🐢35 Iconic Galapagos Islands Animals & Where to See Them

Galapagos Islands Animals blog cover graphic. Text overlaying an underwater close up image of a sea lion coming up for air against a vibrant blue ocean.

There are almost 9,000 different species of animals in the Galapagos islands and the surrounding waters. Of these, the majority of land-based species are endemic, meaning they cannot be found anywhere else in the world!

In fact, approximately 80% of the land birds, 97% of the reptiles and land mammals, and 20% of all marine species found in the Galapagos islands are found only in this special place.

In this guide, you will learn about the 35 most iconic Galapagos Islands animals that you can see on a visit to the islands. In addition to some interesting facts and photos, we will also tell you how and where to find each, with recommendations for tours when necessary.

We captured all of the photos you will see in this guide throughout several trips to the Galapagos, the most recent of which was in April 2023.

🦎 Galapagos Islands Animals Overview

Made famous by a young scientist named Charles Darwin, the Galapagos Islands are a truly unique wildlife destination that played an important role in Darwin’s theory of evolution.

With almost 9,000 different animals in the Galapagos, this guide is not intended to be a comprehensive list of every animal in the archipelago.

Rather, we have highlighted the most exciting, iconic animals that you are likely to encounter on your visit to the Galapagos.

Undoubtedly, these wildlife encounters will be the highlight of your visit and create many once-in-a-lifetime memories to be cherished.

Quick Note on Wildlife Etiquette in Galapagos

Young woman sat next to a marine iguana on Punta Carola Beach San Cristobal.

One of the best reasons for visiting the Galapagos is to encounter some of the spectacular wildlife here. However, please ensure you do so respectfully.

The Galapagos Islands are within the Galapagos National Park, where all wildlife are protected by law.

As per Galapagos National Park law, you are required to maintain a 6ft (2m) distance from all wildlife, including protruding arms and selfie sticks.


While this feels like it should go without saying, we saw people reach for turtles and sea lions during our time in the Galapagos. Not only can it cause stress to the animals, but many are also susceptible to disease from bacteria or chemicals that can be on our hands.

The animals don’t know the rules and many Galapagos animals are curious. For the best experiences, stay still, do not attempt to touch or approach, and they will often come to you! Just be sure you’re not blocking their way and give them plenty of space to pass if needed.

⭐️ Pro Tip: Help protect marine life by only wearing reef-safe sunscreen.

Map of the Galapagos Islands

Color coded map of the Galapagos Islands showing inhabited islands and those accessible by day trip or cruise, plus ferry routes.

The map of the Galapagos Islands above shows the archipelago in its entirety. This map will hopefully help you understand the layout of the islands as we discuss where to find all the most iconic Galapagos islands animals.

It has been color-coded to indicate the islands that are inhabited and can be stayed on, those accessible by day tour, and those that are accessible via cruise ship only.

In addition, ferry services and airports are indicated by the appropriate symbols.


🐧 Animals of the Galapagos Islands: Birds

One of the most popular things to do in Galapagos is bird watching… and for good reason!

Throughout the archipelago, 185 different species of birds have been reported, many of which are endemic to the region.

Below are some of the most iconic birds you are likely to see in the Galapagos.

1. Blue Footed Boobies

A pair of blue footed boobies touch beaks as part of their mating ritual on Isabela Island in the Galapagos.
Pair of blue footed boobies, photographed at Los Tuneles on Isabela island.
Scientific NameSula nebouxii
Best Places • Los Tuneles (Isabela)
• North Seymour Island
• Española Island
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusLeast Concern

Of all the animals in the Galapagos, the flamboyant blue-footed booby has become the crowd favorite and is considered the unofficial mascot of the islands.

With their azure accessories and theatrical mating rituals, they always entertain! These characteristics are what earned them the name ‘Booby’, deriving from the Spanish word “bobo” which translates to “clown”.

Blue-footed boobies can be seen year-round. However, March is a particularly good time to witness their mating dance and chicks are present from June to December.

Best Places to See Blue Footed Boobies

You will see blue footed boobies in a dozen locations in Galapagos, but the best way to experience them up close is by taking the Los Tuneles day tour from Isabela island.

There are also large colonies on North Seymour and Española islands, which can be visited as a day tour from Santa Cruz.

2. Red Footed Boobies

A red footed booby is seen in a tree on Genovesa island in the Galapagos.
Red-footed booby, photographed on Genovesa Island.
Scientific NameSula sula
Best Places • Genovesa Island
• Punta Pitt (San Cristobal)
• Española Island
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusLeast Concern

While the blue footed counterpart gets most of the attention, there are actually three species of booby that inhabit the Galapagos islands.

The red footed booby is the smallest and most scarce of the booby species in the Galapagos. With their distinctive red feet and blue beaks, they are quite spectacular.

Unlike most other booby species that nest on the ground, the red-footed boobies nest in trees and bushes.

Best Places to See Red Footed Boobies

The largest colony of red footed boobies in the world can be found on Genovesa Island, making it the best place to see them in the world. However, it is only possible to reach Genovesa by cruise.

There is also a smaller colony at Punta Pitt on San Cristobal. Punta Pitt is one of the stops on the San Cristobal 360º Tour, which is perhaps the best day tour you can take in the Galapagos.


3. Nazca Boobies

A pair of Nazca boobies seen on Genovesa island in Galapagos.
Pair of Nazca boobies, photographed on Genovesa Island.
Scientific NameSula granti
Best Places • Punta Pitt (San Cristobal)
• Punta Suarez (Española)
• Genovesa Island
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusLeast Concern

Unlike the other two species of boobies, the Nazca booby does not have colorful feet. However, its orange bill and masked face still give it a striking appearance.

