Attractions Island by Island

Declared a national park by the Ecuadorian Government, the Galapagos Islands is a World Heritage Sanctuary. An archipelago of 19 islands and smaller islets, the Galapagos makes for a fascinating place to explore. The dream destination for nature lovers, wildlife watchers and eco adventure tourists, these tiny islands are an incredible and unique place to catch nature as it’s most pristine.

While only five of the islands inhabited by humans, the rest of the Galapagos Islands play host to a fantastic array of rare and endemic wildlife such as the Galapagos tortoise, Darwin’s finches, the waved albatross, the flightless cormorant, the Galapagos penguin, the Galapagos hawk, the marine iguana and the brown pelican.

This small island is also known as South Seymour. During the World War II, Baltra was a U.S. Air Force Base built to patrol the eastern Pacific for enemy submarines and protect the Panama Canal.

The island is very arid and vegetation consists of saltbushes, prickly-pear cactus and holy stick trees.

Baltra is also one of the gateways to the Galapagos Islands. On arriving at Baltra, all visitors are immediately greeted by their hosts and guided to their destination. There are no visitor sites on the island, nor are there any accommodations. Public and private transportation on the island is strictly for carrying tourists to Puerto Ayora.

Located at the center of the archipelago, Bartolome is one of the most frequently visited sites of all the islands. The highest point is only 114 meters (374 ft) above sea level and it is separated from the island of Santiago by the Bay of Sullivan. The island has a surface area of 1.2 kilometers (0.74 mile). It is an excellent site for snorkeling and it is full of beautiful landscapes, unique to the islands.

There are two sites for landing: one is for a walk up to the highest part of the island and other is the coral sand beach next to the Pinnacle Rock.

The walk up to the top of Bartolome will take the visitors along a beautiful path built of wood to avoid erosion and a staircase consisting of 365 steps to reach the summit, where there is the most popular view of the Galapagos.

Due to its geographical location, the lack of vegetation is immediately noticed. Pioneer plants are observed, so called because they are the first to establish roots on new ground. They include Tiquilia nesiotica (which is endemic to the island) and Chamaesyce (known as sandmat or spurge), lava cactus, and Scalesia bushes; behind the beach, we have the dunes covered by mangroves.

The second site for landing, will take us down to the northern beach of Bartolome where we will have the opportunity to swim and snorkel. On the beach, there are small colonies of sea lions, which usually rest on the lava of the intertidal zone. There is also a small population of penguins. When we arrive at the beach, we may see some of them on the rocks or in the water.

For many visitors, this may turn out to be the best of snorkeling experiences because the water here is generally quiet without too much surf and is full of marine life.

Highlights: We will travel back in time to the formation of lava tubes, spatter cones and the remains of two types of hardened lava: aa and pahoehoe. You will experience beautiful and breathtaking scenery as you climb up the Summit Trail. During the ascent, visitors will often see Tiquilla and various cacti, which add to this unique experience. The tall, leaning spike known as Pinnacle Rock, can be seen from above.

Type of terrain: Sandy volcanic ash trail with wooden stairways.

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Duration: 1.5 hours hike plus 40 minutes beach time.

Located on Espanola Island, Gardner Bay consists of an extensive beach of whitish coralline sand, where there is a large colony of Galapagos sea lions.

Here we can also observe the mockinbird of Espanola, usually in small groups in search of water.

Snorkeling is highly recommended, especially around the rock that is in front of the beach where we can see white-tipped sharks, rays, sea lions, and a variety of reef fish.

This visit will be basically to enjoy the sun and the beach, with snorkeling activities.

At certain rocky points of the soreline, we can also see marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies plunging in the water, Sally light-foot crabs, and small coastal birds and wandering tattlers (vagabundos) and turnstones (vuelvepiedras).

