The dragons of Galapagos

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Charles Darwin
Standing close to a Galapagos dragon, aka marine iguana, on Isabela Island.

Last year I fulfilled one of my travel dreams – visiting the Galapagos Islands – and I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve always loved watching wildlife and I knew I was in for a treat from the minute I arrived. As we waited on the dock to be transferred to our cruise boat, there were raucous sea lions on the boat-ramp and magnificent frigatebirds overhead. During the next 10 days I saw so much wildlife, including giant tortoises, sea turtles, marine iguanas, land iguanas, blue-footed bobbies, seals, sea lions, penguins, frigatebirds, lava lizards, sally lightfoot crabs and Darwin’s finches. I took so many photographs and had so many wonderful experiences that I’ve decided to do a series of blogs – and where better to start than with the famous Galapagos dragons.

Iguanas arrived on the Galapagos Islands millions of years ago; floating on vegetation from South America. Some of them headed for the mountains (land iguanas) and others took to the sea (marine iguanas). Both favour treacherous environments. Female land iguanas migrate to volcano rims and craters to lay their eggs, where the steam and hot rocks keep them warm. Marine iguanas run a gauntlet against the pounding surf to feed underwater, even though they can only survive in the water for a short time before the cold immobilises them. They have to return to shore and lie on warm rocks to re-absorb some heat.

What they have in common is their dragon-like appearance with spiky crests and horned lumps on their heads. One day, when I was snorkelling off the beach at Bartolomé Island, I glanced to my left and saw a marine iguana swimming alongside me. My heart skipped a beat, even though I knew it was harmless… probably because these creatures really do look prehistoric and it’s just not a normal ‘snorkelling’ experience.  

I only saw a few land iguanas on a walk at Cerro Dragón (Dragon Hill) on Santa Cruz Island. Although they look large and ungainly, they are surprisingly quick if they decide to move. But, like much of the wildlife in the Galapagos, they were content to lie in the sun and were unperturbed by our presence. 

On another walk on Islote Tintoreras (near Isabela Island) we saw hundreds of iguanas piled on top of one another and hiding in the nooks and crannies of the black lava landscape. They really are the most incredible looking creatures and seeing them was one of the highlights of my stay in the Galapagos. Here are a few of my photographs.

Bartolomé Island – it was in these beautiful calm waters that I swam alongside a marine iguana. But not for long… it gave me too much of a fright!

Marine iguana on North Seymour Island.

Land iguana at Cerro Dragón (Dragon Hill) on Santa Cruz Island.

Marine iguana on Isabela Island.

This rocky beach on Isabela Island has hundreds of marine iguanas – so be very careful where you step!

Marine iguana on Isabela Island.

Islote Tintoreras (near Isabela Island) has a large crevice with very clear and calm water where white-tip sharks (tintoreras) come to rest on the bottom. There are also hundreds of marine iguanas.

A sign at the beginning of the Islote Tintoreras walk says: This is the “kindergarten” of marine iguanas. These small reptiles find food in these holes (in the volanic landscape) and hide from danger.

Marine iguanas on Islote Tintoreras.

After our walk around Islote Tintoreras, we went snorkelling here. On this occasion I didn’t see a marine iguana, but was lucky enough to spend time swimming with a sea turtle – which was slightly more relaxing!

For more on the Galapagos Islands, see my blog Lonesome George.


5 thoughts on “The dragons of Galapagos

  1. Pingback: The unusual, and slightly comical, wildlife of North Seymour Island | kgrahamjourneys

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