The Islands have a wide array of endemic fauna, invertebrates, birds, reptiles and a few mammals, which are native to the islands rather than introduced. The Galapagos Tortoise is the most well known of all the endemic creatures. These giant tortoises, all of which are endangered due to hunting and introduced species, include 11 subspecies adapted to the terrain of their island home.

Plants are the basis of all life within the Galapagos Islands. Of the 500 species of "higher" plants 40% are endemic. These plants combined with the 200 species of introduced plants and 500 species of mosses, lichens and liverworts give the Galapagos its complex ecosystem.

The fauna in the Galapagos is amazing although the Islands seem deserted and can easily fool you, this seemingly spartan landscape is in fact teeming with life; the first of the Galapagos' many contradictions. Suddenly you realize that what you thought was a rock is in fact a sun-seeking iguana! And to add to your surprise, it doesn't seem the least bit perturbed by your intrusive gaze... another Galapagos contradiction.

When Charles Darwin arrived to the islands in 1835 he admitted to being a bit tormented by the thousands of iguanas laying about:

"One doesn't get used to their hideous appearance, one is never entirely free of a sense of unease. Some say they look like guardians of Hell or condemned spirits or dragon spawn."

-Charles Darwin

The creatures of the Galapagos are survivors of a tortured landscape, an otherworldly archipelago nine-hundred miles out at sea. And because of their long history of isolation from Homo Sapiens, both land and sea animals remain virtually fearless and unaffected by visitors. As a visitor to the Galapagos, you will swim goggles to whiskers with sea lion pups, penguins, and sea rays, in addition to turtles and tropical reef fish. On land you will find yourself sidestepping over hundreds of Darwin's dragon spawn, as well as nesting blue-footed boobies, sea lions, and scuttling Sally Lightfoot crabs.

The islands are fortuitously positioned at the confluence of three distinct oceanic currents, creating a sea of contradictions, as well as one of the highest levels of marine endemism anywhere in the world: nearly one in four species is unique to the islands.

In the Galapagos, expect the unexpected:

Penguins swim through mangroves in the company of rainbow-colored reef fish, while whale sharks and schools of hammerheads circle in the same waters as the Moorish idol.