Highlights: Excellent for swimming and snorkeling along a wonderful and relaxing white sandy beach with colonies of sea lions, endemic mockingbirds, lava lizards, Galapagos hawks, and sea turtles. In front of the beach, there is a small islet, which is good place for snorkeling among sea turtles, marine iguanas, rays, and colored fish. Visitors will also spot lava lizards and the colorful Sally light-foot crabs. Snorkelers often see many of the Galapagos marine species such as king angelfish, creole fish, damsel fish, parrot fish, white-tipped reef sharks, and many more!

Type of terrain: A wonderful and relaxing white sandy beach.

Level of difficulty: Easy

Duration of the visit: 1 to 1.5 hours approximately.

At the southern eastern tip of Galapagos lies Espanola, the archipelago’s oldest island, which is without a doubt a prime sanctuary of birds and where you can observe blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, red-billed tropic brids, swallow-tailed gulls, the Espanola mockingbird, and from April to December more than 12,000 pairs of waved albatrosses coming to nest.

Visitors will observe sea lion colonies, colored marine iguanas, lava lizards, the beautiful scenery of the blowhole, where water shoots 23 meters (75 ft) up into the air. Visitors will go to Gardner Bay, a white coral beach with a large colony of sea lions. It’s great for swimming and snorkeling and you can spot many Galapagos marine species.

The dramatic setting among the back cliffs, the never-ending rolling and crashing of the waves below, and the elaborate courtship rituals of the albatross (birds that mate for life) make Espanola a highlight of your trip.

The hike is also very interesting for its geographical features, consisting of a completely arid to transitional zone of vegetation with predominantly thorny plants.

Hightlights: Waved-albatross, blue-footed and Nazca boobies, doves, herons, gulls, hawks, sea lions, the endemic Hood (Espanola) mockingbird with a very odd but bold behavior, several types of reptiles, including the brightly colored marine iguana and the oversized lava lizard (unique to this island).

Type of terrain: Rocky.

Lefel of difficulty: Hard

Duration: 2 to 3 hours approximately.

Fernandina Island is the youngest and considered the only pristine and best preserved island in the world. Espinosa Point, which is located in the northwestern part of Fernandina Island, may turn out to be the greatest spot for visitors of the islands because it shelters a wide variety of endemic fauna on a piece of ground that is really not very large.

Espinosa Point is the only spot that we will be visiting on Fernandina, and from it we can see right in front of us the island of Isabela, separated by the Bolivar Channel, which is one of the areas with the highest number of endemic sea fauna in the Galapagos.

This is an area rich in marine upwelling, which directly or indirectly affects the entire food chain, bringing a wealth of life to the west of the archipelago. These upwellings occur when the rich cold waters of the underwater Cromwell currest, laden with nutrients, encounter the islands, bringing all of this plankton to the surface, where many species of animals take advantage of the wealth of food.

Highlights: This is one of the most pristine areas of the islands, with none of man’s introduced species to date. The flat lava of Punta Espinosa gives a feel for this stark and barren landscape. Flightless cormorants build their nests on the point, and sea lions sprawl on the beach or play in the tide pools. It is also home to the largest colony of the endemic marine iguanas. Other features: lava cacti, black, white and red mangroves, Sally light-foot crabs, Galapagos hawks, flightless cormorants.

Type of terrain: Semi flat pahoehoe lava field, at times slippery; also, a sandy trail.

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Duration of the hike: 1.5 to 2 hours approximately.

Located on Floreana Island, to the south of the archipelago, it is a beach of golden-greenish sand, very rich in olivine (volcanic crystals), which is a composition of aluminium, silica, magnesium and iron coming from the earth’s mantle, as well as eroded volcanic tuff remains, which lend their colors to the sand.

Behind the beach there is a brackish pond that is home to a variety of migratory birds, especially one of the largest populations of flamingos, where about 40 to 80 individuals can be observed, which is quite a large number in one single pond since the entire Galapagos population of flamingos amounts to only 1,200 to 1,500 individuals, scattered over the archipelago.

