Galápagos Islands Descriptions | Galapagos Unbound

Galápagos Islands Descriptions

“Take five and twenty heaps of cinders dumped here and there in an outside city lot, imagine some of them magnified into mountains and the vacant lot the sea, and you will have a fit idea of the general aspect of the Encantadas, or the Enchanted isles.”—Herman Melville, The Enchanted Isles

*Due to the islands’ convoluted nautical past with both Spanish and English explorers and eventual Ecuadorian accession, they can be known by two or three names.

CENTRAL ISLANDS

BALTRA

Although Baltra is not part of the Galápagos National Park, it still sees lots of action as the island’s home to one of two airports throughout the Galápagos Islands that receive traffic from mainland Ecuador. Not all flights are commercial, however, as Baltra serves as one of Ecuador’s military airports and also houses a navel base. An American footprint still exists on the island as the United States Air Force created a base there to patrol for enemy submarines and fortify the entrance to the Panama Canal during World War II. During that time, soldiers station on Baltra referred to the small, flat island as “The Rock” and gained a reputation for being some of the Air Force’s flintiest airmen. After the war, the U.S. withdrew from the island and turned over the properties to the Ecuadorian government.

Despite it’s militant history, Baltra remains a pretty sight to see. Steep cliffs border the island’s northern, southern, and eastern shores—an imposing façade that shelters the arid island largely covered by small shrubs and prickly pear cacti. While Baltra has little vegetation to boast of, some of the largest sea lion populations throughout the Galápagos choose to loll about on its sandy shores.  

As a site of heavy traffic, Baltra has a history of susceptibility to introduced exotic and invasive species. By the early 1930s, the Hancock-Pacific Galápagos Expedition had marked a significant decline in population and health in Baltra’s land iguanas. The team decided to transfer around 70 iguanas to the neighboring Isla Seymour—which sustained more vegetation without a current iguana population—in way of experiment. This decision proved fortuitous as feral goats had decimated Baltra’s vegetation and brought about the extinction of the island’s land iguana’s by 1954. It wasn’t until the 1990s that scientists began reintroducing the Baltra land iguanas back to the island, and within a decade the population began to thrive.

Wildlife:

  • Land Iguana
  • Lava Lizard
  • Galápagos Sea Lion
  • Galápagos Leaf-Toed Gecko
  • Magnificent Frigatebird
  • Brown Pelican
  • Brown Noddy
  • Lava Gull
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Small Ground Finch

Flora:

  • Saltbush
  • Palo Santo Trees
  • Prickly Pear Cactus

Dimensions:

  • Land Surface: 10.5 square miles
  • Maximum Elevation: 328 feet
  • Approximate Age: 2 million years

BARTOLOMÉ

As an extinct volcano, Isla Bartolomé appears as a geologists’ dreamscape with its cinder cones, shattered lava tunnels, lava flows, spatter cones, and craters. Indeed, Bartolomé’s pock-marked, barren landscape appears quite lunar.

Bartolomé’s stark yet intriguing moonscape make it the most visited and photographed island throughout the Galápagos. Many visitors are drawn to the archipelago’s most distinctive site: Pinnacle Rock. The protruding horn of basalt resembles an obsidian spearhead, though its forbidding aura is lessened by the Galápagos penguins that enjoy carefully balancing along the precarious ledges that surround its base. Snoozing sea lions lounge on the rocky shelves along the shore, and tropical fish flit in and out of the underwater lava labyrinth. With Bartolomé’s active wildlife and iconic views, it’s little wonder that its one of the best dive sites throughout the archipelago.

One primary landing spot lies on the north beach, from which visitors can begin their dive or snorkel around the adjacent Pinnacle Rock. The northern beach also serves as a nesting site for Green sea turtles from January to March.

Opposite Pinnacle Rock lies another crescent beach landing from which visitors can begin an 1800-ft trail leading to the island’s summit, which lies at 600-ft. From the summit, panoramic views of Pinnacle Rock, Santiago Island, Daphne Major and Minor, and the sweeping black lava flows of Sullivan Bay can be seen.

Wildlife:

  • Whitetip Reef Shark
  • Galápagos Penguin
  • Galápagos Green Turtle
  • Galápagos hawk
  • Lava Heron
  • Brown Pelican
  • Ghost Crab
  • Red-lipped Batfish

Flora:

  • Red Mangrove
  • White Mangrove
  • Lava Cactus
  • Prickly Pear Cactus
  • Spiny Bush
  • Saltbush
  • Spurge
  • Gray Matplant
  • Mollugo
  • Spurge

Visitor Sites:

  • Pinnacle Rock
  • Isla Bartolomé Trail

Dimensions:

  • English Name: Bartholomew Island
  • Land Surface: 0.046 square miles
  • Maximum Elevation: 374 feet
  • Approximate Age: 1.5-2 million years

FUN FACT:

American pilots partially bombed Pinnacle Rock during their time in the Galápagos during World War II. No, they weren’t aiming at enemy submarines. They were using the distinctive geologic feature as target practice.