Similarly to the other boobies, it is excellent at fishing and dives into the water from the sky like a streamlined harpoon in order to catch fish and squid.

Best Places to See Nazca Boobies

One of the best places to see Nazca boobies is at Punta Pitt on San Cristobal. This unique location is the only place in Galapagos where you can see all three booby species.

There is also a large Nazca booby breeding colony on Española island.

The 360º Tour will take you to Punta Pitt, or you can get take a day tour to Española island, both of which depart from San Cristobal.

4. Galapagos Penguin

A group of Galapagos penguins stand on a rock at Pinnacle Rock, Bartolome Island.
Galapagos penguin colony, photographed on Bartolome Island.
Scientific NameSpheniscus mendiculus
Best Places • Isabela Island
• Bartolome Island
• Fernandina Island
Best TimeCool season (June to November)
Conservation StatusEndangered

The incredible Galapagos penguin is the only penguin species in the world found in a warm climate and in the northern hemisphere.

Though endangered, these cute little birds can semi-reliably be seen on several islands where they have established nesting colonies.

Best Places to See Galapagos Penguins

Bartolome Island is the most photogenic island in the Galapagos and is also the best place to see Galapagos penguins. A small colony inhabits Pinnacle Rock on Bartolome year-round.

On a personal note, our underwater penguin encounter while snorkeling on Bartolome Island was an absolute highlight of our most recent visit and is something we’ll never forget!

The second best places to see Galapagos penguins are at Tintoreras or Los Tuneles on Isabela Island, though they are less common and only stay there during the cool season.

Fernandina Island is another excellent place to see them, but is only available to those traveling by cruise.


5. Magnificent & Great Frigatebirds

Magnificent frigate bird with red inflated throat pouch on North Seymour Island Galapagos.
Magnificent frigate bird with inflated throat, photographed on North Seymour Island.
Scientific NameFregata magnificent (Magnificent frigatebird)
Fregata minor (Great frigatebird)
Best Places • North Seymour Island
• San Cristobal Island
• Floreana Island
• Genovesa Island
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusLeast Concern

Known as “the pirates of the sky“, the magnificent and great frigate birds can be easily identified while in flight by their unique M shape.

Seeing them soaring overhead will be a near-constant on any island you visit in Galapagos.

However, what makes them one of the most impressive Galapagos animals to see are the males’ inflated bright red neck pouches during mating displays!

Best Places to See Magnificent & Great Frigatebirds

As mentioned, you will see Magnificent and Great Frigatebirds consistently overhead on any of the inhabited Galapagos islands you visit.

However. the best chance you will have to observe their red-throated mating behavior is at North Seymour Island, just north of Santa Cruz.

You can only visit North Seymour Island on a day tour from Santa Cruz or by cruise.

6. Darwin’s Finches (Galapagos Finches)

A small black Galapagos finch (Darwin's Finch) perched in a tree.
Darwin’s Finch, photographed on Santa Cruz.
Scientific NameVarious
Best Places Everywhere
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusMostly Vulnerable to Least Concern

Darwin’s finches (also referred to as Galapagos finches) are one of the most famous animals of the Galapagos islands due to their important role in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

There are 17 different endemic species of finch that can be seen throughout the islands. Although, strictly speaking, they are tanagers rather than finches.

All of the species are small birds, but they each vary in terms of characteristics and behaviors; particularly beak size and shape.

Best Places to See Darwin’s Finches

You will see Darwin’s Finches anywhere where you go on all the Galapagos islands.

7. Waved Albatross (Galapagos Albatross)

A pair of courting waved albatross on Española Island Galapagos
Two Galapagos Waved Albatross, photographed on Española Island.
Scientific NamePhoebastria irrorata
Best Places Española Island
Best TimeApril to December
Conservation StatusCritically Endangered

With an impressive wingspan that can reach 8ft (2.5m) in length, the waved albatross is the largest bird in the Galapagos.

Seeing them is always special, but their complex courtship dance is truly a sight to behold for those fortunate enough to witness it.

The dance includes an array of moves including bill circling and clacking, head nodding, waddling, and a cow-like moo.

Best Places to See Galapagos Albatross

The Galapagos albatross can only be seen on Española Island during their breeding season from April to December. The rest of the year, they can be found along the coast of Ecuador and Peru.

You can visit Española Island by day tour from San Cristobal or on a Galapagos cruise.


8. Flightless Cormorants

A flightless Galapagos cormorant at Punta Vicente Roca on Isabela Island.
Flightless Cormorant, photographed at Punta Vicente Roca on Isabela Island.
Scientific NameNannopterum harrisi
Best Places • Punta Vicente Roca (Isabela)
• Fernandina
Best TimeApril to October
Conservation StatusVulnerable

The flightless cormorant is a great example of how evolution has uniquely shaped the endemic animals of the Galapagos islands.

Having no natural predators and feeding only from the shores, the wings of the flightless cormorant became redundant.

Over time, these useless wings continued to evolve until they became too tiny to be functional for flight.

Best Places to See Galapagos Flightless Cormorants

The flightless cormorants are found in only two places: the west coast of Isabela Island and Fernandina Island. Here, they rely upon the cold nutrient-rich water of the Bolivar Channel.

These destinations can only be reached by a Galapagos cruise.

9. Galapagos Flamingos

Two Galapagos flamingos wade through mirror-like water with their reflections showing.
Galapagos Flamingos, photographed on Isabela Island.
Scientific NamePhoenicopterus ruber
Best Places • Isabela Island
• Floreana Island
• Santa Cruz
• Rabida Island
• Santiago Island
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusLeast Concern

With their vivid pink feathers and unique shape, flamingos are always a fun and impressive animal to behold.

