecuadorians use medicinal plants. Ethnobiologist Omar Vacas has spent 15 years researching local flora used for centuries to cure diseases. He published an article about traditional medicine used by the Kichwa people in the Napo jungle province. He says the Kichwas are often unaware that this info can be useful in developing pharmaceutical drugs. For example, balsa can reduce labor pains. There are 23 conditions including toothache and rheumatism that can be cured by plants used by the Kichwas. These include uña de gato (cat’s claw), ortiga brava, achiote de venda, palo de tortuga, sábila (aloe), ruda, dulcamara, sangre de drago (dragon’s blood), chancapiedra, chaya, valeriana, boldo, condurango and zarzaparrilla.

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Alpacas of Ecuador’s Andes

camelids-llamas-alpacasAlpacas roam the slopes of the Cotacachi Volcano. They belong to the indigenous community of Morochos. José Flores, vice-president of the community, says the alpacas are the best friends of the highland moors (páramos). He explains the animals don’t affect the topsoil because their legs have pads and their teeth cut the grass like scissors. That’s why the community decided to introduce Peruvian alpacas (currently 57) to replace cattle whose hooves eroded the surface of the moor. The area near the top of the volcano is considered an important buffer zone to the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve.

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