RÁBIDA

If you feel like white sand beaches are incredibly passé, Rábida might be the island for you! Rábida’s red sands, eroded slopes of spatter cones, and bubbled scoria give the rusty island the look of Mars rather than the moon. Rábida’s solitary, extinct volcano left quite a legacy for the island, as Rábida’s distinct color comes from the scoria created upon molten lava meeting colder seawater; the scoria’s high iron content results in the island’s red hues. With turquoise waters lapping at the maroon shores and crashing against rising red cliffs, Rábida evokes a sense of surrealism.

While the island itself might resemble something from the cosmos, its wildlife reminds one of the Earth’s own allure. Galápagos sea lions rest upon the shores or play in the labyrinth of caves while marine iguanas lounge in the sun. Bird colonies perch on the cacti or nest within the towering cliffs. Visitors also find their best opportunity to view brown pelicans up close and personal on Rábida, and the island’s quiet lagoons beckon some of the largest flocks of flamingoes throughout the Galápagos. Trails lead around the island’s dunes and up into the overhanging cliffs, and snorkelers can drop in off the beach to discover the underwater wonders of dolphins, sharks, and manta rays

Wildlife:

  • Galápagos Fur Seal
  • Galápagos Penguin
  • Galápagos Sea Lion
  • Lava Lizard
  • Marine Iguana
  • Manta Ray
  • Blue-footed Booby
  • Nazca Booby
  • Brown Noddy
  • Brown Pelican
  • Cactus Finch
  • Warbler Finch
  • Large Ground Finch
  • Medium Ground Finch
  • Woodpecker Finch
  • Wandering Tattler
  • Galápagos Dove
  • Galápagos Hawk
  • Galápagos Mockingbird
  • Great Blue Heron
  • White-Cheeked Pintail Duck

Flora:

  • Galápagos Tomato
  • Prickly Pear Cactus
  • Saltbush
  • Spiny Bush
  • Palo Salto Trees
  • Black Mangrove
  • Galápagos Milkwort
  • Galápagos Croton
  • Muyuyo
  • Leatherleaf

Visitor Sites:

  • Rábida has one landing site for snorkeling.

Dimensions:

  • English Name: Jervis Island
  • Land Surface: 1.9 square miles
  • Maximum Elevation: 1,204 feet
  • Approximate Age: 2.5 million years

SANTA FÉ

Isla Santa Fé, otherwise known as Barrington Island in honor of British Admiral Samuel Barrington, remains one of the archipelago’s oldest volcanoes. On the uplift, some basaltic rocks date back to 2.7 million years ago, while some submerged rock formations are as old as 3.9 million years.

In many ways, Santa Fé remains a land before time. While its geology tells of unfathomable history, evidence also remains that Galápagos’ giant tortoises were once endemic to the island. A 1905-06 expedition held by the California Academy of Sciences reported sightings of the tortoises, and at least two whaling vessels also reported having taken the giant tortoises from the island. Recent genetic analysis of the evidence taken from the California Academy’s expedition indicate that the Santa Fé tortoise was a unique taxon amongst Galápagos giant tortoises, although they appear to be closely related to the Española tortoise. In 2012, the Galápagos National Park Directorate began initiatives to restore the giant tortoises to Santa Fé by introducing the Española tortoises as a supplement. In June 2015, 201 juvenile Española tortoises were successfully released on the island, and annual releases of the tortoises are planned to continue for the next 10 years.

Visitors can land in Barrington Bay to explore the beaches or the two trails leading throughout the island: one trail winds its way through a forest of Santa Fé opuntia cactus; the other trail leads to a lofty cliff from which visitors can view the cove below. Land iguanas rest within the shadows of the prickly pear cacti dotting the island, and rare Española tortoises lumber around. Rare radiate-headed scalesia and Heller’s scalesia also grow at the viewpoint, creating a unique atmosphere.