Whether or not the flamingos that inhabit the Galapagos islands are a unique sub-species or not is still debated within the scientific community. Those found in the Galapagos are only very slightly different from those found in the Americas and Caribbean in terms of size and shape.

They can be found in shallow, brackish water lagoons throughout the Galapagos where they feed on small crustaceans.

Best Places to See Galapagos Flamingos

While they can be found on many islands, the largest flamingo colonies can be found on Isabela and Floreana islands.

Isabela Island is the best place to see the flamingos for most visitors as it is an inhabited island common for overnight stays and the “flamingo lagoon” is located right in the main town of Puerto Villamil.

You can also see them at Punta Cormorant Lagoon on Floreana Island by taking a day tour from Santa Cruz.

10. Galapagos Hawk

A Galapagos hawk perched on lava rock on Española island.
Galapagos Hawk, photographed at Española Island.
Scientific NameButeo galapagoensis
Best Places All major islands except Baltra, Daphne, Floreana, San Cristobal, & North Seymour.
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusVulnerable

The Galapagos hawk is the largest resident land bird in the Galapagos and one of very few natural predators.

It is a skilled hunter, using its sharp beak and talons to catch a wide variety of prey that includes other birds, lizards, marine iguanas, insects like centipedes, baby tortoises, and rodents. They will also scavenge on carrion.

The Galapagos hawk also has unusual nesting behavior. The female will mate with several males, all of which will help to incubate the eggs and raise the young.

Best Places to See Galapagos Hawks

The Galapagos hawk can be found on most of the main islands and can be spotted perched in high trees stalking their prey.

If you truly want to see them, be sure to mention it to your naturalist guide on any tours you take.

11. Lava Gull

A Galapagos lava gull with a small fish in its beak, standing at the edge of the water on the white sand of Las Bachas Beach, Santa Cruz.
Galapagos Lava Gull, photographed at Las Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island.
Scientific NameLarus fuliginosus
Best Places • Santa Cruz
• Isabela Island
• San Cristobal
• Genovesa Island
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusVulnerable

The endemic lava gull is believed to be the rarest gull in the world, with only an estimated 600-800 individuals according to IUCN.

It is one of only two resident gull species, the other being the swallow-tailed gull.

Unlike other gull species, the lava gull is highly territorial and a solitary nester, rarely nesting closer than 330ft (100m) apart.

Adult lava gulls have a dark grey body with a black head, black wings, and a paler grey belly. Immature lava gulls, as seen above, are dark brown in color. Their dark coloring creates effective camouflage against lava rock.

Best Places to See Lava Gull

While lava gulls have been spotted throughout the archipelago, they are predominantly seen on Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal, and Genovesa Islands. They can typically be spotted in the harbors or other locations close to humans scavenging for food.

12. Lava Heron

A Galapagos lava heron is perched on a branch in the mangroves of Tintoreras, Isabela.
Galapagos Lava Heron, photographed at Tintoreras on Isabela Island.
Scientific NameButorides sundevalli
Best Places Everywhere
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusLeast Concern

There is some debate over the classification of the lava heron. While some authorities claim it to be its own unique species, others believe it to be a subspecies of the striated heron (Butorides striata).

Regardless of its classification, this is one of the most beautiful birds in the Galapagos and is a treat to spot.

Best Places to See Lava Herons

The Galapagos lava heron can be found on many islands throughout the archipelago, but is typically seen along the coastline fishing for crab and small fish.

The beautiful specimen in the photograph above was captured on a kayaking tour of Tintoreras on Isabela island.

13. Galapagos Dove

One of the many endemic Galapagos animals, the Galapagos dove, perched on lava rock on Genovesa Island.
Galapagos Dove, photographed on Genovesa Island.
Scientific NameZenaida galapagoensis 
Best Places Everywhere
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusNear Threatened

The Galapagos dove is one of the prettiest birds in the Galapagos.

Endemic to the archipelago, it is a curious and tame species, so much so that early sailors frequently reported the birds landing on their hats, heads, or shoulders.

Unfortunately, this made the doves an easy source of food for the sailors, which in turn caused them to become increasingly cautious of humans.

Even still, they have remained mostly tame and will likely wander up to you!

The Galapagos dove also has an important role in the ecosystem as a pollinator for plants such as the Opuntia cactus.

Best Places to See Galapagos Doves

The Galapagos doves can be seen throughout the islands. They are most commonly seen on the ground as they are reluctant to fly.


14. Swallow-Tailed Gull

A swallow tailed gull perched on a rock with its beak open and tongue out, seen on South Plaza Island.
Galapagos Swallow-Tailed Gull, photographed on South Plaza Island.
Scientific Name
Best Places • Genovesa Island
• South Plaza Island
• Española Island
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusLeast Concern

Endemic to the Galapagos, the swallow-tailed gull has evolved excellent eyesight to allow it to feed at night and is the only nocturnal gull in the world.

They are easily identified by their distinctive red eye ring.

The swallow-tailed gulls only breed in the Galapagos islands. When they are not nesting, however, they spend their time out at sea and can travel as far south as central Chile.

They are very vocal birds that make a strange clicking sound which is thought to be used for echolocation at night.

Best Places to See Swallow-Tailed Gulls

The swallow-tailed gull can be spotted throughout the archipelago. However, they prefer the warmer waters in the east of the Galapagos islands.

The best places to see swallow-tailed gulls are Genovesa, Española, and South Plaza islands.

It is only possible to reach Genovesa by cruise, but you can take a day tour to Española from San Cristobal and to South Plaza from Santa Cruz.

15. Galapagos Short-Eared Owl

A Galapagos short-eared owl staring at the camera with a small bird gripped in its talons.
Galapagos Short-Eared Owl, photographed on Genovesa Island.
Scientific NameAsio flammeus
Best Places Genovesa Island
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusLeast Concern

The Galapagos short-eared owl is one of the few predatory animals in the Galapagos. It is an endemic subspecies of the short-eared owl which is found on all continents except Antarctica.

