Island by island

The best of each Galapagos island

The Galapagos archipelago comprises six major islands, 14 minor islands, and more than 100 islets. Having emerged from volcanic activity over a huge span of time, each island is unique in its age and natural history. Each one has something a little different to offer visitors. Here are the most accessible islands to visit and a few of their highlights.

010 Pinnacle Rock Galapagos

Santa Cruz

Puerta Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz island, is the tourist centre of the islands — tour agencies, airline offices, restaurants, banks and shops line the streets. It’s a stop on most tour itineraries and the place to finalise travel plans, find gifts for friends and family, and sample local cuisine.

  • Hike to Tortuga Bay on a path that ends at beaches perfect for snorkelling
  • The lava tubes in the highlands are some of the largest in the islands
  • The wharf off of the main drag pits the local fish merchants against the sea lions that vie for the daily catch
  • The Charles Darwin Foundation is the original rallying point for scientific and conservation efforts in the islands. Don’t miss the Giant Tortoise Reserve!

San Cristobal

San Cristobal is the provincial capital of the Galapagos. One of the oldest islands, it was Darwin’s first stop on his historic journey. It’s home to government and educational institutions.

  • Puerto Baquerizo Moreno acts as the second tourist centre for the islands. Offices of tour agencies, foundations and branches of banks are open during the week
  • Sapho Bay and the waters around the adjacent Kicker Rock are popular places for snorkelling to see rays, sharks and the occasional hammerhead

Isabela

Originally named Albemarle Island by pirate Ambrose Cowley, Isabela is one of the youngest and largest of the Galapagos archipelago. It was formed by six volcanoes: Sierra Negra, Wolf, Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin and Ecuador. All are active except Ecuador; Wolf erupted most recently in 2015. Sierra Negra last erupted in 2018.

  • Take a horseback ride to the top of the Sierra Negra volcano
  • Spot humpback whales off the western coast of the island from June to September
  • See penguins near Tagus Cove. The cove was a favourite of pirates and whalers; names of ships dating back to 1836 are carved into the nearby cliff sides

Floreana

After being marooned on Floreana in 1805, Irishman Patrick Watkins became the first known Galapagos resident. Post Office Bay is also here, an informal mail system started in the 1700s by whalers. Mail was left for ships returning home in a barrel by those headed out to sea. The tradition lives on today.

  • Leave postcards at Post Office Bay for others to pick up and deliver once home
  • Cormorant Point has two contrasting beaches; a green sand beach caused by olivine crystals and Flour Beach, made from crushed white coral
  • See pink flamingos at the nearby Flamingo Lagoon
  • Watch for green sea turtles nesting on the sands of Flour Beach
  • Take a short hike and a small descent by ladder, leading to a lava tube that extends a few hundred yards underneath the surface
  • Take a panga ride to Gardner Inlet for a view of the large caves and rock formations of the island

Española Island

On this island, you’ll be greeted by colonies of sea lions and lava lizards lounging freely. It’s also known for its nesting sites of blue-footed and Nazca boobies.

  • Hike the Punta Suarez trail to the edge of a cliff overlooking a natural lava blowhole
  • View the waved albatross breeding colony. The world’s population of the species migrates here during April and December. Elaborate mating rituals lead to partnerships for life
  • The white sand beach at Gardner Bay is one of the longest in the islands
  • Sea turtles bury their eggs on the beach during the mating season between January and March
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Bartolomé

One of the sites used in the film Master and Commander, Bartolomé is famous for Pinnacle Rock, a volcanic outcrop formed after lava erupted from an underwater volcano. The iconic formation was used for target practice by US airmen during WWII, adding to its unique shape.

The colourful scenery of the beaches on either side of Pinnacle Rock is contrasted by the barren landscape of Bartolomé’s interior. It’s often compared to the moon or Mars due to the red lava rocks away from the shore.

  • Climb to the top of the island’s summit, ascending a wooden staircase through the stripped-down landscape where panoramic views await
  • See Galapagos penguins, sea turtles, parrotfish and small sharks in the shallow waters between the landing point and Pinnacle Rock

North Seymour

North Seymour is home to one of the island’s first conservation projects. In the 1930s, the crew of Captain Alan Hancock’s ship transferred 72 land iguanas from the nearby Baltra Island to North Seymour in the hope that the reptiles would fare better without feral goats competing for food. At last count in 2018, there were 5,000 land iguanas on the island.

  • Visit a flamingo lagoon on the isolated Bachas beach
  • Great frigate birds have the largest nesting colony to be found on the islands

Isla Santiago

The fourth largest island in the archipelago and once home to early settlers including pirates and whalers, Santiago Island gives visitors a chance to see amazing lava fields, pristine beaches and a fascinating array of wildlife. Charles Darwin visited the island in 1835 and spent time with a party of Spanish sailors while documenting the islands' flora and fauna. In 2019, more than 1,400 land iguanas were reintroduced to Santiago from North Seymour Island. The event marks the first time the reptiles have lived on the island since Darwin visited.

  • See the black lava fields of Sullivan Bay — but be careful, the landscape is still hot
  • Snorkel and see fur seals on Puerto Egas
  • Visit Buccaneer Cove, a former pirate shelter that today is a refuge for sharks, sea turtles and sea birds

Fernandina Island

The furthest west islands in the Galapagos, Fernandina Island’s La Cumbre volcano is one of the most active in the archipelago. The landing site of Punta Espinosa puts you on a long stretch of beach where penguins, sea lions, and blue-footed boobies dot the landscape.

  • Explore the volcanic landscape with pahoehoe lava fields stretching from the flanks of La Cumbre
  • Wander the beach and mangroves that are home to the largest marine iguanas in the islands

Genovesa Island

Located in the northeastern Galapagos, Genovesa Island is known as bird island due to its incredible number of different species. It’s home to the largest colony of red-footed boobies and is the place to spot great frigate birds, petrels, Galapagos doves, finches, and lava gulls.

  • Visit the tidal pools of Darwin Bay where sea birds hover and marine life flourishes
  • Climb Prince Philip’s Steps, named for the British royal who visited the island. You’ll see red-footed boobies, Nazca boobies and great frigate birds along the way

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