Animal Highlights of the Galápagos Islands – What Animals to See and Where

What animals to see on the Galápagos islands.

Few places on earth can rival the Galápagos islands when it comes to observing animals. Setting foot on some parts of these islands is practically like jumping right into a wildlife documentary. The animals aren’t scared of humans and act like they couldn’t care less about you and just continue to go about their usual everyday business. The Galápagos is an excellent destination for those wanting to learn more about animals, evolution and conservational efforts. Many of the creatures found here are endemic to the islands, meaning you won’t see them elsewhere. Here are some of the most fascinating creatures you might come across and which parts of the islands you can find them.

Sally Lightfoot Crab

Sally lightfoot crab is one of the animals you can spot on the Galápagos islands

Photo: A sally lightfoot crab chilling on a volcanic rock by the shoreline on Isla Española island.

The sally lightfoot crabs play an important part in the ecosystem. They will eat almost anything organic –from sea lion placenta and ticks to fellow crabs. This way they help keep the shoreline clean and tidy.

Contrary to many of the other animals found on the Galápagos islands, the Sally lightfoot crabs are very shy and will quickly scamper away if you get too close for their liking.

For more information on these guys check out this page.

Where to spot this animal

The sally lightfoot crabs frequent pretty much all of the Galápagos islands. You’ll spot the crabs near the shoreline, often on the volcanic rocks near the edge of the water.

A Sally lightfoot crab on Isla Española on the Galápagos islands.

Photo: A smaller sally lightfoot crab individual quickly rushes past on the beach by Isla Española.

Lots of Sally lightfoot crabs in the Galápagos

Galápagos Sea Lion

The Galápagos sea lion is one of the animals you can spot on the Galápagos islands

Photo: Because why wouldn’t a sea lion casually take a nap with his buddy on a bench in the busy harbour of Puerto Ayora? These two individuals enjoyed a nice snooze while humans watched the beautiful sunset. Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz island is the largest town on the Galápagos islands.

The Galápagos sea lions are without a doubt some of the most photographed creatures of the islands. They are seemingly oblivious to humans and won’t shy away from casually hopping up from the water, wobbling to the nearest park bench and jumping up to enjoy a quick nap on the comfort of the bench.

The ones that can be seen by the harbours, for example in Puerto Ayora, are often the outcast males. The sea lions live in colonies of around 5-25 females with one Alpha-male. The males – or bulls – that don’t have their own territories usually live in bachelor colonies in less favoured areas at a safe distance from the females.

The Galápagos sea lion is one of the animals you can spot on the Galápagos islands

Photo: A sea lion pup and its mama on Isla Española. A Yellow warbler bird takes a break, sitting on the pup’s head.

A common sight on the islands is a mama sea lion nursing her pup. The pup is dependant on its mother for up to a year. A cute fact is that the baby pup and the mama will develop their own unique call, so they can distinguish it from the crowd.

The most famous sea lion is probably the cute and chubby one you can spot at the fish market in Puerto Ayora. You’ll find him and a hungry gang of pelicans waiting for fish scraps.

For more information, check out this page.

The Galápagos sea lion is one of the animals you can spot on the Galápagos islands

Photo: Perhaps the most famous sea lion on the Galápagos islands. This guy frequents the fish market, waiting for some tasty bites together with his pelican friends.

Where to spot this animal

The Galápagos sea lions can be seen on most of the islands either on land close to the shoreline or in the water.

The Galápagos sea lion is one of the animals you can spot on the Galápagos islands

Photo: A sea lion pup plays by the shoreline on Isla Española.

Marine Iguana

A Marine Iguana on Isla Floreana on the Galápagos islands.

Photo: This male marine iguana lies soaking up the warmth from the stones by the port at Isla Floreana.

Apparently Charles Darwin called these guys imps of darkness and conducted awful experiments on them when he sailed around the Galápagos islands. He described the marine iguanas as ugly and clumsy.

Whatever your opinion on the outer appearance of these guys, they are definitely not clumsy – at least not under water. There they are agile and fast and can stay under water for up to 40 minutes.

The marine iguana is an astonishing example of adaption. Once, these marine iguanas were terrestrial iguanas. However, after they reached the Galápagos islands, they adapted to life under water, since that’s where there was a lot of food – algae. Today, they are the only known marine iguanas.

As they spend a lot of time in salt water, they have developed a special mechanism to get rid of the excess salt. Every once in a while they will sneeze, spraying out a cloud of salt!

Since their body temperature drops up to ten degrees while they’re diving for food, they love warming up on warm lava rocks.

The male marine iguana will change colour to signal its readiness to mate. It will go from a black or dark grey colour to turquoise and orange and red.