Wildlife:

  • Galápagos Green Turtle
  • Galápagos Sea Lion
  • Spotted Eagle Ray
  • Stingray
  • Manta Ray
  • Whitetip Reef Shark
  • Galápagos Sand Dollar
  • Ghost Crab
  • Santa Fé Land Iguana
  • Santa Fé Rice Rat
  • Galápagos Racer Snake
  • Great Frigatebird
  • Magnificent Frigatebird
  • Galápagos Hawk
  • Cactus Finch
  • Large Ground Finch

Flora:

  • Galápagos Lantana
  • Galápagos Croton
  • Radiate-Headed Scalesia
  • Heller’s Scalesia
  • Feather Fingergrass
  • Palo Santo Trees
  • Prickly Pear Cactus
  • Saltbush
  • Spiny Bush
  • Thorn Tree
  • Muyuyo

Visitor Sites:

  • Barrington Bay

Dimensions:

  • Official Name: Barrington Island
  • English Name: James Island
  • Land Surface: 9.3 square miles
  • Maximum Elevation: 850 feet
  • Approximate Age: 4 million years old

SANTA CRUZ

Today, Santa Cruz serves as the Galápagos Islands’ primary tourism hub. The island’s accessibility from Baltra’s airport, central position in the archipelago, established towns such as Puerto Ayora, and amenable transportation have made it a center for community and research development. Tourism brings in countless visitors, and over 12,000 residents live in small villages scattered throughout the island—making Santa Cruz the home to the largest population of the Galápagos Islands.

Settlers first found their way to Santa Cruz in the time between WWI and WWII, and with them came exotic plant and animal species that devastated much of the island’s native species and left the landscape permanently altered. These developments initiated conservation challenges and a conservation concentration early on, and so it does not surprise that Santa Cruz now houses both the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) as well as the Galápagos National Park (GNP). The CDRS’s Tortoise Breeding Center—where Lonesome George once lived—attracts the majority of its visitors. A land iguana breeding program furthers their conservation objectives, as does a tortoise reserve. The Van Straelen Exhibition Hall illustrates the archipelago’s thriving ecosystems and conservation efforts while bringing the Galápagos’ environmental challenges to life.

Santa Cruz’s commercial sprawl has not detracted from its natural beauty, making it a Galápagos vacation must-see. The mist-covered highlands reveal some of the Galápagos’ lushest landscapes with its scalesia forests where wild tortoises lumber. Two of the Galápagos’ most famous beaches, Tortuga Bay and Black Turtle Cove, can be found on Santa Cruz; sea turtles come to nest on Tortuga Bay’s white sand beaches and the sequestered Black Turtle Cove not only houses many green sea turtles but a variety of sharks such as the white-tipped reef sharks, the Galápagos sharks, and black-finned reef sharks.

The island’s volcanic history also created stunning geologic sites such as Los Gemelos (The Twins), Media Luna, Cerro Crocker, and El Mirador. Visitors can walk along the rims of the Los Gemelos pit craters, hike along the trails surrounding the splatter cones of Media Luna and Cerro Crocker, or explore the otherworldly lava tubes of El Mirador.

Santa Cruz might have been named Indefatigable after a British ship, but it earned its English title by its tenacious grip on the true essence of the Galápagos.

Wildlife:

  • Galápagos Giant Tortoise (Santa Cruz)
  • Galápagos Green Turtle
  • Whitetip Reef Shark
  • Sally Lightfoot Crab
  • Marine Iguana
  • Land Iguana
  • Black-Necked Stilt
  • Blue-Footed Booby
  • Brown Pelican
  • Cactus Finch
  • Cattle Egret
  • Dark-Billed Cuckoo
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Striated Heron
  • Galápagos Mockingbird
  • Galápagos Rail
  • Large Ground Finch
  • Small Ground Finch
  • Large Tree Finch
  • Small Tree Finch
  • Vegetarian Finch
  • Woodpecker Finch
  • Laava Gull
  • Lava Heron
  • Magnificent Frigatebird
  • Vermilion Flycatcher
  • Whimbrel
  • Short-Eared Owl
  • Yellow Warbler

Flora:

  • Beach Morning Glory
  • Thread-Leafed Chaff Flower
  • Glorybower
  • Cat’s Claw
  • Galápagos Miconia
  • Galápagos Mistletoe
  • Galápagos Orchid
  • Black Mangrove
  • Button Mangrove
  • White Mangrove
  • Red Mangrove
  • Seaweed
  • Heller’s Scalesia
  • Tree Scalesia
  • Mesquite
  • Palo Santo Tree
  • Palo Verde
  • Guava
  • Prickly Pear Cactus
  • Candelabra Cactus
  • Quinine Tree
  • Poison Apple
  • Thorn Tree
  • Ink Berry
  • Leatherleaf
  • Muyoyo
  • Red-Haired Tournefortia
  • Scorpian Weed
  • Spiny Bush
  • Saltbush
  • Saltwort
  • Common Carpetweed

