A Giant Tortoise Safari in the Galapagos

As you know, last week was a really difficult week as all my camera gear was robbed in Quito. The truth is, I didn’t feel like posting a single photo, article, or item to this site until I got it sorted. However, I was given a shot of “suck it up” by the travel community which has been unbelievably supportive through it all. Although I will never get my camera gear back (update on that Thursday) I have realized how lucky I am to do what I do, perhaps something that we so fortunate enough to do what we really love often forget.

Thus, business as usual. I’m off the pity train and back to work. My Galapagos trip with Gecko’s Adventure was an incredible experience. I’m not sure I’ve ever had more fun taking pictures in my life like I did in the Galapagos, and seeing and photographing the Giant Galapagos Tortoises was certainly one of the highlights.

I hope you enjoy the photos

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“I feel like I’m on Safari,” I shout out from the back of the bus to no one in particular.

“A tortoise safari,” I clarify as people continue to pay no attention to my random play-by-play commentary.

Throughout the mini-bus the gaze of my fellow travellers is set to the windows. Some, perhaps even more excited than me, even manage to fit their entire upper torsos through the tiny gaps to get a better view. Nearly all the passengers shout out a count at each sighting of the Giant Galapagos Tortoise, there are so many of the we soon begin shouting different numbers as each as gain their own count. As we arrive at the trail head we quickly realize, there are far too many to bother counting.

Giant Galapagos Tortoise

Some scale of their size next to a person… That lady was tall too… maybe just under 6 feet.

Giant Galapagos Tortoise

Such huge animals…

The Giant Tortoise sends the idea of dinosaurs ringing through my mind. These prehistoric animals don’t only appear ancient, they look old, as if each one of them personally remembers the time of the dinosaurs. They appear as if they hid deep in their shells during the years of extinction to survive. They seem too slow to survive anything, but too dull to be taken seriously by predators.

Giant Galapagos Tortoise

They are so slow, yet they always seem to be on the move.

Giant Galapagos Tortoise

Try to escape my camera by walking away? I’ll turn you into an “art shot!”

What amazed me most of these creatures was their gentle nature. They seemed to just want peace, calm, and to be left alone to chew the grasses and plants along the trails. The approach of a predator holding a camera didn’t mean an attack, but instead a desperate retreat into their homes. Sure, they may have a face that looks a lot like the bad guy from Harry Potter, but I’m sure there has never been a tortoise that has harmed a soul in history.

Giant Galapagos Tortoise eating

While eating massive burgers I wish my mouth would open that wide.

Giant Galapagos Tortoise

Tucked away, but always aware.

The path takes us through bright green foliage a far cry from the arid landscape we had seen on our journey through the Galapagos Islands so far, and the giant tortoise seemed to thrive here. This wasn’t a park put in place for people to get a close look at these great animals, this is their domain, and they have been so kind as to allow us to come to visit.

The size of the tortoises will never seize to amaze me. It takes all my will power to not attempt to climb on the back of one and ride it like an elephant. I know that they likely have the strength to carry me. However, as they walk from one piece of grass to another I can sense the burden that their protection causes. They move slowly and methodically as their dinosaur-like feet struggle to support the weight of their capture. Still, it is their capture that keeps them alive and allows them to enjoy the finer things in life: like fresh cut grass.

Giant Galapagos Tortoise Foot

Tell me this foot doesn’t look like how you’d image a dinosaur foot to look.

Giant Galapagos Tortoise foot

The foot of this male tortoise was about twice as thick as my legs.

The giant tortoises were the visit I had most looked forward to on my Galapagos Islands trip, and they didn’t disappoint. I could have quite easily spent an entire day sitting along their side watching them eat, walk, and interact with the others when they decided to go for a mud bath. Such an amazing creature deserves such attention.

Giant Galapagos Tortoise

A tortoise profile

Giant Galapagos Tortoise Pit

An HDR image of the tortoise pit

The stories say that the Giant Tortoise of the Galapagos Islands can live over 100 years, but the truth is that to this point no one has stuck around long enough to find out for sure. Recent information has lead people on the islands to believe that these great animals can live as long as 150-200 years, and perhaps more. Here’s to hoping we are around long enough ourselves to find out.

Giant Galapagos Tortoise Shell

How I got so close to the tortoises… I camouflaged myself. “Shhhh I’m hunting wabbits!!! Errr photographing tortoises.”

Giant Galapagos Tortoise Shell

Screw it, I’m hungry…


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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6 Comments

  1. Awesome Brendan. It must have been a great experience, and I imagine that I could spend all day taking photos of them as well. They seem like fascinating creatures.

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  2. So amazing! I can’t believe how huge he is. Every picture screamed “Dinosaur” in my opinion.

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  3. Wow, fantastic pics there. Love to see them in real life……The Galapagos Isds is def on my bucket list to vists.

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  4. Fantastic set, Brendan! And the last ones are pretty cool, too. We’re glad you enjoyed it so much.
    Greeting from TACA Regional SM team :-)

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  5. Those last two photos are hysterical. I was going to comment that I bet I could fit into one of these shells no problem (I’m pretty small), but apparently that idea’s already been tested! =P

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  6. The tortoises are huge!!! Can’t imagine how it would be to be right in front of them!

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