As is common with many endemic animals, the short-eared owl has evolved to be smaller and darker in coloration, allowing for better body temperature control and camouflage.

Best Places to See Galapagos Short-Eared Owls

Although the Galapagos short-eared owl can be spotted throughout the archipelago, it is most commonly sighted on Genovesa Island hunting the seabird colonies.

It is only possible to visit Genovesa Island by cruise.


16. Little Vermillion Flycatcher

A bright red little vermilion flycatcher, one of the prettiest Galapagos animals, is perched on a twig surrounded by lush ferns and vegetation on Isabela island.
Little Vermillion Flycatcher, photographed on Isabela Island.
Scientific NamePyrocephalus nanus
Best Places • Santa Cruz
• Fernandina Island
• Isabela Island
• Rabida Island
Best TimeDecember – May
Conservation StatusVulnerable

Unfortunately, the population of this vibrant bird is rapidly in decline as it faces the same threats that have led to the extinction of the San Cristobal flycatcher, including invasive species and habitat loss.

With its brilliant red color, birdwatching enthusiasts who are fortunate enough to find one of these endangered beauties are in for a treat. We photographed the one above on our hike to Sierra Negra Volcano on Isabela Island.

As its name implies and like other flycatchers, it feeds on a variety of insects, preferring to catch them in flight than on the ground.  

Best Places to See Little Vermillion Flycatchers

Isabela Island is the best place to see the endangered Little Vermillion Flycatchers, especially in the highlands.

Once found throughout the Galapagos islands, it is now believed to be locally extinct on Floreana and Santa Fe islands, close to extinction on Santa Cruz Island, and threatened on Isabela Island.

If you are an avid birdwatcher and ticking this one off your list is a priority, the Sierra Negra Hike may be your best bet.

17. Galapagos Flycatcher

A Galapagos flycatcher, a small brown and yellow bird, is perched in a tree and surrounded by lush vegetation.
Galapagos Flycatcher, photographed on Isabela Island.
Scientific NameMyiarchus magnirostris
Best Places All main islands
Best TimeDecember-May
Conservation StatusLeast Concern

The Galapagos flycatcher is another bird that is endemic to the region and is present on all of the major, inhabited islands.

Also known as the large-billed flycatcher, the small, tawny bird is typically fearless of people and is very curious. It is even known to occasionally land on someone’s head or camera!

When no surprising tourists, they can be spotted energetically chasing insects. Similar to the little vermilion flycatcher, they feed on flying insects, as well as caterpillars, larvae, and fruits.

Best Places to See Galapagos Flycatchers

You will see the Galapagos flycatchers on any of the major islands. The one photographed above was spotted on the Sierra Negra hike on Isabela Island.

18. Galapagos Mockingbirds

A San Cristobal Mockingbird on the ground at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado.
Galapagos Mockingbird, photographed on San Cristobal.
Scientific NameMimus parvulus (Galápagos)
Mimus melanotis (San Cristóbal)
Mimus macdonaldi (Española)
Mimus trifasciatus (Floreana)
Best Places Everywhere
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusLeast Concern – Vulnerable

There are four endemic species of mockingbird in the Galapagos islands:

  • Galápagos mockingbird (Mimus parvulus)
  • San Cristóbal mockingbird (Mimus melanotis)
  • Española mockingbird (Mimus macdonaldi)
  • Floreana mockingbird (Mimus trifasciatus)

All four species are closely related with DNA evidence showing that they likely evolved from a single colonization event.

The Galapagos mockingbird is the most widespread of the four species, meaning they can be found throughout the archipelago. The other three are limited to a specific island.

The mockingbirds are omnivores, mostly foraging on the ground and eating everything from seeds and insects to eggs, baby turtles, and sea lion placentas.

Best Places to See Galapagos Mockingbirds

The Galapagos mockingbirds are some of the most commonly seen birds in the Galapagos on any island, made easier to spot by their curious nature and willingness to approach humans.

🦭 Animals of the Galapagos Islands: Mammals

The isolated location of the Galapagos archipelago made it especially difficult for mammals to reach the islands.

While there are, unfortunately, quite a few species of mammals that have been introduced to the Galapagos islands, there are very few endemic species.

In fact, there are only seven endemic mammals in the entire archipelago. These are:

  • Galapagos sea lions
  • Galapagos fur seals
  • Southern red bat
  • Galapagos hoary bat
  • Galapagos rice rat
  • Santiago Galapagos mouse
  • Fernandina rice rat

In addition, there are 24 dolphin and whale species that live in the waters of the region, some of which are residents and some migratory.

19. Galapagos Sea Lions

An underwater photograph in Galapagos showing a sea lion swimming towards the camera.
Young Galapagos sea lion, photographed underwater on San Cristobal Island.
Scientific NameZalophus wollebaeki
Best Places Everywhere
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusEndangered

Sea lions are the one wildlife encounter you can guarantee to experience on your visit. In fact, it will likely be one of the first animals you see in the Galapagos. They live on every island and are incredibly playful and curious.

You will spot them lounging anywhere they feel like being, from benches in town to the beautiful beaches, and will likely be swimming gracefully in the surf any time you hop in the water.

While there are strict rules about interacting with animals in the Galapagos, the sea lions don’t know the rules! Their inquisitive and bold nature leads to fun encounters, particularly in the water where they’ll likely swim straight up to you.

Just be sure to be respectful of them and give them plenty of space.

Despite their apparent abundance throughout the islands, they are actually endangered and their numbers are on the decline.

