Galapagos Big 15

Maybe you’ve heard of Africa’s Big Five (buffalo, rhino, elephant, lion and leopard). The Big Five was coined by big game hunters and refers to the five most difficult species to hunt on foot. Now, safari goers stalk the Big Five with cameras and travel on foot and by vehicle.

View of Pinnacle Rock from Bartolome Island - Galapagos.
View of Pinnacle Rock from Bartolome Island – Galapagos.

On a recent trip to Ecuador, we came across a new marketing campaign by Metropolitan Touring – the Galapagos 15. Since species unique to the Galapagos Islands tend to be the major draw for visitors, the list caught our eye. If your trip is planned accordingly, you just might be able to spot every animal on this list in a week-long journey.

Galapagos Big 15

1.  Waved albatross: Only found on Española Island. It’s the largest bird in the Galapagos with a wing span greater than 8 ft.

2.  Blue-footed booby: May be best known for their high-stepping courtship displays. Breeding colonies found on Española and North Seymour Islands. Plunge-diving can be seen throughout the archipelago.

Blue-footed booby - Galapagos Islands.
Blue-footed booby – Galapagos Islands.

3.  Nazca booby: Can be seen on Genovesa, Española and Floreana Islands. It’s the largest booby species on the Galapagos and easily identified by its snow-white plumage, black on the wings and tail feathers, and black feet.

4.  Red-footed booby: The third of the Galapagos booby species has the largest population size, but is the least seen. Found on Genovesa, Punta Pitt (San Cristobal Island), one of Floreana’s satellite islets, and North Seymour.

5.  Flightless cormorant: Only found on Fernandina and Isabela’s west coast. It’s the world’s biggest cormorant and the only one that’s lost its ability to fly – a remarkable adaptation for marine life.

6.  American flamingo: More than 300 individuals have been documented in the archipelago and they can be seen in most itineraries. Their pink coloration is due to the presence of carotenoids (pigments) in the food they eat.

7.  Frigatebirds (great and magnificent): These two species can be found side by side on the islands. Top places to see nesting colonies are San Cristobal, Española, and Genovesa Islands, but they can be seen flying around all islands in the archipelago.

8. Galapagos hawk: the islands’ top predator, a Galapagos endemic. They’re present on most islands, but are not commonly seen. Population estimates indicate approximately 150 breeding pairs.

9. Land iguana: Plays a vital role in dispersal of several succulent plants. They’re known to remove spines on cactus fruits by rolling the fruit over sand and stones before consumption. It’s the most widely distributed iguana species on the islands.

10. Marine iguana: The world’s only ocean-going lizard. Their marine adaptations showcase evolutionary biology. Inhabit all islands in the archipelago.

Marine iguana - Galapagos Islands.
Marine iguana – Galapagos Islands.

11.  Santa Fe land iguana: Only found on Santa Fe Island. It’s perfectly adapted to blend with its surroundings.

12.  Galapagos penguin: An endemic to the islands, the Galapagos penguin survives in tropical waters due to the intersection of multiple cold water currents. Found in larger numbers on Fernandina and Isabela Islands, with smaller colonies on Floreana, Bartolome and Santiago Islands.

13.  Galapagos sea lion: Slightly smaller than their California cousins, this playful and curious Galapagos resident tends to be a favorite for most visitors. Breeding takes place from May to January so pups can be seen any time of the year.

Curious Galapagos sea lion.
Curious Galapagos sea lion.

14.  Galapagos fur seal: The world’s smallest seal species and an endangered species. Visitors can see and sometimes swim with them at North Seymour and Genovesa Islands as well as Puerto Egas and Punta Vicente Roca.

15.  Galapagos tortoise: The islands’ namesake and the largest living tortoise species in the world. They play an important ecological role as top herbivore. They can be seen in their natural habitat on Santa Cruz Island and at breeding centers in Puerto Ayora and Cerro Colorado on San Cristobal.

Galapagos giant tortoise.
Galapagos giant tortoise.

A few honorable mentions in our opinion include the Sally lightfoot crab and Darwin’s finches.

Are you thinking of a trip to Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands? Feel free to contact one of our destination specialists about land-based versus cruise itineraries. We know where to go and when.

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