The flamingos tend to migrate within the entire archipelago searching for food but never attempts to fly toward mainland Ecuador. Their ancestors are the Caribbean flamingos.

The trail ends when we reach the white-sand beach of Floreana, which is one of the most important nesting sites of the green Pacific sea turtles. On this white beach, it is important to avoid walking in the water because there may be small sting rays lying under the sand, and they can be very dangerous if feeling threatened.

From the beach we can see sea turtles, blue-footed boobies plunging in the water, and small reef sharks swimming along the shoreline searching for food. There is a small colony of penguins and sometimes they can be observed on the beach of Cormorant Point.

Don’t miss the opportunity to swim or practice some snorkeling to watch sea turtles, reef fish, sea lions, and even the white-tipped reef shark.

Highlights: Flamingos, Darwin finches, shorebirds, sea turtles, olivine sand beach, coralline sand beach.

Type of terrain: Flat, easy walk.

Level of difficulty: Easy

Duration: 1.5 hours hike plus 1 hour snorkeling

Located on the island of Floreana, Post Office Bay is home to a very important fragment of the archipelago’s human history, because it is here that pirates, whalers, famous ship captains, among other sea people, left a written memento of their lives when they sailed by the Galapagos.

It was a strategic place for many people of the sea, who temporarily had some ties with the islands, which were at that time the focus of large-scale hunting of whales and Galapagos fur seals.

The “post office” was nothing but a barrel that served as drop-off and pick-up point since the early days of the whale hunters. The mail service consisted on a wooden barrel, where letters were left, bearing their respective addresses, in the hope that another seaman returning home would take some of them if the address was not far from his home and would either deliver them personally or otherwise drop them at the normal post office after he had left the islands.

That was one of the strategies used by Captain David Potter in 1913 to destroy the whale fleet of the Galapagos. He would read the letters left in the barrel and would find out what island the whalers were heading toward and when they would return and that’s how he was able to ambush them.

Since then, the barrel has been replaced many time. The first one was installed by the English captain James Colnett in 1793. Now, it is used by tourists traveling through the islands who leave their letters, in the hope that some other visitor will take them and deliver them personally upon their return.

Highlights: The island is best known for its endemic plant life, such as the Scalecia Villosa, Lecocarpus Pinatifidus, and Galapagos milkwort. Snorkelers can practice on the main beach among playful sea lions.

Type of terrain: Flat and easy.

Level of difficulty: Easy, short hike

Duration: 20 minutes for the visit and 1 hour snorkeling.

It is located on the northwestern part of the island of Isabela. This is a historical site also visited by Charles Darwin and where various graffiti are carved onto the wall by many visitors over past centuries until just before the Galapagos National Park was established in 1959-1960.

This cove was a hideout for whalers and pirates, as it is protected by the surf and is a perfect place to anchor.

The name of the site dates back to 1814 when it was visited by a British ship that went by the name Tagus, which had anchored there to look for giant tortoises to be used as food supply on the boat.

The tour along the shoreline is full of marine life. We will find various species of seabirds such as blue-footed boobies, brown noddies, terns, flightless cormorants and depending on the season of the year, a large number of Galapagos penguins.

The Galapagos penguins are only 35 cm tall and it is the only penguin species in the world living in the northern hemisphere, that is, on the equator. They are monogamous and lay their eggs in small cracks of lava, in the lower parts of the island near the shoreline not reached by the sea.

The population of penguins on the islands is about 2,000 individuals, with the largest number living on the western part of the archipelago and then others living in the middle and south of the island.

Along Tagus, we can observe sea turtles, eagle rays, sea lions and, if we’re lucky, probably some dolphins swimming in the vicinity. Opportunity for snorkeling.

