Complete Guide on Choosing the Best Pet Tortoise for Beginners!

Complete Guide on Choosing the Best Pet Tortoise for Beginners!
Complete Guide on Choosing the Best Pet Tortoise for Beginners!

Are you planning to get one of those cute baby tortoises as a pet? There are so many variants to choose from. But which one is the best pet tortoise for beginners? Tortoises are naturally hardy creatures. They are like a tank and can adapt to extreme conditions. Yet, different species need different treatments to survive comfortably. As first-time owners, you’d want to start with tortoises that are easy to care for. This way, your tortoise will have a higher chance of survival!

We understand that it’s very tempting to just impulsively take an exotic tortoise home. After all, their adorable carapace pattern and their toy-like charm are irresistible. But please rein in your spontaneous desire and read our comprehensive tortoise-keeping guide first! We are here to help you choose the best pet tortoise for beginners like you!

Before Choosing a Tortoise

best pet tortoise for beginners
Before Choosing a Tortoise

The joy of getting your first tortoise is truly unforgettable! Keeping a tortoise is definitely fun. However, tortoise adoption is actually a very big responsibility. Please remember that tortoises are living beings deserving of love and proper care. 

So, first-time owners need to prepare themselves before they decide to take a tortoise home. We also recommend that you choose the best beginner-friendly tortoises for the first time. Once you’ve grasped how to care for this lovely creature, you can move on to more exotic species if you want to. 

A lot of first-timers buy tortoises thoughtlessly. Some even get them before they have space for their new pet. That’s absolutely irresponsible behavior because it could endanger the tortoise’s life! So, here are three things that you need to know first before you buy a pet tortoise!


Did you know that a tortoise has an extremely long lifespan? Yes! Your pet tortoise may still live long after you are dead. Of course, it depends on the species. Some tortoises live only up to 20 years, while others can live up to 150 years. In fact, the world’s oldest tortoise, Jonathan, will celebrate its 191th birthday in 2023. 

A Greek tortoise, which is one of the most popular species among hobbyists, can live for more than 100 years. A Sulcata tortoise, another favorite tortoise, has an average lifespan of 50 years. In captivity, these tortoises may even live longer, especially if you maintain proper continuous care.

So, it’s clear that owning a tortoise is a big responsibility because it is a lifelong commitment. Because of their extremely long lifespan, you have to plan ahead. A 2 inches baby tortoise you get today will one day grow many times bigger. It means you must prepare a bigger enclosure and spend more on their food. 

Your living circumstances may also change as you grow older. You may move away, and your new place may not be tortoise-friendly. Or maybe you decide to travel the world. In any case, before you decide to get a tortoise, remember that it is a multi-decade commitment. You have to have backup plans and be ready for all kinds of scenarios.


Most tortoises that you find in pet stores in the USA are captive-bred. Nevertheless, you need to mimic the tortoise’s natural environment to ensure its well-being. Tortoises typically live in dry land, and they graze for grasses. And yes, they are herbivores! Also, please do not mistake a tortoise for a turtle because a tortoise is a strictly terrestrial creature. If you throw a tortoise into a pond, you may drown it!

However, different tortoise species will require different enclosure parameters. For example, a Hermann tortoise prefers 40 to 60%, while a Russian tortoise loves slightly dryer humidity of 30 to 50%. Some tortoises may choose sandy substrate, while others love soil.

You must also decide whether to have an outdoor pen or indoor living for your tortoise. An indoor habitat is ideal if you get a baby tortoise. In such an enclosure, you can protect it easily from predators. However, make sure that you get a large enough box. Expert hobbyists recommend a 3 ft x 2 ft vivarium box for tortoise hatchlings and upgrade as they grow. 

Not just the box, you also have to consider UV light, basking light, substrate, moisture control, and so on. On the other hand, for a more mature tortoise, an outdoor pen will be preferable. They can bask in the sun as much as they like and roam to graze on grass freely.


Compared to pets like cats or dogs, tortoise is relatively low maintenance. They usually would quietly eat, walk around, and bask in the light comfortably. Tortoises are definitely chill creatures. But that does not mean that you can neglect your pet tortoise!

