February 8, 2018

See the Galapagos Big 15 on Your Family Vacation

Large turtle

Photographing a giant tortoise on the Galapagos Islands! Photo: Chris Gamel

Seal imitates swimmer - or is it the other way around?

Take your family to one of the most exciting destinations for wildlife viewing in the world. When it comes to searching for unique, endemic species living in their natural habitat, not many places can compare to the Galapagos Islands. This remote paradise attracts visitors from all over world who come to explore the volcanic landscape of this sprawling archipelago. Spread across 53,300 square miles, the 13 major islands are all unique in their own way and are home to different animals. There are 15 main species endemic to the Galapagos Islands that your family should keep an eye out for when visiting, do you think you’ll be able to find them all? There’s only one way to find out. Get familiar with the Galapagos Big 15 before planning your next family vacation!

1. Galapagos Albatross

This bird is the largest bird on the Galapagos Islands and is exclusive to Espanola Island. They can be found during the cooler, dryer months from April-August.

One of the Galapagos Big 15 - an albatros

2. Red-footed Booby

Although there are more red-footed boobies on the Galapagos than any other booby, it is generally the least seen. This booby can generally only be found in a few places: Genovesa, Punta Pitt, and occasionally on Floreana’s satellite islands and North Seymour.

3. Blue-footed Booby

The blue-footed booby is one of the more famous birds in the Galapagos and can be found on nearly every island. Kids always love to see these birds plunge diving into the water looking for food!

One of the Galapagos Big 15 - the blue footed booby

4. Nazca Booby

This is the largest booby on the islands and also the most aggressive. The Nazca booby is competitive with all of the other booby species, fighting for nesting space along shorelines.

5. Flightless Cormorant

This is the rarest, largest, and most unique of the cormorant species. It lost the ability to fly so that they could grow heavier and larger, allowing them to dive for food up to 260-feet deep.

6. Frigate Birds: Great and Magnificent

One of the main differences between these two birds with their red bulging chests is where they get food. Magnificent frigate birds are pelagic and find their food out at sea while great frigate birds catch most of their food near the coast or steal it from other birds. Don’t worry though, your guide will be able to help you tell the difference!

One of the Galapagos Big 15 - the frigate birds

7. Galapagos Hawk

The Galapagos hawk is the apex predator on the islands and although nothing hunts this bird of prey, it is still very few in number with only about 150 breeding pairs alive today. These hawks can have wingspans as large as 55 inches!

8. American Flamingo

This is the only place outside of the Caribbean to find the American flamingo, but we aren’t complaining because seeing these gorgeous birds is always a treat!

9. Land Iguana

Land iguanas on the islands can weigh up to 30 pounds and live to be 60 years old. The national parks program has done a great job to increase the number of land iguana’s which, historically, was depleted by invasive animals brought to the islands by humans. Mainly rats, cats, and goats.

One of the Galapagos Big 15 - a land Iguana

10. Marine Iguana

Your family can find marine iguanas on every island in the Galapagos, but nowhere else in the world. These iguanas are fascinating, as they were land based animals that developed the ability to survive and thrive in ocean water through evolution.

One of the Galapagos Big 15 - a marine iguana

11. Santa Fe Land Iguana

The Santa Fe iguana only lives on Santa Fe Island in the Glapagos. Even though your family will know exactly what island to look for these iguanas it still may be hard to see them because they perfectly blend into their surroundings!

12. Galapagos Penguin

This is the only species of penguin to live this close to the equator. They are the rarest penguin species in the world and unique in that they breed all year and moult twice a year.

13. Galapagos Fur Seal

The two best islands to see these adorable seals are Fernandina and the western side of Isabela. These are the smallest of the seal species and great fun to watch dart through the water around your boat!

One of the Galapagos Big 15 - a fur seal

14. Galapagos Sea Lion

There is nothing cuter than seeing a sea lion pup playing on the shore! There will be plenty of opportunities for your family to see these sea lions while on the Galapagos. They can weigh as much as 440 pounds and can dive 1,900 feet looking for food!

One of the Galapagos Big 15 - a sea lion

15. Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Arguably the most famous inhabitant of the Galapagos Islands, is the giant tortoise. They can live to be over 500 pounds and 100 years old! Thanks to conservation efforts the amount of giant tortoises is on the rise. The more giant tortoises lumbering through forests snacking on grass, the more opportunities your family will have to find them in the wild.

One of the Galapagos Big 15 - a giant tortoise

A family vacation to the Galapagos Islands is an incredible adventure that suits every family. There a lot of ways to explore these islands, find out which way is best for your family.