Where to spot this animal

The marine iguanas can be seen pretty much on all of the islands. They will usually lay soaking up the sun on the volcanic rocks or on the road (so watch your step).

Marine Iguana lying on rocks in the Galápagos

Waved Albatross

Where to spot the Waved albatross on the Galápagos islands

Photo: Two waved albatrosses in the midst of a spectacular mating dance on Isla Española.

The waved albatross or the Galápagos albatross breeds only on the small island called Isla Española. Having only one breeding spot, this species is very vulnerable and is critically endangered.

The albatrosses have a fascinating mating dance during which they seem to do a sword fight with their yellow-orange beaks, clicking them together repeatedly.

More on the Galápagos albatross or the waved albatross here.

Where to spot this animal

Exclusively on Isla Española from April to January.

Where to spot the Waved albatross on the Galápagos islands

Photo: A waved albatross chick on Isla Española in early January.

Blue-footed Booby

Where to see the Blue-footed booby on the Galápagos islands

Photo: The blue-footed booby is known for its distinctively turquoise feet. This individual was chilling on Isla Española.

Colour is crucial – at least if you’re a blue-footed booby. The more intensely turquoise-coloured feet the male has, the more attractive the female finds him.

To impress the female, the male will dance for her, showing off his blue foot with funny-looking dance moves.

Did you know the term booby comes from the Spanish word bobo, which means stupid. This name was perhaps given to these birds because of their clumsiness on land.

More on these guys here.

Where to spot this animal

Isla Española and North Seymour have the largest colonies, but they can also be spotted at on most of the other islands as well.

Where to see the Blue-footed booby on the Galápagos islands

Photo: Two blue-footed boobies on Isla Floreana.

Galápagos Green Turtle

Sea turtles are a rare sight on land, this Galápagos green turtle on Isla Floreana

Photo: Sea turtles are a rare sight on land. This female Galápagos green turtle was perhaps checking the beach on Isla Floreana for a spot to lay her eggs.

The Galápagos green turtle is a subspecies of the green sea turtle. The colour of its shell is slightly darker and in Spanish the name of this species is Tortuga Negra – Black Turtle.

The Galápagos sea turtle is the only population of sea turtle that nests on the beaches of the Galápagos islands.

Mating occurs in the water, usually close to the places where the females lay the eggs. The eggs face numerous threats – many other animals on land and in sea consider them a delicacy. For this reason the female will dig nests during night and attempt to cover up her traces by flinging sand around the area in an attempt to improve the odds of her eggs surviving.

The baby turtles will hatch at the same time to improve their chances of survival. The hatchlings race to the sea, dodging predators everywhere. The few that survive the predators face numerous threats in the ocean like pollution, fishing, plastic in the sea and an appetite for exotic animals in some cultures.

Sea turtles are a rare sight on land, this Galápagos green turtle on Isla Floreana

Photo: In the sea, the Galápagos green turtle moves graciously and swiftly. On land, moving is painstakingly slow and requires lots of effort. Inch by inch this individual shuffles towards the ocean.

Where to spot this animal

Sea turtles can be spotted all around the Galápagos islands in the water. It’s rare to see them on land, but some visitors might just get lucky and catch a glimpse of one on shore.

The Galápagos Tortoise

Giant Galápagos tortoise on Isla Floreana

Photo: Giant Galápagos tortoises on Isla Floreana.

Once there were 15 different species of tortoises. Devastatingly, thanks to us humans, today only ten remain.

From the 17th century up until the 19th century pirates, whalers and merchantmen hunted tortoises. Since the tortoises can survive up to one year without any food they were regarded as an excellent source of food for the long maritime voyages.

A rough estimation is that there might have been over 200 000 individuals before humans set foot on the Galápagos islands.

In Puerto Ayora, on the island Santa Cruz, visitors have a great opportunity to learn more about conservational efforts and tortoises in general at the Charles Darwin Research Station. Here visitors can also get familiar with turtle breeding, which is done to help improve the survival rate of vulnerable tortoise species.

One of the most famous tortoises was the legendary Lonesome George who was the last of his species and died in 2012, presumably at the age of over 100 years.

More on these gentle giants in this excellent article by National Geographic.

Where to spot this animal

Isla Floreana, Isla Isabela, Isla Pinta, Isla Pinzón or in the highlands of Santa Cruz and of course the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz.

Giant Galápagos tortoise on Santa Cruz

Photo: Giant Galápagos tortoise on Santa Cruz at the Charles Darwin Research Station.

Giant Galápagos tortoise on Santa Cruz


Flamingos can be seen on Isla Floreana in the Galápagos islands.

Photo: Flamingo looking for food in the brackish inland waters on Isla Floreana.

With its pink and red feathers, crooked beak and long legs, the flamingo is easy to recognize. Although flamingos can be found in many parts of the world, the ones found on the Galápagos islands do have some qualities that make them unique.