Best Places to See Galapagos Sea Lions

While you will absolutely see them everywhere throughout your time in Galapagos, regardless of which island(s) you stay on, San Cristobal is the best place to see them.

They are literally on every beach and pier in town and have completely taken over one of the beaches on the island (Playa de los Marinos).


20. Galapagos Fur Seals

One of the cutest Galapagos islands animals, the Galapagos fur seal posed on lava rock looking towards the camera with blue water in the background.
Baby Galapagos Fur Seal
Scientific NameArctocephalus galapagoensis
Best Places • Isabela Island
• Fernandina Island
• Santiago Island
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusEndangered

The Galapagos fur seal is one of the cutest endemic species in the archipelago.

Although technically a sea lion rather than a seal, the Galapagos fur seal has a few noticeable differences from the more commonly encountered sea lions.

It is smaller, has denser fur, more pronounced ears, and larger eyes than a sea lion. They are also less common and are typically solitary creatures.

Best Places to See Galapagos Fur Seals

While the Galapagos Fur Seal can be spotted in a few locations around the Galapagos, they are most reliably found on Isabela, Fernandina, and Santiago.

Of these, Isabela Island is the only place you can see them without a cruise. In particular, the tour to Los Tuneles is the best bet for spotting one.

21. Dolphins & Whales

A pod of dolphins are seen in the water on a boat trip from San Cristobal Galapagos.
A pod of dolphins off the coast of San Cristobal island on a day tour.
Scientific NameCetaceans
Best Places Bolivar Channel (between Isabela and Fernandina)
Best TimeCool season (June to November)
Conservation StatusVarious

The Galapagos islands are home to over 24 species of dolphins and whales.

Some species live here year-round, making sightings possible year-round. However, you have the best chance to spot dolphins and whales between June and November when large numbers of migratory species are also present.

Best Places to See Dolphins & Whales in Galapagos

The most common place to spot dolphins and whales in the Galapagos is the Bolivar Channel which separates the islands of Fernandina and Isabela.

In this unique location accessible only by cruise, the seawater is especially cold and rich in nutrients, with plenty of schools of fish available as a reliable food source.

If you book any inter-island day tours during your visit to the Galapagos, your boat captain will keep on the lookout and make announcements if any are spotted.

🐢 Animals of the Galapagos Islands: Reptiles

22. Galapagos Giant Tortoises

One of the most iconic Galapagos islands animals, a giant tortoise walking along grass towards the camera in Santa Cruz highlands.
Galapagos giant tortoise at El Chato on Santa Cruz.
Scientific NameChelonoidis spp.
Best Places Santa Cruz highlands
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusVulnerable – Critically Endangered

The Galapagos giant tortoises were once so abundant in the region that Spanish explorers in 1535 named the islands after them (galápago being the Spanish word for tortoise).

Unsurprisingly, they remain the most iconic of all the Galapagos islands animals.

Sadly, the giant tortoises of the Galapagos reached near extinction in the 19th century due to excessive hunting and newly-introduced species. Today, most of the 12 remaining species are still considered critically endangered, though their populations are slowly rising thanks to extensive conservation efforts.

These impressive reptiles are the world’s largest tortoises and have been known to exceed 5 feet in length and weigh over 500lbs (225kg).

Galapagos tortoises are also the longest-lived of all land vertebrates, averaging over 100 years old, with the oldest tortoise on record reaching an impressive 175 years.

Best Places to See Galapagos Giant Tortoises

The best place to see semi-wild Galapagos giant tortoises in a natural habitat is at El Chato Ranch on Santa Cruz.

You can also see them at Charles Darwin Research Station (Santa Cruz), Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado (San Cristobal), and Arnaldo Tupiza Tortoise Breeding Center (Isabela).

Of note, every major island in the Galapagos has its own subspecies of Galapagos tortoise, each of which has evolved very differently to meet the unique challenges of the island.

If you happen to be visiting multiple islands, try to visit one of the tortoise sanctuaries on each to compare how different they truly are!


23. Marine Iguanas

An up-close image of several marine iguanas in the Galapagos, with one sat on top of another.
Galapagos Marine Iguanas, photographed on Fernandina Island.
Scientific NameAmblyrhynchus cristatus
Best Places • Fernandina
• Española
• Floreana
• Isabela
• Santa Cruz
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusVulnerable

The marine iguana is an incredible living display of evolution. Having landed in the Galapagos islands from the Central American jungles with no viable food source, these miraculous survivors are notable as the only species of iguana on earth that can swim and even feed underwater.

There are 11 subspecies of marine iguanas across different Galapagos islands, all of which are very similar.

For most of the year, the adults are black and blend into the lava rock that lines most beaches. During mating season, however, the males change color and each different subspecies has its own unique colorations.

For example, marine iguanas on Española island are nicknamed “Christmas iguanas” for their green and red colors, whereas Fernandina has the largest and darkest-colored marine iguanas.

Best Places to See Marine Iguanas

Much like sea lions, you are basically guaranteed to see marine iguanas on any island you visit.

The marine iguanas are a bit more scarce on San Cristobal, but you will no doubt encounter them even here. They are absolutely everywhere on Isabela and Santa Cruz.

24. Galapagos Land Iguanas

An orange and yellow land iguana at Cerro Dragon, Santa Cruz in Galapagos islands
Galapagos Land Iguana, photographed at Cerro Dragon on Santa Cruz.
Scientific NameConolophus subcristatus (Galápagos land iguana)
Best Places • Fernandina
• Isabela
• Santa Cruz
• South Plaza
• Baltra
• North Seymour
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusVulnerable

While the Galapagos islands are better known for the extraordinary marine iguanas, the colorful land iguanas still make for an impressive sight as well.

