Skip to main content

Move over Africa, meet the Galapagos Big 5!

galapagos tortoise contiki

The Galapagos Islands are famously known as the place where Charles Darwin developed his theories of evolution and adaptation. This mysterious archipelago of volcanic islands is part of Ecuador and a must do for any David Attenborough and wildlife fan. Its remoteness and the fact that it has never been part of any other land mass has made it a unique breeding ground for some of the world’s rarest and most incredible animals.

So, we decided to round up all of the Galapagos wildlife you absolutely cannot leave the islands without snapping a photo of. Move over, Africa’s big 5. Here’s why you’ll REALLY want the Galapagos Big Five in your life.

Giant Tortoise

The Galapagos Giant Tortoise is probably the archipelago’s most well-known resident. In fact, the island itself is named after them! Galapago is an old Spanish word for Tortoise. The Galapagos Giant Tortoise is the largest living species of tortoise in the world and can weigh upwards of 400kg. While giant tortoise numbers are increasing, the animals remain under threat from human impact to the ecosystem including the ongoing harmful effects of plastic in our oceans, so you know that reusable coffee cup you’ve been meaning to buy? Buy it stat.



Galapagos Penguin

The Galapagos Penguin is one of five seabirds native to the islands. Although most penguins are associated with colder regions in the Southern Hemisphere, this flightless bird is the most northerly penguin in the world. The Humboldt Current that flows south from Antarctica and along the western coast of South America enables the Galapagos Penguin to live comfortably on the islands.

Galapagos Sea Lion

Any traveller to the Galapagos is sure to have encountered the Galapagos Sea Lion. They are the most plentiful native mammal to the island with an estimated colony of 50,000. The Galapagos Sea Lion can be seen year-round on the shores of the islands and are a highlight for visitors because of their playful nature. They will happily sunbathe on the beach with humans just centimetres away and curious young seal pups can often be seen enjoying a swim with travellers.

12 best things to do in the Galapagos Islands

12 best things to do in the Galapagos Islands

by Danielle Kirk Feb 21, 2018

Galapagos Fur Seal 

The Galapagos Fur Seal population is about the same as the Galapagos Sea Lion, however, you would be less likely to see them when you visit as they prefer to spend their time in shaded, rocky areas of the island during the day and hunt for food in the ocean at night. The male adult Fur Seal is the penultimate gentleman, during breeding season he will starve himself as long as possible to avoid entering the ocean in an effort to protect his territory from other males.

Marine Iguana 

The Marine Iguana is found on all islands in the Galapagos and nowhere else in the world. They arrived as land Iguanas and evolved into marine animals over time. Due to this, they are the only lizard species that are able to forage and live in the ocean. In times of famine, the iguanas will shrink in length by up to 20% and then grow again as food becomes available. They are observed as the only animal with an adult vertebra that can shrink and expand! Once referred to by Charles Darwin as ‘hideous-looking’, these mysterious creatures may look fierce but don’t be deceived, these gentle reptiles are herbivores surviving on underwater algae and seaweed.

Why not explore the diverse waters of this unique group of islands (and get to see some super cute animals) on Contiki’s six-day Galapagos Island Hopper?

Up next

Stop dreaming and make sh*t happen!