galapagos sea turtles
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Galapagos Sea Turtles: Visitors Guide to All 4 Species shares the best travel insights, facts, and photos. When you use our links, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

It is pretty exciting to see a sea turtle; they are a rare sight. But not as rare in the Galapagos. During our trips, we saw many sea turtles in many locations. We saw them swimming near the boat, while snorkeling and while walking near a mating area.

The four Galapagos sea turtle species include the Green Turtle (Galapagos sea turtle), Olive Ridley, Leatherback, and Hawksbill. And while they all exist in the Galapagos, the most common sea turtles are the Galapagos sea turtle and the Olive Ridley sea turtle.

galapagos sea turtles

Four Species of Galapagos Sea Turtles

There are four species of marine/sea turtles in the Galapagos Islands:

  1. Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) Commonly referred to as the Galapagos sea turtle.
  2. Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea)
  3. Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea)
  4. Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata)

Here’s more about each type of sea turtle you can see in the Galapagos islands.

1. Galapagos Green Turtle (Black Turtle)

There are two morphotypes of the Green Turtle in the Galapagos: Black and Yellow turtle, according to the Darwin Foundation.

There is debate as to whether the Galapagos Green Turtle (Black Turtle) is a subspecies, Chelonia mydas agassizii. The Galapagos Conservation Trust lists them as a subspecies.

  • Species name: Chelonia mydas
  • Spanish Name: Tortuga prieta
  • Common Name(s): Green turtle, black (sea) turtle, Pacific green turtle,
  • Lifespan: 80 years average
  • Size: 33″ (84 cm) average
  • Weight: 143 lb (65 kg) average
  • Conservation Status: Endangered
galapagos green turtle
Galapagos green turtle I snorkeled with on Floreana Island

Want to see the Galapagos green turtles on your trip?

  • Where to see them: In the waters of the Galapagos Islands. We’ve seen them while snorkeling in Floreana and Isabela Islands, and while traveling by boat.
  • When to see them: Commonly seen year round. You might see females on land during December to March when laying (or preparing to lay) their eggs.

We snorkeled with sea turtles while visiting Floreana Island. And again on Santa Cruz Island (Playa Escondida) and Isabela Island.

Having trouble keeping track of all the islands? See our guide to Galapagos Islands Names.

2. Olive Ridley Sea Turtle

The olive ridley is the smallest of all sea turtles. And the olive ridley sea turtle is probably the most abundant sea turtle in the world, according to Duke University.

  • Species name: Lepidochelys olivace
  • Spanish name: Tortuga-marina escamosa-del Pacífico
  • Common Name(s): Pacific ridley sea turtle, Olive Ridley
  • Lifespan: Up to 50 years
  • Size: 24″ (61 cm) in length
  • Weight: 72 to 78 lb (33 to 35 kg), with males weighing noticeably less.
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable.

Want to see olive ridley turtles on your trip?

  • Where to see them: In the northern section of the Galapagos archipelago, from Marchena, Pinta to Darwin and Wolf.
  • When to see them: You can see them in the water throughout the year. Watch for them during nesting season, especially during spring and early summer, when they come ashore to lay their eggs.

3. Leatherback

In contrast to the small olive ridley turtles, the leatherback turtle is the largest of all turtles and the heaviest reptile (non-crocodilian). They are also the fastest-moving reptiles (non-avian).

  • Species name: Dermochelys coriacea
  • Spanish names: Laúd, tortuga laúd, tortuga baula, tortuga canal, tortuga cardón.
  • Common Name(s): Lute turtle, leathery turtle, luth
  • Lifespan: Not established. Estimates range from 30 to more than 100 years.
  • Size: 5 ft 11 in (1.8 meters) in length
  • Weight: 1,100 lb (500 kg) average
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Here’s a good introduction to leatherback turtles. The video isn’t from the Galapagos because of their rarity there, but it gives some good background.

Want to see a leatherback turtle on your Galapagos trip?

  • Where to see them: They have been spotted dozens of times offshore around the Galapagos, especially in the north. Here is a map of sightings. But it is extremely rare to see a leatherback in the Galapagos Islands.
  • When to see them: There is no way to estimate the best time or location. It is a special experience to see one on your trip.

4. Hawksbill Sea Turtle

  • Species name: Eretmochelys imbricata
  • Spanish names: Carey, tortuga carey.
  • Common Name: Hawksbill
  • Lifespan: 55 years
  • Size: 3 ft (1 m)
  • Weight: 180 lb (80 kg)
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered

Here’s a great tourist video of snorkeling with a Hawksbill sea turtle. You can see the defined hawkbill-shaped beak.

Want to see a Hawksbill turtle on your Galapagos trip?

  • Where to see them: They are found in shallow waters, especially when swimming and snorkeling. Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristobal Island) is a popular place for viewing swimming Hawksbills.
  • When to see them: Year-round.

These sea turtles are just a few of the amazing Galapagos Islands animals you can expect to see on your trip.

Learn more about the best Galapagos beaches.

Your Turn

Which species do you want to see most? Have you ever swam with a sea turtle? Please tell us about it by commenting on this post.

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