With a lifespan of 50-60 years, they can reach 5ft (1.5m) in length and weigh up to 25lb (13kg). They are typically a yellow color with white, black, and brown blotches.

Despite their intimidating appearance, they are primarily herbivorous, feeding on prickly pear leaves and fruit.

They also have an interesting symbiotic relationship with finches, which can often be seen perched on their back and picking ticks from between their scales.

There are also two other species of endemic land iguana found in the Galapagos islands:

  • Santa Fe land iguana (Conolophus pallidus) – can only be found on Santa Fe Island
  • Pink iguana (Conolophus marthae) – only found on Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island and is critically endangered

Best Places to see Galapagos Land Iguanas

These prehistoric-looking animals can be found on seven of the main Galapagos islands, having recently been reintroduced to Santiago island.

You can see land iguanas on several islands, many of which can be visited via day tours from one of the inhabited islands that allow overnight stays (Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela).

One of the best places to see land iguanas in the Galapagos is on the island of Baltra (formerly known as Seymour Island) where the major airport is located.

If you are flying in or out of GPS airport, we recommend looking out for them as you arrive and depart. We saw several while waiting for our flight right outside the doors!


25. Green Sea Turtles

Underwater photo of a Galapagos green sea turtle, captured while snorkeling at Los Tuneles on the island of Isabela.
Green Sea Turtle, photographed at Los Tuneles on Isabela Island.
Scientific NameChelonia mydas
Best Places • Los Tuneles & Punta Vicente Roca (Isabela)
• Rosa Blanca (San Cristobal)
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusEndangered

There are four species of sea turtles that frequent the Galapagos islands.

Of these, green sea turtles are by far the most populous and common to see and are also the only sea turtles to nest in the Galapagos. However, you may also occasionally see hawksbill, leatherback, and olive ridley turtles in the water.

The Galapagos green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas agassizii) is a distinct endemic subspecies that only nests in the Galapagos. Their largest nesting sites are found at Bachas Beach (Santa Cruz) and Punta Cormorant (Floreana).

As they nest at night, it is unlikely you will see them on land. However, during their nesting season (December to March), flipper paths can sometimes be seen on the beach.

Best Places to See Galapagos Sea Turtles

You may encounter green sea turtles snorkeling anywhere in Galapagos, or by just looking off the main pier of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz.

However, the best place to truly experience their majesty is with a snorkel tour to Los Tuneles on Isabela or at Rosa Blanca on the 360° Tour from San Cristobal.

Punta Vicente Roca (Isabela) is also a wonderful place to see them, but can only be reached by cruise.

26. Galapagos Lava Lizards

A lava lizard with a vibrant red head and throat perched on a rock on Española island, one of the most common Galapagos Islands animals.
Galapagos Lava Lizard, photographed at Española Island.
Scientific NameMicrolophus spp.
Best Places All islands except Genovesa, Darwin, and Wolf. 
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusLeast Concern – Near Threatened

There are seven different species of lava lizards and they are one of the most abundant reptiles you’ll find in the Galapagos.

It is almost impossible not to see one of these little lizards sunbathing on lava rock or scurrying around while in the Galapagos.

Despite their small size, they are a fascinating species with interesting abilities and behaviors. For example, the males can often be spotted having push-up contests to determine dominance and territory.

They also have two useful and impressive adaptations. The first is the ability to change color slightly for camouflage. The second comes into play in the event this camouflage fails, at which point the lava lizard is able to drop its tail.

The separated tail continues to squirm, acting as a distraction while they escape. The tail will even eventually grow back, though it rarely reaches the same length.

Best Places to See Galapagos Lava Lizards

It will be difficult NOT to see a lava lizard while visiting the Galapagos; they are absolutely everywhere.


27. Galapagos Racer Snakes

An endemic Galapagos racer snake seen amongst a group of marine iguanas, sliding along the tail of one.
Galapagos Racer Snake on the tail of a marine iguana.
Scientific NamePseudalsophis spp.
Best Places • Santa Fe
• North Seymour
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusNear Threatened

The Galapagos racer snake was made famous (or perhaps infamous) when it was featured hunting baby marine iguanas in the BBC Planet Earth documentary with David Attenborough.

There are believed to be at least six different species of Galapagos racers on different islands, although the exact number is unknown due to a lack of research.

Galapagos racer snakes are constrictors and mildly venomous. They hunt lava lizards, geckos, insects, iguanas, rodents, and hatchlings, and one species on Fernandina even hunts fish!

If you are lucky enough to see one, rest assured that despite being mildly venomous, they are not aggressive towards people and could do very little harm even if they did attack.

Best Places to See Galapagos Racer Snakes

Despite being present on most of the major islands, they are very difficult to spot and are not commonly seen by tourists.

Santa Fe and North Seymour islands offer the best chances for seeing them.

🦈 Galapagos Islands Animals: Marine Life

The Galapagos Marine Reserve encompasses an enormous 51,000 square miles (133,000 km2), making it one of the largest marine reserves in the world.

It is also one of the most biologically diverse regions on our planet, providing a home to over 3,000 species.

The archipelago and its immense marine reserve have been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, and has even been referred to as a ‘living museum and showcase of evolution’. 

For this reason, the Galapagos Islands provide some of the best snorkeling spots you’ll find anywhere in the world.

Below are a few of the most impressive and iconic marine animals of the Galapagos islands.

28. Sally Lightfoot Crabs

A Sally lightfoot crab showing its blue and yellow face, and red legs, contrasting against the black lava rock.
Sally lightfoot crab on lava rock, photographed at Playa de la Estacion on Santa Cruz Island.
Scientific NameGrapsus grapsus
Best Places Everywhere
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusLeast Concern

The colorful Sally lightfoot crabs can be seen skittering along the coast on beaches and lava rock throughout the Galapagos Islands, as well as the western coast of the Americas.