Highlights: We shall follow Charles Darwin’s steps when the Beagle anchored here in 1835. Darwin spent much time exploring the area. Like Darwin, we will see a spectacular young pyroclastic cone, partially breached, forming an excellent anchorage, which has been a favorite stopping place for centuries for pirates, whaling ships and buccaneers. The marked trail leads to Darwin’s salt-water pond, offering an excellent view of lava fields and scores of beautiful volcanic formations.

Type of terrain: At the beginning, a flat sandy area; later, a semi-rocky trail to a soft hill.

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Duration: 1.5 to 2 hours hike plus 1 hour snorkeling.

To the west of Isabela Island, there is the Urbina Bay, a fascinating area, which is the result of a shallow sea bottom uplifted in 1954 showing a large coral reef which today sticks up above sea level. Urbina Bay has a wide variety of plant life that changes depending on the season. We can observe the beautiful color of the plants, an attraction for many different insects.

Among the bushes, we can see giant tortoises, as well as amazing land iguanas, which are noteworthy for the special texture and yellowish color of their skin. As we walk, birds like flycatchers, Darwing finches and mockingbirds will fly past us.

Highlights: We will explore an uplifted coral reef as a result of volcanic activity in 1954, with a spectacular view of Alcedo volcano. Along the trail, we will see land iguanas, mockingbirds, finches, Galapagos hawks, Galapagos martins, occasionally giant tortoises, and some of the introduced animals like feral goats, cats, etc. At the beach, we will be able to see the largest marine iguanas on the Galapagos. Those who wish, can swim near flightless cormorants, penguins, sea turtles, and assorted colored fish.

Type of terrain: Flat, uplifted, semi rocky areas.

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Duration: 1.5 to 2 hours hike plus 40 minutes beach time.

This is perhaps one of the busiest touring islands on the archipelago. Right next to Baltra Island (where the airport is located), and not very far from Santa Crus Island, North Seymour is the most accessible island for day-trippers coming from Santa Cruz main port, Puerto Ayora. In spite of this, North Seymour is a definite site for admiring the numerous nesting places of blue-footed boobies and the archipelago’s largest nesting colony of Magnificent Frigate-birds and Great Frigate-birds. You also will find sea lions and swallow-tailed bulls. If you are fortunate, you might come across a Galapagos snake.

North Seymour is flat. Geologically, it was shaped by the forces of nature that lifted the rocky base of the earth’s crust from below sea level. In other words, it is an island with a potpourri of volcanic formations. Because of this, the edges of the island drop vertically into the ocean where the waves lick the rock and this is where there are many crustaceans, reptiles and plants, many of them inhabiting the intertidal zone (foreshore). The ground is flat and strewn with palo santo, or holy stick trees (a type of sandalwood noteworthy for its strong aroma) and gray saltbush, among white-splashed rocks. While walking, make sure you don’t step on any blue-footed boobies nests. They won’t move. Respect their space and always follow the trail.

Highlights: Blue-footed boobies perform their courtship dancing in the more open areas; swallow-tailed gulls perch on cliff edges; great blue herons, lava herons, two species of frigate-birds. Endemic snakes can also be spotted. You will also find land iguanas, with a lenght of 1.20 meters (endemic to Baltra Island). Despite the tremendous surf pounding the outer shore, sea lions haul their slick bodies onto the beach and can be found together with marine iguanas. The vegetation is sparse and typical of arid zones.

Type of terrain: The island’s tour consists of two kilometers (1.24 miles) of a winding rocky and partially sandy footpath that stops halfway for those who are not up to walking all the way to the end to see the entire island.

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Duration of the hike: 1.5 hours approximately.

Also known as Jervis Island in English, Rabida is one of the most diverse in terms of volcanic activity as it lies at the very heart of the archipelago’s volcanic origin.

It is an island comprised of lava that had poured out of scoria cones very rich in iron oxide and magnesium that is typical of the basaltic lava of the Galapagos, which when exposed and rusting, gives the island its reddish color.

