The Galapagos Islands are a nature lover's paradise. Isolated from the mainland for thousands of years, some of the most unusual species in the world evolved here, including giant tortoises, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and even the world's only equatorial penguin. The islands comprise the Galapagos National Park and were recently named a "World Heritage Site". Nearly all uninhabited, these islands can only be visited with a certified naturalist guide on one of the Galapagos yachts approved by the park service.
Each island offers something unique. Unusual geological formations, tortoise nesting grounds, rare bird species, winding lava flows... and more! Read the descriptions below to learn more about the highlights on each island.
At the beach on the southern side, if you come in the right season, you can see nesting sea turtles resting in the sand or wading in the shallow water. You might also spot a white-tipped reef shark patrolling the close to the shore.
This island was formed by volcanic activity and since it is relatively young, the colonization is very fragile. Therefore it is important to be careful and stay as much as possible on the trails.
Santa Cruz Island
Santa Cruz is home to the Charles Darwin Station, where visitors can observe tortoise research and breeding programs. Scientists, park rangers, and park managers among others conduct the conservation of the islands and make huge efforts to preserve this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A trip to the lush greenery of the Santa Cruz highlands offers a welcome contrast with the arid scenery of the smaller, lower islands. You will get a chance to see enormous pit craters, lava tunnels and giant tortoises roaming freely.
The flightless cormorants have earned their names from a truly evolutionary happening. They are flightless because they have no predators on the islands. Since it was easier to find food in the ocean, their feet and wings have adapted for swimming. As you will see, if you see them standing up in the breeze after coming out of the water to dry, their wings are quite undersized and naturally of no use for flying.
Tagus Cove is one of the landing spots on the island and was historically used as an anchoring site for pirates and whalers. The trail that goes from Tagus Cove will take you through many different vegetation zones and offers spectacular views of Darwin Lake, which is a saltwater crater lake. Once you get to the top of the trail, you will be able to see Darwin Volcano as well as Wolf Volcano, which is the highest point of the islands.
Genovesa offers good snorkeling opportunities at the beach or alongside the cliffs on the shoreline. Because of the richness of nutrients in the bay, you never know what you might encounter.
Fur seals were thought to have gone extinct by 1905, but have since made a dramatic comeback. Santiago provides habitat for many of the 30-40,000 fur seals that call the Galapagos home. If you plan on taking pictures of the fur seals, Puerto Egas is an excellent spot. At dawn or sunset, the light is perfect for great photography. There are also plenty of sea lions on the black beach of Puerto Egas.
Take a moment after exploring the island and swim with the playful sea lions off the coast of two small coral-lined beaches.
Hike along the coastline and discover colorful flora and fauna. The well-known land iguanas here can grow over five feet long. The Sanfa Fe species of iguana are more bright yellow and have uncommonly large spikes on their spine. In true Galapagos style the opuntia cactus, a favorite food of the land iguana, has responded by growing tall and woody - up to 33 feet high and are the largest of their kind in Galapagos. Manta rays and sea turtles flit by as dark shadows against the sandy bottom of Santa Fe's beautiful anchorage.
After a long hike, relax with a swim in the calm waters of the beautiful bay, or snorkel along in the company of sea lions at the base of the rocks.
South Plaza Island
Also, on South Plaza, you will find the lazy but colorful yellow and red land iguana. This animal likes this island because of its richness in the opuntia cactus, which is an iguana delicacy. There are about 700 iguanas on the island and this species seems to be one of the smallest iguana species.
It is also one of the best places to see blue-footed boobies and magnificent frigate birds. If you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of their courtship dance, which is quite peculiar and amusing. Also, while visiting this island, you might very well witness a great show of acrobatic flight, namely a frigate bird robbing a booby, a gull or even another frigate bird of their food.
Gardener Bay offers great opportunities for enjoying some beach time in the Galapagos. Here the mockingbirds will be the center of your attention as they keep you company on top of your hat or investigating your belongings.
Punta Suarez is quite an amazing site and one of the most attractive in the Galapagos, because of the quantity and variety of wildlife. The trail along the island will take you past sea lions surfing the breaking waves, iguanas basking in the warm sun and boobies nesting right in your path. The trail continues towards the cliffs and the blowhole, which is a fissure in the lava where water spurts high in the air like a geyser.
At Punta Cormorant more than 50 volcanic cones rise in an 80-mile area. Pink flamingos, clear water and interesting coral growths make this a perfect spot for snorkeling.
The Devil's Crown is a volcanic crater near Floreana that has been eroded by the waves. Here snorkelers are immersed in a world of color and movement filled with schools of fish that move as one: king angelfish, yellowtail surgeonfish, and needlefish. There are also parrotfish, Moorish idols, and damselfish, sea cucumbers, sea stars, sea urchins, sleeping sharks, turtles, rays and many more, making this one of the best snorkeling sites in the Galapagos.
Rábida is a bird-watchers delight. Some of the rarest species are in abundance, such as 9 varieties of finches, large billed flycatchers, Galapagos hawks and brown pelicans. The dark red sand beaches and a horde of snoring sea lions make for spectacular snorkeling. Also, the island is home to the skinny legged Flamingo, which can be seen in a salt-water lagoon near the beach.
From the observatory on the southeastern part of the island, you can appreciate the red color of the beach and the rocks surrounding it.
San Cristobal claims some of the most spectacular landscape. The cloudforest in the highlands is perfect habitat for giant tortoises.
Frigatebird Hill is a short distance walk from the Interpretation Center. Here you can see Magnificent Frigatebirds and Great Frigatebirds in the same colony, which offers great opportunities for studying and learning to distinguish the two species.
El Junco Lagoon is one of the few permanent fresh water lakes in the Galapagos. It is located at an altitude of 2,300 ft/700m, about 45 minutes with bus from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. On your way to El Junco Lagoon you will pass different vegetation zones, before you reach the panoramic site, where the bird watching is exceptional as well as the view.
About 1 hour travel across a small channel, will take you to Isla Lobos. The name means Sea Lion Island, which is certainly appropriate since many sea lions frolic, leap and make their homes here. This island is also a great place for snorkeling opportunities as well as to view blue-footed boobies.
Kicker Rock (or Leon Dormido) is an enormous rock, located off the north west coast of San Cristobal, that rises 500 feet straight up from the ocean. It has the shape of a sleeping lion, and a split with towering verticals on either side, forming a narrow channel.