Interestingly, it is rumored that they were named after a Caribbean dancer due to their excellent agility and maneuverability.

While the juvenile Sally lightfoot crabs are darker in color for camouflage, the adults are easy to spot with their bright red shells and blue faces.

Their striking colors against the black lava rocks make them ideal subjects for some beautiful Galapagos photography.

Best Places to See Sally Lightfoot Crabs

You will find the Sally lightfoot crabs everywhere you look near the water on any of the inhabited islands. They are one of the few Galapagos islands animals you are guaranteed to see on a visit without even trying.

29. Reef Sharks

Underwater photo of a Galapagos whitetip reef shark resting on the ocean floor in a cave at Los Tuneles on Isabela island.
Whitetip reef shark, photographed at Los Tuneles on Isabela Island.
Scientific NameCarcharhinus limbatus (Blacktip shark)
Triaenodon obesus (Whitetip reef shark)
Best Places Everywhere
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusVulnerable

Although 32 different species of sharks have been recorded in the Galapagos, blacktip and whitetip reef sharks are two of the most commonly sighted species.

Both blacktip and whitetip reef sharks prefer shallow waters and, as the name suggests, can typically be found near reefs.

During the day, whitetip reef sharks can be found resting in caves, often in large numbers.

Blacktip sharks use the mangroves as their nursery and small sharks can frequently be seen in mangrove areas.

Best Places to See Reef Sharks in Galapagos

The most likely place you’ll see reef sharks is off the main pier in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island. If you take a night stroll, which is highly recommended, you are guaranteed to spot plenty of them swimming around the lit surface of the water.

Los Tuneles on Isabela is a great day trip option to actually swim with these magnificent creatures and see them up close.

30. Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks

A pair of Galapagos Hammerhead sharks surrounded by small fish are photographed while diving at Darwin Island.
Scalloped Hammerhead Shark photographed at Darwin Island.
Scientific NameSphyrna lewini
Best Places • Kicker Rock (San Cristobal)
• Gordon Rocks (Santa Cruz)
• Darwin & Wolf Islands
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusCritically Endangered

Of all the marine animals in the Galapagos Islands, the scalloped hammerhead has become one of the most iconic.

While not endemic to the region, the Galapagos Marine Reserve is one of the best places in the world to see them. There is a year-round population of sharks in the region, as well as some that are migratory.

Watching an underwater cyclone of hammerhead sharks circling en masse is one of the most surreal experiences you will ever have observing wildlife.

Best Places to See Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks

Kicker Rock off of San Cristobal is by far the best place to see Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks. Tours can be done as a snorkel or dive trip to this spot specifically, but it is also included as a stop on the 360º Tour.

Gordon Rocks off of Santa Cruz is the other location with a high probability of spotting them, but can only be done as a scuba dive.

Darwin and Wolf Islands are known for having the densest shark populations (the largest biomass in the world, in fact), but are only accessible on a SCUBA liveaboard.

31. Galapagos Sharks

A Galapagos shark seen on a snorkeling day tour.
Galapagos Shark, photographed at Pinzon Island.
Scientific NameCarcharhinus galapagensis
Best Places • Pinzon Island
• Santa Cruz
• Darwin & Wolf Islands
Best TimeMarch to April
Conservation StatusLeast Concern

Galapagos sharks can be found worldwide, but were named after the Galapagos islands where they were first identified.

They are typically seen at depths over 100m, though younger sharks can be spotted in shallower waters while snorkeling in Galapagos, particularly from March to April after their mating season.

It can also be difficult to identify these sharks as they closely resemble reef sharks and dusky sharks.

A fun fact about Galapagos sharks is that they are viviparous, meaning that they give birth to live young.

Best Places to See Galapagos Sharks

The best place to truly see Galapagos sharks while snorkeling is on a day tour to Isla Pinzon, which has one of the highest shark populations and perhaps the clearest water you will snorkel in Galapagos.


32. Rays

Underwater photography of a Galapagos spotted eagle ray soaring through the water.
Spotted Eagle Ray, photographed at Concha de Perla on Isabela Island.
Scientific NameMyliobatiformes spp.
Best Places Everywhere
Best TimeDecember to May
Conservation StatusNear Threatened – Endangered

There are 15 different species of rays that can be found in the Galapagos islands.

Of these, the most commonly seen are spotted eagle rays, golden rays (also known as cownose rays), diamond stingrays, and manta rays.

While stingrays can most commonly be found hiding beneath a layer of sand on the ocean floor, the other three species are more often seen gliding gracefully through the water.

If you have never swam with rays before, their grace in the water is genuinely transcendent.

Best Places to See Rays in the Galapagos

It is possible to see rays throughout the Galapagos archipelago. However, each species has places where sightings are more frequent.

The easiest place you may see any of them is from the main pier in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. If you watch long enough, there is a very good chance of spotting any of the species of rays that inhabit the Galapagos.

Spotted eagle rays and golden rays are often found in Elizabeth Bay on Isabela and Caleta Tortuga Negra (Black Turtle Cave) on Santa Cruz.

We photographed the eagle ray above and an entire pod of its friends while snorkeling at Concha de Perla (free!) on Isabela Island.

Manta rays are most frequently spotted around Wolf and Darwin Islands, as well as in the channel between Santiago Island and Sombrero Chino Islet.

33. Whale Sharks

Underwater photo of a whale shark in crystal clear water in the Galapagos islands.
Whale Shark, photographed at Darwin Island.
Scientific NameRhincodon typus
Best Places Darwin & Wolf Islands
Best TimeJune to November
Conservation StatusEndangered

Perhaps the most impressive of all marine animals in the Galapagos islands is the whale shark, and it is a bucket list highlight for any snorkel or dive enthusiasts.