Rabida in itself has an abundance of landscapes and marine life. The trail for visiting the site is somewhat short, requiring about 45 minutes of walking and we can also go around the soreline in a dinghy to spot fur seals, pelicans, blue-footed boobies and Nazca boobies.

Highlights: In a reddish beach surrounded by cliffs and steep slopes of volcanic cinder cones, we will find a noisy colony of sea lions. Afterwards, from a short inland trail, we’ll find great places to observe land birds such as finches, doves, yellow warblers and mockingbirds.

Type of terrain: Red sandy beach and semi-rocky trail.

Level of difficulty: Easy

Duration: 1 hour hike plus 1 hour snorkeling.

Located on the high part of the island of San Cristobal, it is one of the centers for breeding giant Galapagos tortoises. In contrast to other centers, this one keeps a semi-natural environment where all the young tortoises hatch naturally. The project started in 2005 with the first hatchling called Genesis.

Just like other breeding centers, its purpose is to increase the percentage of survival of new hatchlings in the wild, keeping them in the center for the first years of their lives, when they are especially vulnerable to introduced predators. This is the only site where we can see giant tortoises of San Cristobal (Geochelone Chatmensis) in captivity.

The reserve is comprised of a 6-hectare area, surrounded by a wall of stone and cement, which ensures the captivity of the tortoises. The area chosen for the Galapagos center is the most suitable, because it is a zone of plant life and a microclimate that very much resembles their natural habitat located on another part of the same island.

Highlights: The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and La Galapaguera.

Type of terrain: Flat.

Level of difficulty: Easy

Duration of the hike: 1 hour approximately.

This is a place full of sun, beaches and water, where we can find the remains of barges that sank and had once been used by the United States when they had an airbase on the island of Baltra during World War II. That is why the beach is calles “Bachas” because the word “barges” in English was hard to pronounce for the local people, so in their attemp to use the same word used by the Americans, they came up with something similar but deformed, that is, “bachas”.

We shall walk for about 5 minutes toward the coastal ponds that can be found at both tips of the beach, because there is where we can usually find flamingos feeding.

Highlights: Behind the beach: two small flamingo ponds with iguanas, coastal birds, Darwin finches, mockingbirds, and gulls, as well as interesting native and endemic vegetation, including red and black mangroves and saltbushes.

Type of terrain: Easy and relaxing coralline white sandy beaches.

Level of difficulty: Easy

Duration of the visit: 45 minutes approximately.

Located on the island of Santa Cruz, this site is home to a wide variety of endemic and native species. The place gives us the impression that we are on a river expedition, as there are very narrow and small channels of water between the mangrove trees, where we will enter to observe sea turtles feeding on the algae growing around the roots and on the leaves of the mangroves.

At the entry of the cove, we can see seabird species such as the blue-footed booby, the brown pelican, the white-headed tern, the oystercatcher and shorebirds such as the great blue heron and the whimbrel, which stands on rocks looking for fish or small crabs.

If we’re lucky at low tide we can see a wide variety of sea animals, such as white-tipped reef sharks, black-tipped reef sharks, Pacific green sea turtle, hawksbill turtle, golden ray, eagle ray, manta ray, porgy fish and spiny loach. This place shelters many baby sea animals, as it is an ocean inlet that is surrounded by mangrove trees, which help to protect marine species.

Highlights: A dinghy ride exploring a complex system of small sea ponds, surrounded by black and red mangroves. In the peaceful shade of the mangroves you will discover how sea turtles break the surface of the still waters, while fish, rays, and small sharks cruise below. It is also a good way to enjoy views of blue-footed boobies, herons, and a colorful array of marine iguanas, sea lions and other wildlife.

Duration of the panga ride: 30 to 40 minutes.

There are about 200 people who work here, including scientists, educatros, research students, and volunteers. Almost 90% of the above-mentioned staff is Ecuadorian.

It works hand in hand with the Galapagos National Park, conducting studies, and on the basis of the results of these studies, the park can take the best decisions for the conservations of the islands.

