Seeing the Galapagos tortoise is one of the highlights of visiting the islands off the coast of Ecuador. The Galapagos Islands were even named after their massive shells. Sailors talked of these islands filled with giant turtles whose shells resembled a saddle – “galapago” in Spanish. They gave the tortoises their name and eventually the islands became known as the Galapagos.


The Massive Galapagos Tortoise

These gental giants have a life span of 150 years. When fully grown they can weigh up to 500 pounds and reach lengths of 6 feet. It’s hard to believe that they start off so small and vulnerable.


A Baby Galapagos Tortoise and Tortoise Egg

This little guy isn’t much larger than a golf ball and you can imagine how he would struggle in the wild. The Galapagos tortoise faces many challenges once they hatch.


Hatcheries and sanctuaries scatter the islands where tortoises are given a fighting chance. At one time, the tortoise only had one natural predator, the Galapagos Hawk, but with the coming of man, many new non-native predators were introduced to their environment. These animals, who were brought in by colonists make life impossible for the new hatchlings.  Goats and pigs trample their nests, rats eat the eggs and ants swarm the new born tortoise as it climbs its way up through the earth. Man certainly made life difficult for the tortoise in the past.


Many Tortoise Shells Scattered the Islands When they were at the Height of Being Hunted

Hunted for their meat and oil from the 16th to the early 20th century, the Galapagos Tortoise nearly didn’t survive. With numbers reaching a quarter of a million before the arrival of man, the Galapagos Tortoise declined to a mere 3,000 in the 1970′s.  These slow movers were easy prey for pirates, whalers and colonists who captured them for food and money. Since they can survive for months at a time without food or water, sailors took thousands of tortoises aboard their ships as fresh meat. These animals never knew to be afraid of humans and were easy pickings for the hungry pirates. Some tortoise species didn’t survive and today great efforts are being taken to make sure that the Galapagos Tortoise thrives in the 21st century.


The Tortoise Mating, Helping to bring their Numbers Back

Sanctuaries provide a safe haven for tortoises to live out their long lives and hatcheries are bringing their numbers back.  They raise young tortoises in captivity for up to 5 years. Once they have grown to a size that has a better chance for survival in the wild they are set free to roam the islands.

The Galapagos Tortoise is still considered a vulnerable species, however it’s numbers are climbing and today. It is estimates that 20,000 Turtles are living on the islands.


We had several encounters with the Galapagos Tortoise and with all the hard work that conservationists are doing and with the popularity of eco-tourism in the 21st century, the future is looking bright for them.


They are a fascinating species. One wonders what goes on in their minds. Living a long life while moving in slow motion, they seem to be more at peace with the earth than any other animal on the planet. If one could describe something as being Zen, the Galapagos Tortoise is definitely the first thing that comes to my mind.

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Our trip to the Galapagos was sponsored by Intrepid Travel, Book your own Intrepid Travel Tour and receive a 10% discount off your trip. Simply by following ThePlanetD, you automatically save! Book Now and quote promo code 9126

Read more Galapagos at Wanna Know What It’s like on an Active Galapagos Tour?  or Marine Iguanas Feeding Underwater

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Leave a comment


    1. debndave Post author

      Hi Deise, it was one of our dreams as well. A friend of mine went way back in the 90′s and we’ve wanted to go ever since. It only took us 15 years, but we made it;) And yes, it was amazing. It lived up to the hype indeed.

  1. Monica

    These guys are so cute! It’s sad that they’re so vulnerable but it’s great that there are conservation sanctuaries that are helping to make a difference.

    1. debndave Post author

      Hi Monica, they are cute aren’t they? They look old and wrinkly yet so adorable. It is great to see people helping to save the world. With all the bad stuff going on in the world, there are amazing human beings doing great things to make it a better place.

    1. debndave Post author

      Haha, thanks Christy. I was doing my best turtle impression. You said it, their faces are cute and wise all at the same time. Doesn’t that last photo remind you of a loveable grandfather. They are truly amazing creatures.

    1. debndave Post author

      Very true. I didn’t know much about these tortoises before visiting the Galapagos. I wasn’t expecting them to be so huge!

    1. debndave Post author

      I know eh. We were surprised ourselves, these guys are huge. Yes, I think I was a turtle in my previous life, I was really feeling the moment when I crawled into that shell;)

  2. Cecil Grass

    Awesome pics! I’ve wanted to see these giants in person since I was a kid! This year I’m planning my first trip out of the states in the form of a Costa Rica vacation. While I won’t get the chance to see the Galapagos this year, it is on my short list of places to visit. Looking forward to bringing back some great pics of my own!

    1. debndave Post author

      It all starts somewhere Cecil. We’ve wanted to go to the Galapagos for years and finally after a decade we made it. It’s awesome that you are taking your first step in travel. You’ll be hooked for sure and then you’ll be traveling all over the place including the Galapagos.

  3. Eva

    Thanks for your great story! A few months ago I went on a trip to Galápagos with a tour operator from Quito (Gulliver Expeditions and I had a really great time there. But when I returned to Quito my Camera got stolen, so I really enjoyed your pictures!!

  4. Pingback: The Galapagos Islands with Intrepid Travel | Travel Blog | The Planet D

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