Land and Sea Wildlife Highlights in the Galapagos Islands

The wildlife on the Galapagos Islands is so plentiful that it almost requires a checklist in hand. Day after day, the islands’ animal residents go about their daily business, displaying a complete lack of interest in the two-legged guests who stop for a visit. On my family’s weeklong cruise aboard the Eclipse with Ocean Adventures, we had an amazing opportunity to see the same fauna from  completely different vantage points as we walked, snorkeled and kayaked.

A male frigate bird looking for a mate
A male frigate bird looking for a mate

Best of Galapagos Islands Wildlife with Kids

If you’re wondering whether the kids are the right age for a Galapagos Islands family vacation, and if it’s worth the investment, ask yourself if they can see more than just an animal in the photos. Can they comprehend why the iguanas in the Galapagos swim, or why the beaks of Darwin’s finches are different sizes and shapes? If they can understand basic evolution and the reasons the animals in the Galapagos have adapted, they are ready. Eight years old and up is ideal for Galapagos cruises, which also require good physical stamina for multiple excursions a day.

Trying on a shell for size at the Charles Darwin Research Station
Trying on a shell for size at the Charles Darwin Research Station (top). Bottom: Animal safety is always a priority, and a tortoise in the road always has the right of way.

Whether implicit or explained by a naturalist guide, education and science always work their way into Ocean Adventures’ Galapagos excursions. Hands-on activities provided by the kids’ coordinator reinforce what kids see and experience, and a gentle reminder to slow down and take it all in goes a long way. At the Charles Darwin Research Station, kids get a feel for the size and weight of a Galapagos tortoise shell before setting out on the trails.

Mama red-footed booby feeding her baby
A mama red-footed booby feeding her baby

The bird life on the islands is varied and stunning, especially on the island of Genovesa — a panorama of birds flying across the skies. Fortunately, many of the birds are found on more than one island, so if you miss them the first time around there’s an opportunity to see them elsewhere. Catching a red-footed booby feeding her baby is a big thrill.

Nazca boobies, flamingos and a yellow warbler
Nazca boobies, flamingos and a yellow warbler

The mix of birds on the islands runs from ordinary to interesting. Finding out why the Nazca booby can only raise one chick, even if two are born, is a tough nature lesson to learn at any age.

Galapagos Islands Photo and Video Tour

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Marine iguanas hang out in large groups
Marine iguanas hang out in large groups and expel seawater by spitting

Evolution is easiest to explain using the Galapagos marine iguanas as an example, because they are found over several islands. They have evolved into marine iguanas in order to swim in the ocean for food; once on land, they expel the salt from their bodies by spitting out the seawater.

Galapagos Wildlife Sea Lions

The Galapagos sea lions are everywhere, and most, except the large males, love to play with snorkel bubbles and snorkelers. Their friendliness extends to the beach, where they flop down for a rest, oblivious to beachgoers.

Schools of tropical fish are paradise for snorkelers
Schools of tropical fish are paradise for snorkelers

During the months when the Humboldt current flows through the Galapagos Islands, usually June-December, nutrients are stirred up from the bottom, attracting schools of fish and larger predators. It also means that waters are not as clear — our shark, turtle and penguins photos didn’t come out well though we saw them clearly while snorkeling.

Need help planning a family trip to the Galapagos?

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Relevant Links:

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Small ship, big wow factor: Sailing the Galapagos Islands with Ocean Adventures

Nature, history and haciendas: 3 unforgettable weeks in Ecuador with kids

5 reasons to visit the Galapagos Islands now

Top things to do in Quito with kids

Editor’s Note: Kristi received a media package to review Ocean Adventures’ Eclipse cruise for families. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Kristi Marcelle.

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