Another thing that you have to think about before buying a tortoise is maintenance. All living beings, including tortoises, will have to produce excretion. It means that you have to clean up after their mess. Once in a while.  A clean enclosure, indoor or outdoor, is key to healthy tortoises and preventing parasites or infection.

Moreover, you must also take your tortoise to an experienced vet for a regular health check-up. A minimum once-a-year health check-up is preferable to asses if your tortoise grows normally. Such checkups can also diagnose diseases.

Potential new owners of tortoises will also have to learn about tortoise health issues and habits. This way, they can look out for good illness signs. If you notice that your tortoise is not eating much or is lethargic, you must consult with a reptile veterinarian immediately.

What makes a tortoise species ideal for a beginner pet owner? 

What makes a tortoise species ideal for a beginner pet owner
What makes a tortoise species ideal for a beginner pet owner

As we’ve implied multiple times, tortoises are amazing animals that can survive various conditions. Their ability to adapt is outstanding, making them suitable for beginner pet owners. Keeping a tortoise is indeed a long-term commitment. But that’s why it is also incredibly rewarding. 

These are the reasons why you should consider tortoise as your first pet!

Low Maintenance

Tortoises are generally low-maintenance pets compared to mammals like cats, dogs, or rabbits. Even among reptiles, the tortoise’s needs are more straightforward. They don’t require social interaction and can be left alone for extended periods. You do need to check on them daily to ensure their well-being, especially if they are still baby.

Long Lifespan

For some people, the tortoise’s long life span is actually one of its attractions. It can be very appealing for those seeking a life-long companion! Many tortoise species can live for several decades if you care for them properly.

Docile Nature

Most tortoise species are not aggressive. They won’t bite or scratch their owners, making them a good pet, even for kids (of course, with parental guidance). Tortoises are generally calm and easygoing. Tortoise is a good choice, even if you’ve never handled reptiles.

Herbivorous Diet

This fact often leaves new tortoise owners quite baffled. Yes, tortoises are actually herbivores! They only eat mostly grass mix, which is relatively simple to acquire. You can also feed them vegetables and occasional fruits. This makes it easier to provide a balanced diet.

Resilient to Handling

Tortoises relatively tolerate handling. You can pet their carapace without stressing them out. So, for those who want to interact with their pets occasionally, tortoise is the best choice! However, please note that if you pick a certain tortoise species up too suddenly and scare them, it may pee as a defensive mechanism!

Educational Experience: Keeping a tortoise can be an educational opportunity for beginners, as it teaches responsibility and allows owners to learn about reptile biology and behavior.

Now that you’re convinced tortoises can make a good pet, it’s time to choose one!

Is it legal to own all beginner-friendly tortoises everywhere? 

best pet tortoise for beginners
Is it legal to own all beginner-friendly tortoises everywhere

While tortoises are good for new pet owners, keeping them may cause legal issues! 

Illegal tortoise trade has caused the population of this beautiful reptile in the wild to decline. Furthermore, escaped non-native tortoises may also disturb native species. Consequently, the regulations of the tortoise trade are very strict. 

In some states in the USA, keeping certain species may be partially restricted.  Meanwhile, in other areas, it’s completely prohibited to keep them. This is why you have to check your local and federal laws regarding the legality of keeping a tortoise. 

In states like Louisiana, for example, you may need a license to buy a tortoise. In Kentucky, on the other hand, the state may limit the number of tortoises you can keep. Meanwhile, in Texas, there seems to be no regulation for non-native tortoises. 

Please note that this is not a legal advice! Please educate yourself about the legality of owning native or non-native tortoises based on local laws! You may also check this guide regarding tortoise ownership legality based on each state.

Top Pet Tortoises for Beginners

Now that you’ve understood the implications of owning a pet tortoise, it’s time to get one! Here, we have compiled the best beginner-friendly tortoises that you can adopt!

1. Russian Tortoise

Russian Tortoise
Russian Tortoise

If you are looking for the easiest tortoise to take care of, the Russian tortoise is a good contender. They grow only up to 5 to 8 inches, making them one of the smallest members of the Testudo genus. Thanks to their compact size, the Russian tortoises do well even in modest indoor enclosures. They also adapt well in dry states like Arizona, capable of living happily outdoors.

