5 Must See Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands

REptiles we saw on the Galapagos

You may already know that the Galapagos Islands is a living laboratory of evolution and biodiversity. This mesmerizing haven in Ecuador is home to numerous unique and diverse reptile species.

We encountered some of these wonderful reptiles while traveling to Galapagos islands. Learn more about these creatures in this article.

Galapagos Tortoise

Giant Galapagos turtle at the La Caseta part of El Chato with my wife behind

One of the wildlife highlights in the Galapagos Islands is the giant tortoises. Galápago is an old Spanish word that means “saddle.” Some tortoises on the islands have shells that look like saddles. They’re significant to the islands; hence they were named after them. 

Due to the absence of large plant-eating animals, the tortoises went through changes to fit a unique role in the environment. The tortoise’s shell matches the kind of place it lives in.

Galapagos Giant tortoises behind me at El Chato Tortoise Reserve

In the wet highlands, their shells are like domes, and they eat low plants. On dry islands, their shells are shaped like saddles, and they have long necks to reach tall plants.

The giant Galapagos tortoises represent ecological protection and the delicate Galapagos ecosystems. For years, the number of these reptiles has significantly reduced. Whalers hunted them for food and oil. Other animals, like goats, hurt the places they live, and wild cats and dogs attacked their babies. 

Galapagos tortoises at El Chato

Conservation measures have been started to secure the survival of these extinct giants. Continuing programs are also being implemented to safeguard their habitats and increase their populations.

When you visit the Galapagos Islands, you’re likely to see giant tortoises when you visit the breeding centers. You can watch the people working hard to help the baby tortoises grow up safely.

When I visited the Galapagos, I saw these giant tortoises up close. It was like meeting living legends. They made me think about how nature is delicate and how we must take care of it. The giant tortoises are a special part of the Galapagos, showing us how amazing life on Earth can be.


My beautiful wife and marine iguanas on Tortuga Bay

Galapagos iguanas are remarkable creatures that trace their origins back to the mainland of South America. They adapted to their new surroundings and underwent changes that led to the emergence of two distinct types: land iguanas and marine iguanas.

On the land, we encountered three different types of land iguanas spread across various islands, each finely tuned to its specific habitat.

Lava Lizard at North Seymour Island Galapagos

The unique pink land iguana, residing exclusively on the slopes of Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island, is the oldest species within the land iguana lineage and the most recent to be formally recognized by scientists.

The marine iguanas are the world’s only lizards that venture into the ocean waters. Witnessing these animals dive into the waves and submerge themselves to feed on algae growing on submerged rocks is a strange sight. After their undersea adventures, they head back to the coast, where they may enjoy the sun’s warmth after escaping the chilly ocean.

Galapagos Green Turtles

Seeing a Hawksbill turtle while snorkeling at Kicker Rock

The Galapagos green sea turtles are not your typical green turtles. They belong to the Eastern Pacific variety, distinct from their Atlantic counterparts. While their skin and cartilage boast a greenish hue, their shells lean more towards olive brown or black.

These turtles flaunt shells shaped like teardrops, tapering towards the back with a slight ridge. This streamlined design proves essential, given their considerable mass. Green sea turtles can tip the scales at a whopping 700 pounds and stretch up to 5 feet long, making them some of the largest sea turtles globally.

spotting a Hawksbill turtle on the Galapagos

The Galapagos coastline hosts a grand spectacle as migrating green sea turtles return to nest on the same beaches their ancestors once did. These beaches are protected and occasionally closed off throughout the archipelago to safeguard vulnerable hatchlings.

If you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of these black sea turtles emerging from the waves to bask in the sun and sand. This unique “basking” behavior is a rarity even among sea turtles, setting the Galapagos green turtles apart as yet another wondrous example of the archipelago’s awe-inspiring biodiversity. We witnessed such since while visiting Galapagos Islands in September.

Lava Lizards

lava lizard galapagos

Photo Alessandro Catenazzi – calphotos.berkeley.edu // Wikipedia

The lava lizards of the Galapagos Islands are a remarkable example of how animals can adapt in unique ways. These lizards have undergone adaptive radiation, resulting in seven distinct species of lava lizards across the islands.

Each type has its own characteristics in terms of color, behavior, and size, which vary depending on the specific island they inhabit. Unlike the slow-moving and hefty iguanas found on the islands, these lava lizards are small and quick on their feet.

Male lava lizards generally have darker shades with splashes of yellow and green, though this can differ from island to island. The females tend to be reddish in color, and when they grow up, they sport bright red patches on their cheeks. Interestingly, the coloring of these lizards can change based on their mood – a bit like a living mood ring.

We spotted lava lizards in many lowland areas across the major Galapagos Islands. Our guide said they are common sights on the islands except for Genovesa, Darwin, and Wolf. These tiny reptiles are another captivating example of the Galapagos Islands’ remarkable wildlife.

Hawksbill Turtle

Turtle while snorkelling on Pinzon Island, Galapagos

If you love beautiful things in the sea, you’ll adore hawksbill sea turtles. Adorned with intricately patterned, overlapping shells resembling tie-dye art, these turtles are living canvases that once fueled the popularity of “tortoiseshell” commodities. Yet, these creatures genuinely come alive in their natural habitat, gliding gracefully through tropical waters, a sight far more captivating than any marketable resource.

Hawksbill turtles are easy to spot because of their hooked beaks that look like a bird’s beak. They use these beaks and their slim heads to explore nooks and crannies in coral reefs, searching for tasty sponges to eat.

When they’re not around coral reefs, they hang out in shallow places like lagoons, mangroves, coasts, and rocky areas. In these spots, they munch on lots of different things like plants, small creatures, and even fish.

The hawksbill turtles are a beautiful and vital part of the Galapagos Islands. Their stunning looks and how they live to show us how amazing nature can be.


We have observed many remarkable creatures as we traveled across the Galapagos Islands. These beautiful species have evolved in isolation to create a distinctive tapestry of life. 

While these encounters have undoubtedly left a lasting impression, it’s essential to recognize that your role doesn’t end with observation alone. The Galapagos Islands’ fragile habitats and the remarkable species that inhabit them face numerous challenges, from invasive species to habitat destruction and climate change.

As a visitor to this exceptional haven, you have the power to make a positive impact. By practicing responsible tourism, adhering to guidelines, and respecting the local environment, you contribute to conserving these unique creatures and their homes. Supporting local initiatives and conservation efforts further aids in protecting these remarkable species for generations to come.

Let the awe-inspiring stories of the Galapagos reptiles serve as a reminder of the delicate beauty that thrives here, and let your actions reflect a commitment to preserving these wonders.

About the author

Oleg Galeev

I'm Oleg, and together with my wife, we've explored Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, journeying through more than 20 cities (Quito, Cuenca, Banos, Tena, Puyo, Guayaquil, Riobamba, Otavalo, Mindo and more) and nearly every island in the Galapagos (including iconic ones such as Bartolome Island, San Cristobal Island, Isabela Island, Santa Cruz Island and more). In this blog, I give you my real thoughts about each place we visited. This info can help anyone planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands or mainland Ecuador. I'm just a traveler, not a tour company, so I'm not trying to sell anything. That means I'll tell you the truth—both the good and the bad — about traveling in Ecuador based on what we experienced.

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