Galapagos Land Iguana
Gentle giants with a fearsome appearance
What you need to know about the Galapagos Land Iguana
The Galápagos Land Iguana is one of three native species in the archipelago. Recognisable by their large size and yellow skin they have quite a fearsome appearance, sporting large claws and powerful legs. However they are mainly herbivores, and their favourite food is the fruit and leaves of the prickly pear cacti that grow in the more arid parts of the islands.
The Galápagos Land Iguana can grow over 3 feet in length and weigh over 30 pounds, and they can live for up to 50 years in the wild. You can often see finches perched on an iguana’s back - the iguanas allow the birds to remove ticks and other pests from between their scales.
Despite their size, the Galápagos Land Iguana is officially listed as “vulnerable”. Their population has severely declined since the time of Darwin’s visit to the islands. The chief culprits are introduced species such as cats, dogs, pigs and rats. Indeed in 1976 the entire population on Santa Cruz island was wiped out in less than 6 months by wild dogs. The National Park is working hard to remove invasive species and protect natural habitats favored by the Galápagos Land Iguana, and captive breeding programs on Santa Cruz are actively building new populations.
Many of our Galapatours cruises feature extensive land excursions that will allow you to explore the islands where Galápagos Land Iguana’s can be found. Our expert naturalist guides will use their knowledge to really bring these fascinating creatures to life. If you are keen to see the Galápagos Land Iguana then speak to one of our Galápagos experts who can advise you on the best itineraries to maximise your chances of encountering this remarkable creature.
Galapagos Land Iguana: Interesting facts
Many people think Galápagos Land Iguana's resemble the mythical dragons of fairy tales!
Despite being cold blooded, Galápagos Land Iguanas often hide in the shade to avoid the midday heat
To conserve body heat at night, Galápagos Land Iguanas sleep in burrows they dig underground
Land Iguanas move slowly and deliberately - an adaptation that allows them to preserve body heat
Galapagos Land Iguana: Pictures from our travelers
Spots where the Galapagos Land Iguana can be observed
Located on the remote northern tip of Isabela Island, Albemarle Point has the ruins of an abandoned US radar base from World War II. This infrequently visited site is only accessible by panga, but this gives you the opportunity to see the nesting sites of the critically endangered and unique Galápagos Flightless Cormorant.
Living alongside the Cormorants is a colony of the largest Marine Iguana species anywhere in the Galápagos, and you will be able to see these remarkable creatures as they feed at the water's edge or dive into the waves.
Because there are no landings allowed here, and thanks to its remoteness, this is one of the most unspoiled areas in the Galápagos, with little impact from introduced species. From the boat, you will also get a great view of a smooth undulating lava flow that made its way to the water's edge.
Arrival at Baltra airport+transfer to ship
Welcome to Galápagos! Once your flight has landed and you went through the immigration process, you'll be met in the Arrivals lounge by our English-speaking guide who will take you to your transfer vehicle for the short journey to your waiting ship.
Baltra Island, where your arrival airport is, was used as an important Air Force base in the Second World War. This is the primary airport for the Galápagos Islands and you'll be rubbing shoulders with fellow tourists, international naturalists and conservationists, researchers and academics, and Galápagos residents alike. The airport has been built as a "green" airport, and as well as using recycled materials in its construction, it's special design keeps the buildings relatively cool without the need for any air conditioning.
Once on board your ship, you will be introduced to the crew and given a welcome briefing as well as an important safety drill. After this you'll be shown to your cabin. While you're served a well-deserved and delicious lunch, the captain will cast off and your adventure truly starts.
Note: If you plan to spend a few days prior to the cruise in Puerto Ayora and want to do the cruise later this is no problem at all. The transfer from Puerto Ayora to Baltra is very easy.
Asilo de la Paz
Asilo de la Paz on Floreana is a historically important site for the Galápagos. It marks the place where some of the first settlers on the archipelago stayed, and you can visit these caves as well as the rare freshwater spring that made life possible for humans here.
The visitor center is located a short transfer from Puerto Velasco Ibarra on the western coast of Floreana. From the visitor center you can hike up to the top of a 1,470ft hill, walking through magnificent Scalesia forest and passing by a breeding centre where San Cristobal Giant Tortoises are kept - the native Floreana Galápagos tortoises are long extinct, hunted by humans for their meat.