A healthy Russian tortoise has a striking carapace that would definitely captivate beginner hobbyists. The combination of yellow to bright tan and black shell makes them stand out! Their feisty personality and responsive characteristics make them a great first pet! In fact, if you need the best tortoise species for kids, a Russian tortoise can be an option.

For those who want to take one home, we believe Russian Tortoise is available in Petco. You can buy one starting from around $190. For that price tag, you can get a juvenile tortoise with a size of at least 4 inches.

2. Hermann’s Tortoise

best pet tortoise for beginners
Hermann’s Tortoise

The small size of Hermann’s tortoise definitely appeals to beginner tortoises. Just like the Russian tortoise, this species is quite compact! The adult tortoise usually only grows up to 7.5 inches. The small size makes it ideal for beginners because the cost of maintaining a smaller tortoise is less. 

If you decide to keep it indoors, we suggest that you put a basking light to replace the sun. Create a basking spot with low, flat rocks in the corner. Maintain the enclosure temperature of about 95 F with a humidity of about 70% for hatchlings or less if it’s adults. Also, put a 10% UVB light to allow your Hermann’s tortoise to synthesize vitamin D3!

Hermann’s tortoises are chill and have mild temperaments. They like to graze, bask, run around, and sometimes dig. Depending on the size, Hermann’s tortoise would go for about $325! It’s quite a hefty price tag but definitely worth it because it’ll become your lifelong friend. This tortoise will live from 50 to 70 years old!

3. Greek Tortoise

Greek Tortoise
Source: Pinterest (

It is no wonder that the Greek tortoise is one of the best entry-level tortoises for beginners. After all, this species is extremely resilient and loves to be active! It is relatively more tolerant to cold compared to other tortoises. The average adult Greek tortoise can grow up to 8 inches. And like some other tortoises, this one can live more than 100 years!

While it can tolerate lower ambient temperatures, Greek tortoises prefer a drier climate. You need to maintain a lower humidity of less than 50% for the adult. Babies, on the other hand, should enjoy higher humidity.

Please note that Greek tortoises love to burrow! Hence, you should prepare an accommodating substrate with varying moistness and textures. A mix of topsoil, cococoir, and sand is usually preferable.  Its gentle disposition and simple diet make our Greek friend the best tortoise for beginners! You can get one with a golden carapace for around $215 to $430

4. Indian Star Tortoise

best pet tortoise for beginners
Indian Star Tortoise

If you want a flashy tortoise with intricate carapace patterns, the Indian Star tortoise should be your choice! This species looks incredibly pretty with the star patterns on its shell. The level of care is a bit higher than Russian, Hermann’s, or Greek tortoise because this one can grow larger! An adult Indian Star tortoise can be as large as 10 to 15 inches maximum.

The Indian Star’s docile temperament, stunning appearance, and active characteristics would make every beginner fall in love. Its lifespan seems to be relatively shorter compared to the compact tortoises we mentioned above. It’s about 30 to 55 years. 

You should provide adequate UV and heat lighting if you decide to keep it indoors. Ensure the pen box is at least 8 feet by 8 feet for adequate room! The reason why we put this beautiful Indian Star in number 4 is because of its hefty price. It starts at around $800 and can go for thousands of dollars!

5. Red-footed Tortoise

Red-footed Tortoise
Red-footed Tortoise

The Red-footed tortoise has a medium size, just like the Indian Stars. It can grow larger up to 10 to 16 inches, so you will have to think ahead and prepare a larger pen. Even though its size is bigger, the Red-footed tortoise is still an excellent alternative for beginners. It can live up to 50 years in captivity and has an outstanding resilience!

For the stater, the Red-footed tortoise can be quite flexible with its diet. Compared to other tortoises, this species tolerates more fruit, like papaya and melons. You can also give it a carrot for an extra vitamin A boost. Furthermore, this unique tortoise from South America can eat up to 1 ounce of animal protein every two weeks. 

