Galapagos Islands

It’s not just the sheer quantity of wildlife that astounds travellers to the Galapagos Islands, but its boldness and fearlessness in the face of visitors. You won’t be snapping a photo of an indistinct something camouflaged in the bushes on Darwin’s islands - instead marine iguanas sunbathe atop rocks like amphibious movie stars, giant Galapagos tortoises barely look up from their lunch as you wander past and playful sea lions delight in sharing the water with you as you snorkel and dive.
Historically, holidays to the Galapagos were all about life at sea, with a flotilla of small cruise ships – from modern catamarans to traditional tall ships – sailing a variety of routes between the islands. And while cruising is still a popular way to explore here, a growing network of small hotels and guesthouses make land-based holidays an alternative, and often more affordable, option for Galapagos Islands adventures.

What wildlife will I see?

Perhaps not the biggest, but certainly some of the brightest and boldest creatures call the Galapagos Islands home. Most famous are the 15 species of giant tortoises, which reside on seven of the islands in populations recovering from decimation at the hands of European settlers. Visit the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre on San Cristobal or the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz to see an array of tortoises in all stages of life, from hatchlings to whopping 200kg adults. Alternatively head up into the highlands of Santa Cruz or Isabela for a good chance to spot them in the wild.
Birdlife is prolific on the islands. Blue-footed boobies waddle on their oversized, sky-blue feet, Galapagos waved albatross launch themselves off the cliffs of Española Island and enormous frigate birds with red balloon-like necks are your constant airborne companion. Most surreal, perhaps, are the Galapagos penguins, the only species to exist outside the southern hemisphere. The cold Humboldt current washing along the South American coastline keeps the water cool enough for them.
The Galapagos Islands’ underwater worlds are perhaps even more spectacular than its volcanic dry land. Snorkelling around the Los Túneles lava tubes off Isabela Island has been described as like swimming in an aquarium, with seahorses, manta rays, sea turtles, white-tip and hammerhead sharks, blue-and-red Sally Lightfoot crabs and schools of vibrantly coloured fish all sharing the crystalline water. Sea lions play with swimmers around the coasts of San Cristobal and Floreana Islands, among others, while black-and-red-scaled marine iguanas, the only ocean-going reptile in the world, warm up in their thousands on rocks at the Tintoreras Islets off Isabela.
Discover more Galapagos wildlife in our Galapagos Islands travel guide.
Written by Sarah Faith
Photo credits: [Page banner: McKay Savage]
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