Highlights: We will learn more about the Charles Darwin research Station and the gian tortoise breeding program and how to support conservation in the Galapagos. We shall also meet “Lonesome George“, the last survivor of the Pinta Island giant tortoise species, as well as other huge land tortoises, baby tortoises in their small pens, their incubators, and the land iguana breeding program, which is a new visitors’ site.

Type of terrain: Flat and easy.

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Duration of the visit: 1.5 hours approximately.

To the northwest of Santa Cruz Island, there is Dragon Hill, where you will find various species of flora and fauna. Behind th beach, you shall enjoy the pond that is often home to flamingos. Along the trail, you can see a variety of reptiles, especially land iguanas, which look like dragons because of their claws and spiky crests. Young iguanas area easily preyed upon by predatory birds and snakes; otherwise they can live up to 60 years.

You will see extensive vegetation such as a forest of holy stick trees (burseras), whose appearance changes depending on the season. The forest is home to a variety of birds, such as mockingbirds, Darwin finches, yellow warblers and Galapagos doves.

Highlights: The trail that leads up to Dragon Hill offers a beautiful view of the bay. This area is a nesting site for a number of reintroduced land iguanas. There is also a beautiful view of the holy stick tree forest.

Type of terrain: The trail is comprised of rocky soil the first 300 meters of the walk and then it is made of eroded tuff, which makes it very easy to walk on at the end.

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Duration of the hike: 1.5 to 2 hours approximately.

We will reach the Santa Cruz Highlands by bus. The area is located to the northwest of Port Ayora. Here we will find a natural reserve with the famous giant land tortoises.

We will observe these giant tortoises in their natural habitat. These enormous and slow reptiles are responsible for the island’s name. They can weigh between 250 and 300 kg and can live up to 150-200 years. They have few natural enemies; their principal threat has always been men.

We will enjoy the lava tubes or tunnels. These tunnels are the result of many eruptions in the islands, centuries ago.

Highlights: Opportunity to observe giant tortoises and a lava tunnel.

Type of terrain: Generally easy, though sometimes the trails can be muddy.

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Duration of the hike: 2 hours approximately.

Egas Port was named in honor of George Egas, who explored the island in the 1930s and opened a salt mine at the foot hill of a sugarloaf volcano.

This place was actually visited in 1835 by the HMS Beagle and Charles Darwin, who describes a group of Spaniards salting tortoise meat with the salt extracted from the same site.

The first part of the trail is made of volcanic ash (eroded tuff) and the other half of the trail is partially uneven, comprised of volcanic basaltic rock along the shoreline of Port Egas.

Along the shoreline, you can also find various bird species such as pelicans, blue-footed boobies, lava herons, yellow-crowned night herons (also known as huaques), semipalmated plovers (chorlitejos), willets (playeros), yellow warblers (canarios Maria), finches, oystercatchers (ostreros), which usually live in pairs that can occupy large expanses of the shoreline as they are highly territorial in their customs. We can also see Sally light-foot crabs and large colonies of marine iguanas sunbathing on volcanic rock.

Highlights: Volcanic black beach and wonderful landscapes, fur seal grottos, sea lion colonies, herons, hawks, oystercatchers, finches, doves, hawks, white-tipped sharks, sea turtles. We will be able to see the vegetation from arid to humid climatic zones, but they have been seriously affected by intensive foraging by introduced goats, now eradicated. The surrounding area is a prime place for spotting and observing hunting herons, great blue herons, lava herons, oystercatchers, and the yellow-crowned night heron. Visitors will enjoy the sight of marine iguanas grazing upon algae beds at low tide, sharing space with red Sally light-foot crabs together with various wading birds. There is a colony of fur seals swimming in deep pools of cool water called “grottos”.

Type of terrain: Flat and easy.

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Duration: 1.5 to 2 hours hike plus 45 minutes beach time.