Despite being the largest fish in the world, it is completely harmless to humans, feasting primarily on plankton.

The whale shark is a migratory species and can be found in warm and temperate seas around the world. In the Galapagos, they reliably visit between June and November each year to feed as the upswelling current brings rich food sources.

Best Places to See Whale Sharks in Galapagos

Whale Sharks are most commonly sighted in the northern area of the Galapagos Marine Conservation, in the waters around Darwin and Wolf Islands.

However, it is worth noting that these islands can only be visited on a dive liveaboard.

34. Pacific Seahorses

This underwater photo provides a close-up view of a colorful Pacific seahorse, captured during a snorkel tour at Los Tuneles on Isabela island.
Pacific Seahorse, photographed at Los Tuneles on Isabela Island.
Scientific NameHippocampus ingens
Best Places Isabela Island
Best TimeYear-round
Conservation StatusVulnerable

The Pacific seahorse is not endemic to the Galapagos and can also be found along the west coast of the Americas.

It does, however, make for an impressive sight. Growing up to 12 inches (30cm) in length, they are the second-largest species of seahorse.

Best Places to See Pacific Seahorses in Galapagos

The best place to see Pacific seahorses is on a snorkel day tour to Los Tuneles on Isabela Island. Your guide will help you pick them out as they are well-camouflaged and easily missed.

Roca Vicente, also on Isabela Island, as another great spot to see them but is only accessible via cruise.

35. Tropical Fish

A parrotfish and a school of surgeonfish seen while snorkeling in the Galapagos islands
School of tropical fish in the Galapagos.

While the larger and more unusual marine creatures often steal the show, we would be remiss not to mention the incredible plethora of tropical fish that can be seen while snorkeling or diving throughout the Galapagos islands.

There are over 450 species of fish in the area, with 10% of them being endemic to the Galapagos, such as the strange-looking Galapagos batfish.

Although there are a huge number of fish year-round, the greatest diversity and number can be found in the cooler season from June to November. During this time, the Humboldt Current brings nutrient-rich water, attracting many more fish.

🙋🏽 FAQs About Galapagos Islands Animals

Use the drop-down boxes below to find the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Galapagos Islands animals.

What kind of animals live on the Galapagos island?

There are almost 9,000 species of animals that live on the Galapagos islands and the surrounding waters. The most famous and iconic animals in the Galapagos include the giant tortoise, blue-footed booby, marine iguana, Galapagos sea lion, and Galapagos penguin.

Why are animals in the Galapagos not afraid of humans?

The animals of the Galapagos islands existed for tens of thousands of years without any predators. As a result of this lack of predation, they have evolved without fear of humans or other species.

What is the most common animal in the Galapagos Islands?

Of all the animals in the Galapagos islands, you will most commonly see marine iguanas, sea lions, blue-footed boobies, lava lizards, and Galapagos finches.

However, the Galapagos islands are one of the most biodiverse places in the world and you can experience a huge array of incredible animals.

Are there Komodo dragons in Galapagos?

Komodo dragons are native only to Indonesia and cannot be found in Galapagos. However, there are three species of land iguana in the Galapagos as well as the only species of marine iguana in the world!

Are there snakes on Galapagos Islands?

Scientists believe there to be at least six different species of Galapagos racer snakes spread throughout different islands. Despite being present on most of the main islands, however, they are not commonly seen by tourists.

If you are lucky enough to see one, rest assured that despite being mildly venomous, they are not aggressive and pose almost no threat towards humans.

Are you allowed to touch the animals in the Galapagos Islands?

Under Galapagos National Park law, it is illegal to touch any animals in the Galapagos Islands. You must remain at least 6-feet (2 meters) from animals, including extended arms or selfie-sticks.

You should never touch wild animals as it can be extremely harmful to them. Beyond the stress it can cause, many are susceptible to disease from bacteria or chemicals that can be on our hands.

Why are Galapagos animals special?

Due to the remote location and isolation of the Galapagos islands, there are a large number of endemic species of animals found in the Galapagos that do not exist anywhere else in the world.

Additionally, the animals of the Galapagos islands have evolved without predation, making them unusually tame.

Many have developed unique characteristics to help them survive in the Galapagos. One of the most remarkable examples is the world’s only marine iguana, which has evolved to be able to swim and eat underwater.

What animals only exist on the Galapagos Islands?

There are over 700 endemic vertebrates and 1,200 endemic invertebrates in the Galapagos islands, “endemic” meaning they only exist in the Galapagos islands.

Are there amphibians on the Galapagos Islands?

There are no native amphibians on the Galapagos islands. The theorized reason for this is that most land animals (reptiles and mammals) arrived as castaways during tropical storms, floating to the Galapagos archipelago from Central and South America amongst debris. Amphibians would not be able to survive this journey.

Additionally, a lack of fresh water on the islands provides unlivable conditions for amphibians.

📚 More Galapagos Islands Travel Guides

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💬 Final Thoughts

A close up image of the bright yellow face of a land iguana at Cerro Dragon, Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands.

We truly hope you have found this complete guide on the best Galapagos islands animals informative and useful.

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Regardless of your thoughts, we want to hear them! Help us to help future readers like yourself by providing your feedback in the comments below.

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Written by
Adam Marland is a professional travel blogger and landscape photographer from Oregon. After over a decade of experience as a freelance travel photographer, Adam found national acclaim when he became the National Park Foundation's “Chief Exploration Officer” in 2021.

2 thoughts on “🐢35 Iconic Galapagos Islands Animals & Where to See Them”

  1. What amazing animals!! I would absolutely love to see a whale shark in the wild, and the Galapagos Islands sound like the perfect place to do that. Thanks for sharing!


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