The Galapagos Islands are one of the most fascinating destinations on the planet. Famous for their role in Charles Darwin’s research which led to the theory of evolution, these islands are home to unique and diverse wildlife and landscapes. From blue-footed boobies to marine iguanas, the species on these islands are unlike any you will see in the rest of the world.
The Galapagos are volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of Ecuador. Their unique ecosystem is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve, making it one of the most protected and pristine wildlife reserves in the world.
Of the 21 islands in the Galapagos, visitors can explore 14 of them, each with its own unique natural habitat. Here are the most interesting islands in the Galapagos and what you can see there!
Santa Cruz Island (Indefatigable)
The most populous island in the Galapagos, Santa Cruz Island is home to the Charles Darwin Research Station. This research hub is dedicated to the conservation of the Galapagos’ unique wildlife and history. Visitors to the Darwin Research Station can learn about conservation efforts and get up close with Galapagos tortoises. These incredible tortoises, endemic to the island, can live over 100 years and grow to over 227 kg (500 lbs).
Connected by bridge to Baltra, the only island with an airport in the archipelago, Santa Cruz is the main tourist hub for the Galapagos. This is the best island if you are looking to stay overnight on land. Many tours of the islands are by boat cruise or charter, so the other overnight option is to sleep on your charter boat.
Travel tip: most of the islands in the Galapagos have at least two names, one English and one Spanish. Use the Spanish, or local, names, but don’t be surprised if you see the English names in parentheses or in older guides.
Isabela Island (Albermarle)
Isabela Island is the largest island in the Galapagos and is made up of six active volcanoes, which formed a dry landscape of lava fields and craters. The dry habitat has become home to a wide variety of marine-adapted wildlife, including marine iguanas, penguins, and blue-footed boobies. You can also see five types of tortoise here, including the famous Giant Tortoise.
Darwin wrote in his research about Isabela Island, and included a lengthy description of the redheaded lava lizard. Apparently, Darwin found them delicious. These days, we don’t eat them, and when you see one, you will be glad of that! This island is perfect for hiking, given its size and easy terrain, and also a great place to go snorkeling in the fascinating underwater lava fields.
Wolf Island (Wenman)
Home to the most recent volcanic eruption in the Galapagos, Wolf Island’s active volcano is the tallest in the archipelago. Wolf Volcano last erupted in January 2022, and the volcano continued spewing ash for months afterwards. Because of the volcanic activity, most of Wolf Island’s amazing wildlife is found underwater, making it the best place for scuba diving in the Galapagos.
Diving and snorkeling off of Wolf island will take you through amazing underwater landscapes formed by the volcanoes and allow you to see some of the most diverse marine life in the world. Wolf Island is home to rays, including manta rays, colorful reef fish and sea turtles. However, the island is mostly known for sharks. Shark convoys (large groups of sharks swimming together) of Galapagos sharks and hammerheads swim through “shark alley” where you can visit by boat or dive with an experienced guide.
Bartolomé Island (Sullivan)
One of the most iconic views in the Galápagos, Bartolomé is home to Pinnacle Rock, a sharp volcanic formation on the coast along Sullivan’s Bay. You can climb the rock and take in a 360 degree view of the entire island, and nearby Santiago Island.
Almost every visitor to the Galápagos stops at Pinnacle Rock to take in the view and snag a picture, but be sure to explore the rest of Bartolomé to catch the rare Galápagos penguin–a tiny species of penguin, and the only species that lives along the equator.
Considered by many to be one of the most fascinating islands in the Galápagos, North Seymour is home to many rare and endangered seabirds. Most popular are the charming and photogenic blue-footed boobies, which nest all along North Seymour. These friendly birds nest on the ground and are known for the interesting ritual courtship dance they perform during breeding season.
Birdwatchers will love North Seymour, as it is also a great place to catch other birds like the frigatebird, with its impressive red throat pouch. Seabirds like the swallowtail gull, brown pelican and even an albatross can be spotted here, as well as land-based birds like the elusive Galápagos hawk.
Fernandina Island (Narborough)
Fernandina Island is one of the most volcanically active islands in the Galapagos, and is home to some of the most amazing wildlife in the archipelago. The Galápagos are known for marine iguanas–the only species of iguana that feeds in the sea–and Fernandina is one of the best places to see the unique iguanas in their favorite habitat.
The island is also home to flightless cormorants–striking, blue-eyed birds that evolved away from the ability to fly and now swim to catch octopus and eel from the ocean floor. You can also catch Galápagos penguins, and Galápagos sea lions in the many coves and bays on Fernandina.
What You’ll See in the Galapagos
There are so many islands to explore in the Galapagos. The ones on this list are some of the most interesting, and offer the best way to see certain wildlife, but every island is a unique habitat. As you explore, finding ancient tortoises, charming blue-footed boobies, unique iguanas and so much more, you will learn about conservation, wildlife and natural research and the history of the islands.
The Galápagos are also known for their beautiful sunsets and amazing stargazing, giving the low light pollution from the isolated location. Lastly, be sure to spot the iconic Darwin Finch, the inspiration for the theory of evolution by natural selection.
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