When you read articles about the Galapagos Islands and see the stunning wildlife shots, your natural reaction is to think the person who took the photos is a really good photographer. It’s also natural to think that baby sea lion or that puffed-up, red-chested frigate bird was the only one they spotted that day. An eagle-eyed guide found the right spot and everyone looked through binoculars and scopes.
We think that because in most of the world, spotting wildlife is very hit and miss. Animals and birds are afraid of humans—and for good reasons. The animals are also spread out to a wider area usually as well, or high up in a jungle canopy, not clustered together on a small island with few trees.
In the Galapagos Islands, there’s a bounty of wildlife everywhere. Most of the creatures living there think the camera-toting tourists are just part of the landscape. We are big, but we’re not a threat. So about the only creature that tries to get away from you is this one: the Sally Lightfoot Crab.
When you book a Galapagos Tour that does the islands right, you’ll explore more than what’s a day trip away from the airport and you’re sure to see these stars of the show.
Sea Lions and Fur Seals
These two common creatures are often the first thing you see because they’re lazing around everywhere, including on the docks where your ship will be waiting. Sea lions are abundant, but so are their cousins the fur seals, who often get called sea lions too even though they’re not. Once you know how to tell the difference, you’ll know what you’re looking at. You may get a chance to swim with one or the other on a beach or while snorkeling. In the water they like to play.
You’ll probably see the famous Blue-footed Boobies and the Red-Footed Boobies as you go from island to island. It’s not just their feet that are interesting. When they’re laying eggs or their chicks hatch, they’re still standing around oblivious as you walk by. Watch your step! If it’s mating season or they’re building a nest, you might see some odd dancing rituals:
Magnificent Frigate Birds
You can see Frigate Birds all over the place in the Americas, but here they go through the mating and nesting process without caring how close you get. On one visit I counted 28 of them in my line of sight puffing out their red throat pouch. I’m not sure how the females tell them apart, though there are theories that size and a nicer house do matter…
It’s a bit strange seeing penguins in this temperate zone and it’s yet another sign of how unique this ecosystem is. The Galapagos Penguins are the only ones living north of the Equator anywhere in the world. You’ll often see them sitting on rocks or on a cliff ledge, or if you’re lucky you’ll see them swimming around near your panga boat, calling out.
These lizards will take you back to the Jurassic Age with their fierce features and protruding spikes that look like weapons. They’re really vegetarians though, eating seaweed and sneezing out the salt water. You really have to be careful where you’re walking on black lava because they blend right in.
In the pirate and plunder days, sailors would capture these turtles and place them on their backs in the hold to provide food over long voyages. Some species died out when humans cultivated land and brought invasive species to these fragile islands. Thankfully there’s no native memory in the tortoises and their numbers are on the rise again, so now you can walk among these long-living, impressive creatures in a field. This is one of the animals you can see without going anywhere if you have a serious seasickness problem: they roam around Santa Cruz Island, not far from the Baltra airport.
Fish and Sea Creatures
The Galapagos wildlife is abundant below the water too. If you go snorkeling you will see an impressive array of colorful fish, but you’re also likely to see Galapagos sea turtles, small sharks, starfish, and rays. Maybe even an octopus and, in the right place at the right time of year, hammerhead sharks or whale sharks.
Plus Lots of Surprises
These are just the common creatures you are almost sure to see. Also in the mix will be the Waved Albatross, Flightless Cormorant, finches, and countless sea birds that roam the Pacific, like flamingos, osprey, and herons. When we visited Egas Point on Genovese Island on my Haugan Cruises trip, we even saw an owl species that lives on the ground and hunts during the day.