Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are a fantastic place to visit. Enjoy incredible wildlife, stunning scenery and beautiful beaches.

Many of the top tours on the Galapagos Islands offer a choice of itineraries focusing on different islands of the Galapagos and points of interest.

As itineraries vary by length of cruise (often from 4 to 15 days) and the islands included on tour, which of the Galapagos islands are the best to visit?

Here, we will offer our recommended choices for the 10 best Galapagos Islands to visit.

Let’s start with Española Island.

  1. Española Island

    Española Island is found towards the far southeast area of the Galapagos archipelago. This is also one of the first islands formed in the Galapagos and is home to some fantastic wildlife.

    You can find many of the iconic Galapagos animals, including giant tortoises, marine iguanas, lava lizards, a large number of Galapagos sea lions, and the world’s largest population of waved albatross. The island is also where you can find a different type of marine iguanas. At certain times of year, Española’s marine iguanas become a beautiful red and green color.

    Because Española is quite far from other islands, the animals are often a little different to species from other Galapagos islands, which makes it one of the top islands to visit.

    One of the favorite areas of Española, Suárez Point is a great place to see wildlife. This is where you find the colony of waves albatross, as well as blue footed boobies, Nazca boobies, Darwin’s finches, Galapagos hawks, lava lizards and sea lions.

    Another favorite area of Española is called Gardner Bay. Gardner Bay is a beautiful area to visit and offers stunning scenery and fantastic wildlife.

    At the bay, you will be greeted by a large population of Galapagos sea lions. This is also a beautiful beach in its own right and offers one of the archipelago’s longest white sand beaches.

    In addition to sea lions, the coastal area is a great place to see Sally Lightfoot crabs and sea turtles swimming offshore. You can see these from the shore or by snorkeling in the waters to see tropical fish, whitetip reef sharks, rays, and hammerhead sharks. Over certain months, you can also see the adorable sea lion pups playing on the sand.

    A little offshore from Gardner Bay, you can find Osborn Islet which offers great snorkeling opportunities to see some more tropical fish, including parrotfish and butterfly fish, as well as beautiful corals, starfish and sea urchins.

  2. Santa Cruz Island

    Galapagos Habitat Hotel - Galapagos Islands

    Santa Cruz Island is one of the most visited islands in the Galapagos, as this is the first destination guests arriving at Baltra Island airport visit. After crossing the narrow strip of water, you will arrive on Santa Cruz Island.

    Not only an entry point to the Galapagos, the island of Santa Cruz is also a fantastic place to visit and explore.

    Santa Cruz is the second largest island in the archipelago after Isabela and is home to many of the top Galapagos restaurants and hotels.

    Most of the buzz on Santa Cruz is around the island’s main town of Puerto Ayora. This is where you find many things to do, places to eat, and where you find many of the best hotels on the Galapagos.

    Even walking around the town to buy souvenirs or to taste local foods, you will see an amazing amount of wildlife.

    See marine iguanas basking in the sun on the sidewalk, pelicans and frigate birds flying overhead, and sea lions relaxing on the shoreline.

    Some great areas for wildlife in Puerto Ayora include Charles Darwin Avenue and Fisherman’s Wharf.

    On Santa Cruz, you can also visit the Charles Darwin Research Center. This is where you will see the work the Charles Darwin Foundation is doing to help protect the islands. See marine iguanas, giant tortoises in the highlands, lava formations and a diversity of birds.

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  3. Fernandina Island

    Fernandina Island is a relatively new island of the Galapagos. See the lava flows and black lava rocks. Among the rocks, you can see marine iguanas, sea lions, Galapagos penguins, and flightless cormorants.

    Fernandina is a large island and is an active volcano. Despite this, the island is very rich in wildlife.

    One of the best areas of Fernandina Island to visit is called Punta Espinoza (Espinoza Point). This is a narrow piece of land with little vegetation aside from mangroves and cacti. Here, you can see some fantastic and iconic Galapagos animals.

    Enjoy a trail at Espinoza Point guiding you through the rocks, which is where you can see some of the iguana hides and have a much closer look at the iconic reptiles. Other animals you can see here include the Galapagos penguins, sea lions, and flightless cormorants.

    There are also some great dive areas to see swimming marine iguanas, sea turtles, colorful fish and seahorses.

    One of the best snorkeling and dive sites off Fernandina is called Mangle Point. From here, you can see turtles, pelicans and flightless cormorants.

  4. Floreana Island

    Floreana Island is where early whalers established a post office to keep in contact with loved ones when at sea. Sailors would leave messages and passing vessels heading to the address would deliver the letters.

    Now the area is known as Post Office Bay on Floreana and you can hear fantastic history from your Galapagos guides. Some of the stories from this mysterious island include the unexplained disappearance of an Austrian baroness and several other island residents. While listening to the stories, enjoy the beautiful white sand beach.

    You can see flamingos, interesting plants, and many marine animals off the island’s shoreline.

    Over certain times of year, this is a great place to see nesting sea turtles as the move up the beach to lay their eggs.

    One of the top wildlife areas on Floreana is called Cormorant Point. This is a trail leading to a salt water lagoon. You can then watch the flamingos and other birds, including Darwin’s finches, flycatchers, pintail ducks, and stilts.

    Other attractions here are the two fantastic beaches. One of these is colored green from olivine crystals and the other is made from fine pulverized coral. These are excellent areas to visit and combined with the flamingos make Floreana one of of the islands not to be missed.