The hiking trail up the hill is hard going in places, and our Galapatours guides really recommend good hiking footwear for this excursion - avoid open-toed shoes.
A walk on North Seymour
North Seymour was formed at the same time as neighboring Baltra Island, and by the same process - an uplifting of undersea lava. This small, flat island has hiking trails throughout, allowing you to explore the arid landscape and to meet the seabirds that call North Seymour home.
North Seymour was the site of one of the earliest conservation experiments in the Galápagos. In 1934 a group of Galápagos Land Iguanas were moved there by Captain Hanckock. They have since thrivedthrived, and there are now well over 2,500 of them on the island and more than 3,000 on the neighbouring Baltra island.
The biggest attraction of North Seymour is its large colony of Blue-Footed Boobies and its Frigatebirds. These popular Galápagos species are often found together because the Frigatebirds rely on the Boobies’ fishing prowess. The Frigatebirds actively steal the Boobies catch to feed themselves!
There is also a population of Marine Iguanas and Galápagos Sea Lions are frequently spotted. The snorkeling here is also very good, with plenty of marine life to see including rays and reef sharks.
A walk on Santa Fe
Santa Fe is a small, flat island right in the center of the Galápagos archipelago, and is thought to be one of the oldest volcanoes here. Dating of the rocks below the water estimates they were formed almost 4 million years ago.
Santa Fe had it's own breed of Giant Tortoise that became extinct at some point in the 1800s due to being hunted for meat. There are two species that are unique to the island still present here - the Santa Fe Land Iguana, and the Santa Fe Rice Rat.
There is one visitor site on Santa Fe, and you will have a panga ride to a wet landing on the beach at Barrington Bay on the island's north coast. From here there are two hiking trails. One is a short loop close to the beach that takes you into an Opuntia forest filled with these massive cactus. This is the best opportunity to see the Santa Fe land iguanas and also other species such as Galápagos Hawks.
The second trail is a tougher proposition as it climbs quite steeply to the top of a cliff from where you will enjoy stunning views over the island's unspoilt interior.
Back on the beach you can join the Galápagos Sea Lions who often play in the waves and you can enjoy some wonderful snorkeling in the clear blue-green waters here.
A walk on South Plaza
Whilst her twin, North Plaza, is closed to visitors, South Plaza is one of the best visitor sites in the Galápagos thanks to the large number of species present on her small area.
The Plazas were formed as the result of a geological uplift, and because this was uneven they both have cliffs on their south sides and low lying shores on their northern coasts.
The most noticeable (and noisiest) of South Plaza's residents are her Galápagos Sea Lions, who have a large colony here. Less obvious are her land iguanas (the smallest in the islands), many marine iguanas and large numbers and varieties of seabirds.
Inland is a mix of scrubby vegetation and giant opuntia cactus forest, providing food for the iguanas. As you follow the circular hiking trail you will come to the summit of the cliffs here where you'll be among countless nesting seabirds.
Charles Darwin Research Station
The world famous Charles Darwin Research Center is just a 10 minute walk from downtown Puerto Ayora, and is the home of the non-profit Charles Darwin Foundation.
Inside, you'll find exhibits about the geography, geology and climate of the Galápagos, and the evolution of her unique species. There is also lots of information on the Foundation's current conservation and education programs.
As well as conducting it's own key research, the Charles Darwin Center also hosts international scientists, and supports the work of government agencies like the Galápagos National Park.
Next door is the site of the Galápagos' first giant tortoise breeding center, where pioneering work has been done since 1965 for the preservation of these species. Here you can see newly hatched babies, up to juveniles and full-grown adults ready to be released back into the wild.
Dragon Hill is the site of a success story in the history of Galápagos conservation. In 1975 almost the entire population of land iguanas in this part of northeast Santa Cruz was wiped out by packs of feral dogs. The Charles Darwin Research Center swung into action with an emergency breeding and rearing program for land iguanas. The program was extremely successful, and the last captive-bred land iguana was released from the breeding center onto Dragon Hill in 1991. Iguanas continue to be released here every 3 or 4 years from other breeding centers in the Galápagos to ensure the continued success of the Dragon Hill Iguanas.