The bright scale on their limbs is how this tortoise earned its name. It stands out even though the shell has a less striking yet natural color. Because of its origin, a warm and humid tropical habitat will be preferable. You can take a Red-footed tortoise home for around $200!

6. Marginated Tortoise

best pet tortoise for beginners
Marginated Tortoise

Here is a unique tortoise that you may want to consider as your friend! The Marginated tortoise earned its nickname from its distinct shell shape and coloration. Its marginal scute, the edge of the shell on the back side, extends out like a flat skirt! The shape is unmistakably extraordinary. 

It also has a unique plastron, the belly side of a tortoise, with black triangular markings.  

Among the pet tortoises we have here, the Marginated tortoise has a longer average lifespan. They can typically live around 100 to 150 years! It’s perfect for a new pet owner who wants an eternal friend. The incredible lifespan means that the Marginated tortoise is exceptionally hardy. Their diet requirement is easy as well; they only need grass and leafy greens.

Thanks to their tough nature and good temperament, Marginated tortoise is the best pet tortoise for beginners! However, due to their size, we recommend that you prepare outdoor housing eventually. Older tortoises will appreciate direct sunlight and a larger area to roam. Baby marginated tortoises start from around $250 to $300!

7. Egyptian Tortoise

Egyptian Tortoise
Egyptian Tortoise

The Egyptian tortoise is the cutest and smallest tortoise on our list! The average size of adults is only about 3 to 4 inches! Because of its tiny size, the Egyptian tortoise would make a good companion for apartment living! Despite their compactness, this tortoise has a long lifespan of 70 to 100 years.

They are also very adaptable and capable of thriving in captivity. The carapace features bright colorations, from golden to light cream. They can tolerate heat well. Moreover, the little tortoise has a curious personality. It can remain active, exploring its enclosure. Some hobbyists suggest that the minimum enclosure size for Egyptian tortoises should be 2 by 2 feet. However, we always say that larger is better!

Please note that you need to always equip your indoor pen with UVB light. Because the Egyptian tortoise is a desert species, we recommend a 10% UVB intensity. Also, please control the temperature of your enclosure to mimic the desert. It can drop low at night. 

Above all else, in its natural habitat, the Egyptian tortoise is endangered. So, if you want to keep one, please check your local law for legality! Due to its rarity, the price for this tortoise can go extremely high, thousands of dollars. This is why, despite its compactness and hardiness, we put the Egyptian tortoise last on our list.

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Care Tips for First-Time Tortoise Owners

best pet tortoise for beginners
Care Tips for First-Time Tortoise Owners

So, which of the seven tortoises do you love the most? If you have decided on a tortoise to pick, ensure you understand these basic tortoise care guides for new owners!

Choosing the Right Enclosure

The best enclosure for your pet tortoise depends on the species. Some species, like Indian Star and Red-footed tortoises, grow larger. So, you have to prepare a wider pen of at least 8 feet x 8 feet. You may also consider an outdoor enclosure for your adult tortoises so they can graze, roam, and burrow freely. Outdoor enclosures also give tortoises the opportunity to bask in direct sunlight, which is essential to their health.

For baby tortoises, an indoor enclosure will be preferable. They will be too fragile to be outdoors because of the fluctuating temperature and humidity. You can use a wooden box, aquarium, or other container. Make sure that it is at least around 2 feet by 2 feet, and upgrade to a larger home as they grow. For an indoor enclosure, you need to control humidity and temperature with a heater lamp. You will also need to choose substrate correctly, and do not forget the UVB lamp!

The cost of maintaining a tortoise enclosure can be high at first. You also need accessories and tortoise supplies to sustain an excellent captive habitat. Consider supplements, vitamins, and other factors!

Avoid Overhandling

Tortoises prefer to stay grounded. It means that lifting them too often may stress them out. Overhandling tortoises from desert species can also trigger a defense mechanism. They’ll pee on you using their reserved water in the bladder.

Some tortoises may also bite and scratch you if they are uncomfortable. Never lift a tortoise by pulling their tail or limbs! We recommend that you gently lift them from under their plastron belly. We also recommend that you should not tilt them around. You can pet them safely on their carapace; they usually would not mind. 