    Located just off the coast of Floreana, you can find one of the best dive and snorkeling sites on the Galapagos. The area is called the Devil’s Crown, which is a great place to see colorful fish, hawkfish, hammerhead sharks, sea lions, sea turtles, king angelfish, eels, and more. The corals here are fantastic to explore and are home to abundant wildlife.

    Another great area to visit from Floreana is called Champion Islet. This is another great place to find fascinating marine life, including sea lions, sea turtles, moray eels, rays, and reef sharks. The shore is great for spotting blue footed boobies, pintail ducks and penguins.

  5. South Plaza Island

    Marine Iguanas - Galapagos Islands

    Although a lesser visited area of the Galapagos, South Plaza Island is a fantastic place to visit. The plants and animals here are different from other islands on the Galapagos. For example, the vegetation on South Plaza changes depending on the season from green to orange and red.

    South Plaza offers some fantastic animals sightings, including the largest population of sea lions on the Galapagos and one of the largest populations of land iguanas. You can also find many different birds, including cactus finches and tropicbirds. There are also some fantastic snorkeling areas. In the water, you can find tropical fish, rays, sharks, sea turtles, and penguins.

    The island is mostly covered by Opuntia cacti, which is known as the prickly pear cactus tree. This is a favorite food of the land iguanas that live here. The marine iguanas live around the coast. In some areas, both species breed together to form iguanas hybrids, which you can see on walks.

    You can also see many different birds, such as pelicans, frigatebirds, Nazca boobies, blue-footed boobies, and more.

  6. Santa Fe Island

    A small island in the middle of the Galapagos archipelago, Santa Fe is home to one of the oldest Opuntia forests on the islands.

    The cactus provide food for the abundant iguana population and you can see the endemic Santa Fe land iguana. These are found nowhere else on the Galapagos. On Santa Fe, you can also find lava lizards and sea lions. There are also lots of different birds to find.

    Two species only found on Santa Fe are the Barrington land iguana and the Barrington leaf-toed gecko.

    Enjoy two different island trails to enjoy the wildlife and landforms, which allow you to explore along the beach and inland. There are also fantastic snorkeling and dive sites to see rays, sea turtles and sea lions.

  7. Genovesa Island

    Genovesa is well known among bird lovers and is a fantastic place on the Galapagos for seeing many different species. See the rocks of recent lava flows and the smallest marine iguanas on the Galapagos.

    One of the popular activities on Genovesa is to climb the Prince Phillip’s Steps leading up to fantastic views of the island. You can also see many different birds, such as red-footed boobies and petrels.

    Genovesa is also home to Darwin Bay, which is a white sand coral beach. See many different birds, including the iconic red-footed and Nazca boobies.

  8. Rábida Island

    A great place for diving and snorkeling, Rábida Island offers dive sites to see sea lions, sea turtles, and rays. The different crevices provide home to many marine species, including a diversity of colorful tropical fish and presents some of the best snorkeling on the Galapagos.

    The island has one of the most varied landscapes in the Galapagos because of volcanic activity. There is one walking trail on the island where you can enjoy beautiful views. On the walk, enjoy spotting a variety of birds. These include many different finches, flycatchers, pelicans and Galapagos hawks.

    From the beach, you can enjoy more wildlife watching opportunities and spot marine iguanas and sea turtles.

    The red sand beach is an attraction in itself. The iron-rich volcanic rocks have been eroded over time giving the sand its maroon color.

  9. San Cristobal Island

    Sea Lions, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

    San Cristobal Island is the fifth largest island in the Galapagos and has the 2nd largest human population after Santa Cruz.

    The hub of the island is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, which is also regarded as the capital of the Galapagos Islands. Here, you can find different hotels, restaurants and many things to do.

    There are some fantastic visitor sites on San Cristobal.

    Some favorite areas include the sea lion rookery, which is a beautiful coral sand beach with a large population of sea lions resting on the shore. This is also a great place to see different Galapagos birds.

    Another favorite area is El Junco Lagoon, which is one of the only freshwater lakes on the Galapagos Islands. The lagoon is located about 45 minutes by bus from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno in the highlands of San Cristobal.

    As one of the only freshwater bodies of water, you can see some fantastic wildlife around El Junco. See a variety of birds, such as pintail ducks, gallinules and even the endangered Chatham mockingbird. .

    Another favorite area of San Cristobal is named Punta Pitt. You will first see the small beach and will meet the population of sea lions.

    You will then encounter one of the only places on the Galapagos with a breeding area for all three species of boobies. See the blue-footed, red-footed and Nazca boobies all together. You can then see other Galapagos birds.

    To save one of the most popular things to do until last, San Cristobal is a fantastic place to see giant tortoises. Enjoy walking with the tortoises in the highlands at the Tortoise Reserve. This is one of the island’s longest hikes to see them in natural habitat.

    You can also visit the Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve to see a breeding area and see tortoises in semi-natural habitat.

  10. Darwin Island

    Darwin Island is regarded as one of the world’s best dive sites. This is where divers visit to see the incredible whale sharks, hammerheads, dolphins, Galapagos sharks and some other uncommon visitors.

    Note that the hammerheads and whale sharks are migratory, so if you have some particular species in mind you want to see, check with your cruise operator to make sure your travel dates match up.

Ash - Author & Travel AdvisorAbout the Author: Ash Card is a frequent visitor to the Tropics and has a passion for helping visitors get the best experiences from tropical locations. Ash is a contributor to both TourTheTropics.com and ThinkJungle.com writing about tropical destinations, rainforests and wildlife. Feel free to contact Ash for tour help in the tropics. When not helping tourists with tours and info, Ash can be found salsa-ing the night away or posing near waterfalls.
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