When Charles Darwin explored the Galapagos Islands back in 1835, he encountered bizarre creatures found nowhere else on earth. The archipelago’s isolation made them evolve and adapt to the unique conditions of their surroundings. He focused on the finch, but there are plenty of other birds, reptiles and man made curiosities in the Galapagos to fill you with awe today. Come along on a journey as we highlight the 12 weirdest wonders of the Galapagos. The last one is particularly mind-blowing.
1. Blue Footed Boobies
It’s no big surprise how these goofy Galapagos birds got their name. They look like they stepped in a pot of bright blue paint. The blue hue is actually an important part of attracting a mate. Apparently the bluer the feet, the hotter the booby. These birds know how to strut their stuff, as the males perform a clumsy seduction dance to woo their women. The booby gals have it pretty good, though. This is one species where the dad sticks around the help raise the kids.
2. Marine Iguanas
Darwin called them “hideous”, but marine iguanas are fascinating reptiles regardless of their spiky tough-guy looks. They’re the only sea-going lizard on the planet. These cold-blooded creatures seem lazy on land, huddling enmass on dark rocks to bask in the sun. But once they dive in the water, they’re strong and graceful swimmers. The vegetarians survive on algae and seaweed, and can hold their breath underwater for up to half an hour. A special gland between their eyes helps them sneeze out excess salt. They look like little dragons when they snort out this salty mist.
3. Stonehenge of the Galapagos
Many people are surprised to find old stone carvings on the island of Floreana, similar to those on Easter Island. When Norwegian anthropologist, Thor Heyerdahl, visited on his famous Kon-Tiki expedition in 1953, he thought he’d found evidence of ancient pre-Incan culture in the Galapagos. It turns out it was a bit of a hoax. These were just the playful carvings of bored pirates, whalers and early settlers on the island. These whittled rocks are now a bit of a tourist draw even though they’re not an archaeological find.
4. Galapagos Penguins
When you think of penguins, you think Antarctica – not the equator. However, there is actually a unique species of penguin that calls tropical Galapagos home. They enjoy the chilly waters of the Humbolt current that keeps the ocean at a comfortable temperature here. These penguins mate for life, and both mom and pop tend the eggs and raise the chicks. There are less than 2000 pairs of penguins left in the Galapagos today.
5. Sally Lightfoots
You can’t miss the Sally Lightfoot crabs when you’re in the Galapagos. Their bright red shells polk-a-dot the black volcanic rocks as they scuttle sideways across the shoreline. They are perfectly adapted to getting around nimbly on this razor-sharp sea-sprayed terrain. You often find them hanging out with a mess of marine iguanas.
6. Pinnacle Rock
One of the most iconic shots of all the Galapagos islands is Pinnacle Rock on Isla Bartolomé. Visitors climb the volcanic cone to gaze upon the twin half-moon bays and this jutting point. What you might not know is this postcard view is not exactly the work of Mother Nature. During WWII, the lava point was used for target practice by US airmen who were stationed nearby. That’s how it got it’s distinctive shape.
7. Waved Albatross
The largest birds in the Galapagos are also the most romantic. If you happen to visit Española during mating season (March to January), you’ll witness an elaborate courtship dance of circling, bowing and bill play between these loyal love birds. They mate for life and both partners commit fully to guarding each egg. You’ll be amazed by the 8 ft wingspan of these enormous birds.
8. Magnificent Frigatebirds
Consider these seabirds the plundering pirates of the Galapagos skies. Rather than hunt for themselves, they just harass and take scraps from poor helpless boobies. The male’s most distinctive feature is a balloon-like red breast that inflates when they’re trying to impress the ladies. It’s quite a sight to see these scarlet sacs swelling in the skies.
9. Post Office Bay
This old wooden barrel has served as a make-shift voluntary post-office since the 1790s. Whalers and merchant mariners used to leave messages here in the hopes that some passerby would deliver it to their addressee. It is still being used for this purpose today. Galapagos visitors from all over the world make a pit-stop at Floreana’s Post Office Bay to leave stampless postcards and envelopes, ideally taking a few back to their home countries for delivery too. It’s an honor system that gives you a nostalgic taste of life before the internet.
10. Galapagos Tortoises
Of all the native creatures in the Galapagos, the giant tortoises are the biggest draw for most visitors. The first time you encounter one of these lumbering beasts in the forest, you will be spellbound. Their unexpected hissing and mooing sounds might surprise you too. Did you know these reptiles can go without food or water for a year? Sadly, that fact led to their near-extinction, as mariners would take them as an easy source of fresh meat and oil on their long voyages.
11. Red Footed Boobies
Like their blue footed cousins, the red footed boobies look like a pedicure gone wrong. Their bright red feet are comical. These birds mostly live on Genovesa Island, which is a little off the mainstream tour-boat circuit, so they’re not as commonly spotted. Red footed boobies also perform a jaunty mating dance to please their partners.
12. Mystery on Floreana
An unsolved murder mystery haunts the Galapagos, adding a touch of international intrigue to the area. Several suspicious deaths and disappearances occurred in the 1930s among a small group of German homesteaders on Floreana. Among them was an eccentric self-proclaimed “Baroness” who vanished along with her lover, never to be seen again. There is wide ranging speculation on what went down. Descendants of one of these early settlers run a small guesthouse here today so. Ask them for their take on this mystery.