And lastly, please wash your hands after handling a tortoise because they may carry salmonella.


To ensure that your pet tortoise lives healthily, you should clean their enclosure regularly. We recommend that you do daily maintenance, especially if you keep them in an indoor pen. Remove the soiled substrate immediately and clean the unfinished food. We also suggest that you replace its drinking water occasionally.

You may need to do a complete substrate replacement once in a few months. Partial substrate replacement can be done once every few weeks. Do not let their pen get smelly!

Shell Care 

Shell is a vital organ for a tortoise! Therefore, you need to pay close attention to its health. The shell of a tortoise consists of two main parts. The top part is called the carapace, and the lower part is called the plastron. 

You can also gently brush or wipe the shell with a soft, damp cloth. Additionally, a proper diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D3 is crucial to promote healthy shell growth. To prevent shell deformities, ensure that your tortoise has access to UVB lighting. This type of lighting helps them metabolize calcium properly.

Observing Behavior

Different types of tortoises display different behaviors. If you notice that they behave out of the ordinary, that could be a sign of health problems. A healthy tortoise will move around to find food. It will also enjoy basking in direct sunlight. If you notice lethargy and low appetite, it’s better to contact a reptile veterinarian to check for help problem.

If you keep more than one tortoise, you may notice a sign of aggression sometimes. They may bump into each other and chase others. This type of behavior usually appears when they are in mating season. Males can be competitive and territorial. Female tortoises, on the other hand, may start to dig around the ground, finding a spot to lay eggs.

Regular Soaking

An important skill to master for a new tortoise pet owner is soaking! It allows you to rehydrate your tortoise and keep their skin moist!

Tortoises, by nature, are terrestrial animals. It means that they live on land their whole life, unlike their cousin turtles. Some species even live in very dry deserts where water is scarce. Consequently, their evolution allows them to conserve water in their pee bladder.

Nevertheless, even though your tortoise can survive without drinking for a long time, it’s best to soak them regularly. We recommend that you bathe your pet tortoise at least once a week. Use lukewarm or tepid water and let them rehydrate for about 15 to 20 minutes. Make sure that you don’t submerge them! We suggest that you use a shallow dish.

Lighting and Heating

If you decide to keep your tortoise indoors, lighting and heating should be your main priority. Tortoises are reptiles that can not regulate their body heat. Their body temperature depends on the ambient temperature of the habitat.

So, you need to create a basking spot where your tortoise can warm themselves up. It’s best to create a gradation of temperature inside the enclosure. For instance, use two heat lamps with different heat outputs on two different corners. And let other corners without heating. 

This gradation will prevent your pet tortoise from overheating. The warmest spot in the basking area should be around 95 F. While the coldest area can be about 65 F. 

Moreover, you will need a UVB lamp to mimic the sun. This light will help your tortoise to produce vitamin D3, which allows them to utilize calcium. The UVB lamp should be about 10 to 12%.

Vet Visits 

The standard practice is to take your pet tortoise to the vet at least once a year. Regular veterinarian visits will allow professionals to diagnose health problems that you may overlook! This way, veterinarians can treat them immediately.

You should also consider taking your pet tortoise if you notice unusual behavior. If it does not want to eat and appears lethargic, the vet may be able to help immediately. 


As a beginner, you need to constantly educate yourself about your new tortoise. Grab yourself some books about tortoise keeping! We also suggest that you join the tortoise community, online or offline, so you can learn from other more experienced hobbyists.

It’s true that tortoises are relatively low maintenance. However, keeping them alive is not enough. You have to make sure that your pet is happy, too. By learning more about tortoises, you will be able to create a perfect environment that will sustain your pet’s life. 

Common Mistakes New Tortoise Owners

best pet tortoise for beginners
Common Mistakes New Tortoise Owners

As a beginner, it would not be a surprise if you made some mistakes. It is okay that you made some errors as long as you correct them immediately. Mistakes involving pets can mean death, after all. So, here are some common mistakes that you have to avoid!