As well as being the landing site to visit the Hill, the rocky shoreline here is a great snorkeling site where you can swim with green turtles, sharks and rays. A trail leads inland past two saltwater lagoons which often play host to flamingos. As you continue to circle Dragon Hill on the trail you'll be able to see land iguanas in the wild, and you can find their burrows all along the path.
As well as the land iguanas, the area around Dragon Hill is full of other species including Darwin's Finches, Galápagos Mockingbirds, and the native Opuntia cactus. This is one of the longer walking trails, and your Galapatours guide will recommend you use good footwear, especially as the trail can be uneven in places and gets slippery and muddy after wet weather.
Interpretation Center Gianny Arismendi
The Gianny Arismendi Galápagos Interpretation center in San Cristóbal, Galápagos, aims to provide a complete history of the Galápagos and give visitors a more holistic understanding of these islands' unique habitats and wildlife.
There are also interesting exhibits covering the Galápagos' human history, and the conservation efforts in place to preserve the archipelago, and undo some of damage human occupation has brought.
For those who are interested in the geology of the archipelago there is a complete exhibit on the volcanic birth of the Galápagos and how this impacted on the habitats present here.
Your Galapatours expert guide will be able to answer any further questions raised by your visit to the Center and can help you to link what you will learn here to what you will see as your Galápagos journey continues.
Where does the name Gianny Arismendi come from? The Directorate of the Galápagos National Park recognized park ranger Gianni Arismendi Guerrero, one of the park rangers of San Cristóbal, for his 27 years of work dedicated to environmental education.
Prince Philip's Steps
Named after Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, who visited the Galápagos Islands twice, the Prince Philip's Steps pier uses natural rock formations to allow you to land and admire the variety of seabirds that inhabit Genovesa. With careful steps on the wet and slippery lower rocks, you begin your hike near a small colony of Galápagos sea bears before reaching the beautiful vantage point further up with views of the lava plains.
The birdlife will surround you from all sides and you will enjoy the sight and sounds of many wonderful species, including blue-footed boobies, red-footed boobies and Nazca boobies, but also small Galápagos owls and Galápagos pigeons.
Translated, this is "Frigatebird Hill", and it's well named! This is a place where both endemic species of frigatebird, the Great Frigatebird and the Magnificent Frigatebird, share a colony.
The hill itself offers a wonderful view of Wreck Bay to the south and to Kicker Rock to the west, but it also provides the perfect opportunity for your Galapatours guide to tell you more about the two species of frigatebird to be found in Galápagos, and how you can tell them apart. There's also a range of native plant species here.
The beach at the bottom of the hill is a nice place to relax, and the waters here are safe for swimming and snorkeling - perfect for cooling off after your climb!
Transfer to Baltra airport
Your Galápagos adventure ends with the arrival of your ship back at Baltra Island. After what many guests describe as an emotional goodbye to your ship and its crew, you'll board the transfer vehicle that will take you on the short journey to the airport in plenty of time for your flight back to the mainland.
Baltra airport serves both Guayaquil or Quito, and we can arrange flights that fit best with your onward plans - particularly if you are continuing a South America tour. Speak to one of our travel experts as we are often able to beat even internet pricing on flights to and from Galápagos.
Note: If you plan to spend a few days in Galápagos after your cruise this is no problem at all. Just let us know and we will arrange for the logistics. The transfer from Baltra to Puerto Ayora, for example, is very easy.
Urbina Bay is one of the youngest features in the Galápagos. It was mainly formed in 1954, when a sudden uplift of the land raised the seabed by over 5 metres, and pushed the coastline over 1 km further away. This has resulted in the astonishing site of heads of coral stranded far from the water. Exposed to the air and elements, the coral heads are rapidly deteriorating and are one of the sights of the Galápagos that won't be around for much longer.
Once ashore, a long hiking trail will take you away from the beach and into the island's arid zone. In this habitat, you are likely to see wild Galápagos Giant Tortoises and Galápagos Land Iguanas. As the trail circles back towards the shore line you'll come across colonies of the unique Galápagos Flightless Cormorant.
This is a pleasant area for snorkeling, and as you enter and leave the water you might do so watched by some Galápagos Penguins, who have a colony nearby. This is also one of the best sites to see Galápagos Marine Iguanas feeding underwater.