Sometimes nicknamed the Rosy flamingo, the Galápagos flamingo is one of the most beautifully coloured flamingos in the world. The colour comes from their diet – they consume large amounts of carotenoids.

The Galápagos flamingo also has the smallest flamingo population in the world. There are only estimated to be around 200-300 individuals and they are considered an endangered species. As with many other of the creatures that live on these islands, adaptation is key. While other flamingo populations require large groups for mating, the Galápagos flamingo has adapted to its circumstances and can manage with just a few pairs of individuals.

The fascinating courtship dance of the flamingos can be seen during the summer months.

Flamingos can be seen on Isla Floreana in the Galápagos islands.

Photo: The flamingo can often be seen standing on one leg. One theory is that it does so to save energy. 

Where to spot this animal

Throughout the Galápagos islands, but the largest colonies are found on Isla Floreana, Isla Isabela and Isla Santa Cruz.

Hammerhead Shark

Hammerhead shark Galápagos islands

Photo: Hammerhead shark by Gordon Rock, a popular dive site near Isla Santa Cruz.

The hammerhead shark can be seen in many parts of the world, but the Galápagos islands is one of the best places to spot them. Although feared by many, these sharks seldom attack humans. Unfortunately, they are increasingly hunted. They are killed in large numbers solely for their fins, which are consumed as delicacy in some cultures.

A curiosity is that for some reason the hammerhead sharks gather together in large schools of up to several hundred individuals. This behaviour doesn’t seem to happen anywhere else in the world and scientists don’t know exactly why this happens. In 2017 the first hammerhead breeding site in the Galápagos was discovered.

New discoveries regarding migrations routes might help protect the hammerhead shark – more on this in this article by National Geographic.

Where to spot this animal

Best chances to spot hammerhead sharks in the Galápagos waters is around the northern islands of Darwin and Wolf.

Nazca Booby

Nazca booby on the Galápagos islands

Photo: Nazca booby mama with her chick on Isla Española.

The Nazca booby is the largest booby on the Galápagos islands. It has a distinctive black mask over its eyes.

On Isla Española, for example, visitors can admire cute downy chicks during the nesting period. However, this bird is far from cute. The mama booby will lay two eggs that will hatch only a few days apart. One of the eggs is as a sort of insurance, in case the other one dies.

However, if both eggs result in chicks, one of the two will expel the other one from the nest – an almost certain death sentence. This practice is called obligatory siblicide and isn’t unique for the Nazca boobie.

As this article in The Guardian shows this is certainly not the most shocking thing about these birds. Some of the adult males that aren’t breeding will bully the chicks – even bite, shake and sexually harass the baby chicks! Scientists have discovered that there is a gruesome circle of violence. Apparently chicks that have been exposed to this kind of horrific behaviour seem to get traumatized and are more likely to bully chicks themselves once they become adults!

Where to spot this animal

In the Eastern Pacific region of the islands, for example Isla Española and Isla Genovesa.


Charles Darwin identified several different kinds of finches on the Galápagos islands.

Photo: No wonder Charles Darwin noticed the finches, they’re practically everywhere throughout the Galápagos islands. This little guy was looking for food at a restaurant on the island of Santa Cruz.

Finches are probably one of the most famous species of the Galápagos islands. The reason most of us associate these birds with the islands is the fact that Charles Darwin studied them and mentioned them in his famous book On the origin of Species, published in 1859.

Today, 15 different types of finches are recognized. What Darwin observed was that the birds – that clearly were related and had once been the same species – had all come to develop certain characteristic features to help them adapt to a specific part of the islands. That way they could improve their chances of survival. Some finches developed sharper beaks, others developed larger or smaller beaks depending on what kind of food was available in the region they frequented.

More on Darwin’s finches in this article by The Guardian.

Where to spot this animal

Throughout the islands.

Don’t Forget

The Galápagos islands are truly unique, but they’re also very vulnerable. It’s important that everyone visiting the islands remembers to follow the guidelines and rules regarding the islands and the animals that live there.

  • Always keep a distance of two metres between the animal and yourself.
  • Avoid using flash if you take pictures of the animals.
  • Don’t feed the animals.
  • Never take anything with you from any of the islands.
  • Don’t introduce anything new to the islands – there are several examples in history where the introduction of foreign species to vulnerable island environments has proved catastrophic for endemic species.
  • Use reef-friendly sunscreen if you’re planning on swimming or snorkelling.

How to respect the animals in the Galápagos islands

Photo: Remember that only by respecting the animals, as well as the rules for interacting with them, can we preserve the islands and the unique wildlife. It’s all of our responsibility to make sure these animals are here for the next generation as well.


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