Overfeeding or providing the wrong diet

We can’t stress this enough, but we shall repeat it: tortoises are herbivores! It means that they eat grass and leafy green! New owners often give their pet tortoise cat or dog food. This is absolutely wrong and can be fatal! Food intended for carnivores contains too much protein. Meanwhile, herbivorous tortoises do not need protein that much.

There are artificial foods tailored for tortoises. Make sure that you get that instead of dog or cat food! Nonetheless, natural foods are always better.

Also, please do not overfeed your tortoises! For babies, feed them twice a day in the morning and evening. While adult tortoises may opt to eat once a day.

Incorrect temperature 

New tortoise owners often neglect to regulate the temperature inside the pen. Yes, tortoises do need heat, but not constantly. If the box is too hot, your tortoise will eventually overheat! For the correct temperature and setup, check our suggestion in the Lighting and Heating section above!

Neglecting regular health checks 

Some new tortoise owners only take their pets to the vet when they notice sickness. This is also incorrect! As an amateur, you may miss some health problem signs. This is why regular health check-up is vital. Take them to the vet at least once a year!

How do the care requirements differ between popular beginner tortoises?

best pet tortoise for beginners
How do the care requirements differ between popular beginner tortoises

Each tortoise that we mention here has its own unique characteristics. For instance, some species, like the Russian tortoise, are relatively small. So it does not require a large enclosure. Meanwhile, the Red-footed and Indian Stars can grow larger and need more living space.

Furthermore, each species comes from a different region. Their natural habitat differs from each other. So, each one of them has their own preference when it comes to temperature, substrate, and humidity. Their diet, too, will differ!

In any case, you need to know that each tortoise has unique needs. You must research deeper on the tortoise that you’re gonna pick so you know their quirks and habits. If you are capable of replicating the tortoise’s natural habitat, your new pet will be happier!

What resources or communities are available for those starting their journey with a beginner tortoise?

best pet tortoise for beginners
What resources or communities are available for those starting their journey with a beginner tortoise

Check out the following forums! There, you can find other tortoise lovers and resources to learn more about this lovely creature. 

Make sure that you follow the forum’s community guidelines and be nice!


Now that you have found the best pet tortoise for beginners, it’s time for you to further your research! Learn more about the tortoise that you like the most properly! And please always remember about the tortoise’s long lifespan. Make sure that you are committed so you can have a fulfilling pet experience!

Each tortoise has special needs, and it’s your duty to find out about them. Explore more detailed care guides for the specific species and join tortoise communities! You can also attend reptile expos for a hands-on learning experience. In any case, we strongly encourage you to learn and prepare before you buy any tortoise! And once you are ready, we hope that you get to take them home and enjoy your pet tortoise for years to come!

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Questions and Answers

What is the easiest tortoise to take care of?

The easiest tortoises to care for include Russian tortoises, Hermann’s tortoises, Greek tortoises, Indian Stars, Red-footed tortoises, Marginated tortoises, and Egyptian tortoises.

How much space does a beginner-friendly tortoise typically require?

For a smaller baby tortoise, you can start with 2 feet by 2 feet. But ideally, 4 feet by 4 feet is the minimum because your tortoise will grow bigger. Larger adult tortoises will need at least a space of about 8 feet by 8 feet.

Are there any common health issues to watch out for in tortoises suitable for beginners?

Common health issues include shell rot, gall bladder, and dehydration. Make sure that you clean your tortoise cage and give them enough water! A wrong diet is also a common cause of health problems.

Are beginner tortoises solitary animals?

Yes! The tortoises we mentioned above are typically solitary animals. They do not have post-hatching parental instincts. They do display unique behavior in mating season.

How long can I expect my beginner tortoise to live?

Typically, a pet tortoise can live for about 50 to 100 years. So, you should expect a lifelong commitment when you decide to get a tortoise.

Can I let my beginner tortoise roam in my backyard?

Yes, absolutely, if you watch over them! Larger tortoises like the Indian star would love to graze in the open field. For smaller tortoises, it can be risky to let them roam outside for too long. Predators may nick them. So if you do decide to let your tortoise outside, make sure that you have tight fencing. That way, they won’t escape into dangerous traffic. Make sure that there is no cat or dog either.

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