Galapagos Islands

Turtles vs. Tortoises

The stunning Galapagos Islands are home to many species, including the famous giant Tortoises. These Tortoises are one of the world’s most ancient and longest-lived creatures. In the archipelago there are also many fascinating species of turtles, which appear to be really similar to Tortoises. However, there are several differences between these two species and below, we dive into them in detail.

Why The Confusion?

Turtles and tortoises are both reptiles,more specifically part of Testudines, but in different classification families. They also have similar hard protective shells. Both turtles and tortoises are also ectothermic, meaning they rely on external sources of heat like the sun to warm their bodies.

What complicates matters is that depending on the region you are in, the word “turtle” might be used to refer to completely different things. For example: In the UK, the term “terrapin”  refers to those living in freshwater environments, whilst “turtle” is used for saltwater species. However, in the USA the term “turtle” is used for chelonians that are aquatic or semi-aquatic, whilst “tortoise” is used for those residing on land.


Turtles have flattened webbed feet for swimming as they spend a lot of time in the water. They also have a streamlined body shape, and their shell is typically smaller, lighter and flatter compared to Tortoises.

On the other hand, Tortoises have a  larger, heavier and bulkier body compared to turtles. They also  have round stubby feet that helps them navigate rocky terrain of their habit. Tortoise shells are also larger and have a higher dome.


Unlike Tortoises, Turtles live most of the time in or near to the water. Some species, known as sea or marine turtles, are almost entirely aquatic. Other species are semi-aquatic and spend most of the time on the land, near freshwater lakes or ponds. Even though these species spend a great deal of time basking on shores, they can swim.

Tortoises on the other hand exclusively land creatures because actually, they can’t swim. They just stay close to water for drinking it and sometimes bathing in it. They live in a huge variety of climates and can sometimes live far away from water sources.


Turtles are omnivores, this means that they eat variety of animals and plant life. Their diet include algae, insects, small fish, jellyfish and sea sponges. On the contrary, most Tortoises are herbivores. Their diet consist mainly in vegetation, including grass, cacti, shrubs, fruits and flowers.


If you are curious about seeing these two specie’s similarities and differences up close, come visit us! Here at the Galapagos Island you can get really close to both Tortoise and Turtles.  Start your journey by making Ikala Galapagos Hotel your host. The newest Hotel in Puerto Ayora offers luxury and comfortable suites, unmatched services and many amenities. Click here to book your suite today.