Visitor Sites:

  • Charles Darwin Research Station
  • Tortuga Bay and Playa de los Perros
  • El Mirador
  • Los Gemelos
  • Media Luna (Half Moon) and Cerro Crocker (Crocker Hill)
  • Santa Cruz Highlands
  • Black Turtle Cove
  • Garrapatero

Dimensions:

  • English Name: Indefatigable Island
  • Land Surface: 381 square miles
  • Maximum Elevation: 2,835 feet
  • Approximate Age: 2 million years old

SANTIAGO

In its time, Santiago has been a favored haunt for whalers, pirates, and Galápagos fur seals. In particular, pirates and whalers used to frequent Santiago’s premier visitor sites of Espumilla Beach and Buccaneer Cove in search for food (aka tortoises) and water. Today, visitors also make their way down to pahoehoe-caked Sullivan Bay and James Bay to view Galápagos fur seals in their grottos.

When Charles Darwin and The Beagle arrived on Santiago on October 5th, 1835, they saw a much different island, one populated with land iguanas (now extinct on Santiago) and Galápagos giant tortoises. In The Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin could barely quantify the amount of land iguanas, noting instead, “I cannot give a more forcible proof of their numbers than by stating that when we were left at James Island, we could not for some time find a spot free from their burrows on which to pitch our single tent.” Sadly, there are few records of such a Santiago, swarming with land iguanas, as the introduction of invasive species soon depleted endemic animals.

Wildlife:

  • Galápagos Fur Seal
  • Galápagos Sea Lion
  • Galápagos Green Turtle
  • Galápagos Four-eyed Blenny
  • Hermit Crab
  • Lava Lizard
  • Marine Iguana
  • Sally Lightfood Crab
  • Large Painted Locust
  • Galápagos Dove
  • Galápagos Hawk
  • Galápagos Mockingbird
  • American Oystercatcher
  • Brown Pelican
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Lava Heron
  • Striated Heron
  • Yellow-Crowned Night Heron
  • Large Ground Finch
  • Medium Ground Finch
  • Small Ground Finch
  • Cactus Finch
  • Warbler Finch
  • Semipalmated Plover
  • Wandering Tattler
  • Whimbrel

Flora:

  • White Mangrove
  • Galápagos Croton
  • Glorybower
  • Candelabra Cactus
  • Prickly Pear Cactus
  • Lava Cactus
  • Palo Santo
  • Stewart’s Scalesia
  • Spiny Bush
  • Pearl Berry
  • Spiny Bush
  • Scorpion Weed
  • Bitterbush
  • Leatherleaf
  • Grey Matplant
  • Mullogu
  • Muyuyu

Visitor Sites:

  • Buccaneer Cove
  • Sullivan Bay
  • Espumilla Beach
  • Puerto Egas
  • Mina de Sale Crater (Salt Mine Crater)

Dimensions:

  • English Name: James Island
  • Land Surface: 226 square miles
  • Maximum Elevation: 2,975 feet
  • Approximate Age: 1.5-2 million years old

NORTH SEYMOUR

Unlike many of the volcanic islands throughout the archipelago, North Seymour was formed by uplifted submarine lava near northeastern Santa Cruz and Baltra (otherwise known as South Seymour). The uplifted plateau of an island now lies strewn with palo santo trees and boulders. Desolate as the island appears it serves as an excellent breeding ground for blue-footed and Nazca boobies as well as magnificent and great frigatebirds. Seymour plays host to the largest colonies of these birds, and sea lions enjoy lounging on the rocky coastline as well. Currently, the island also houses a plethora of land iguanas who has thrived amongst the black lava rocks since being introduced to Seymour from Baltra’s then-vanishing population.

Wildlife:

  • Galápagos Sea Lion
  • Hammerhead Shark
  • Marine Iguana
  • Land Iguana
  • Lava Lizard
  • Striped Galápagos Snake
  • Blue-footed Booby
  • Nazca Booby
  • Red-footed Booby
  • Brown Noddy
  • Brown Pelican
  • Great Frigatebird
  • Magnificent frigatebird
  • Swallow-tailed Gull

Flora:

  • Palo Santo
  • Palo Verdo
  • Prickly Pear Cactus
  • Galápagos Croton
  • Galápagos Carpetweed
  • Purslane
  • Spiny Bush
  • Saltbush
  • Leatherleaf
  • Muyuyo

Visitor Sites:

  • Seymour has one landing site

Dimensions:

  • Official Name: Seymour Norte Island
  • English Name: North Seymour Island
  • Land Surface: 0.73 square miles
  • Maximum Elevation: 92 feet
  • Approximate Age: 2 million years old

SOMBRERO CHINO (CHINESE HAT)

Sombrero Chino received its name for its peculiar profile that resembles a Chinese hat. Much like the other islands throughout the archipelago, Sombrero Chino has a volcanic origin as it is formed of incredibly old, delicate pahoehoe lava flows as well as several neighboring craters. The lava fields on the western region of the island are exotic with their inundating waves frozen in time broken by jagged outcroppings. Due to thee sensitive nature of the fragile lava fields, they are closed to the majority of visitors. Although one landing site leads travelers through the beach to the rugged edges of the island’s volcanic region, few visitors find their way to Sombrero Chino.

Wildlife:

  • Galápagos Penguin
  • Galápagos Sea Lion
  • Whitetip Reef Shark
  • Spotted Eagle Ray
  • Marine Iguana
  • Lava Lizard
  • Sally Lightfoot Crab
  • American Oystercatcher
  • Brown Pelican
  • Brown Noddy
  • Galápagos Hawk
  • Lava Heron

Flora:

As Sombrero Chino is one of the younger volcanoes within the archipelago, the island’s vegetation is in the earliest stages of colonization.

  • Lava Cactus
  • Galápagos Carpetweed
  • Common Carpetweed

Visitor Sites:

  • Sombrero Chino has one landing

Dimensions:

  • Land Surface: 0.08 square miles
  • Maximum Elevation: 160 feet

SOUTH PLAZA

South Plaza and its neighbor, North Plaza, make up the two crescent-shaped seabed uplifts known as the Plazas. While South Plaza welcomes visitors to its wildlife-packed shores, North Plaza is closed to visitors and kept isolated for research purposes. Visitors haven’t scared away South Plaza’s wildlife. Colorful birds nest in the cliffs, looking down on barking sea lions that greet visitors approaching the dock. Land and marine iguanas scamper throughout the cactus forests, munching on the prickly pears.

The island also presents an interesting combination of Arid Zone and Littoral Zone flora. Trails wind through forests of prickly pear cacti blooming bright yellow flowers, and swathes of carpetweed change from a vivid green to varying shades of purple, orange, and red during the dry season. If you catch the island during the right time of year, it gives the impression of a sunset painted on the ground.

Wildlife:

  • Galápagos Sea Lion
  • Land Iguana
  • Marine Iguana
  • Lava Lizard
  • Sally Lightfoot Crab
  • Cactus Finch
  • Large Cactus Finch
  • Medium Ground Finch
  • Small Ground Finch
  • Galápagos Dove
  • Galápagos Shearwater
  • Blue-footed Booby
  • Nazca Booby
  • Lava Gull
  • Swallow-tailed Gull
  • Brown Noddy
  • Brown Pelican
  • Elliot’s Storm Petrel
  • Magnificent Frigatebird
  • Red-billed Tropicbird
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Yellow Warbler

Flora:

  • Galápagos Carpetweed
  • Common Carpetweed
  • Galápagos Purslane
  • Desert Plum
  • Bitterbush
  • Spiny Bush
  • Leatherleaf

Visitor Sites:

  • South Plaza has one landing site

Dimensions:

  • English Name: Barrington Island
  • Land Surface: 0.05 square miles
  • Maximum Elevation: 75 feet
  • Approximate Age: 2 million years old

FUN FACT:

Visitors can occasionally spot a marine iguana and land iguana hybrid on their visit to the island.

 

NORTHERN ISLANDS

GENOVESA

Around the islands, you might hear of Genovesa as “The Bird Island” because of the sundry bird species that flock to the northern island to nest in mass; it’s also one of few islands where Red-footed boobies nest en masse. While thousands of pelagic seabirds venture to the remote island, it’s not an easy trip for terrestrial animals due to the ocean currents. Marine iguanas are the only land reptiles that can be found on Genovesa, and they tend to be slightly smaller than those found on other islands throughout the archipelago.

Genovesa’s unique geology forms an ideal home for nesting birds who make their homes along the sheer cliffs that line the crescent-shaped island. The island as we see it now as formed with the eruption of a shield volcano, which created a caldera. One side of the caldera collapsed into the ocean, creating an underwater crater we currently refer to as Darwin Bay. Now, visitors can sail right up to the ruptured caldera and anchor off Genovesa’s white sand beach.

South of Darwin Bay lies another landing site: Prince Philip’s Steps. Prince Philip’s visit to the Galápagos in the 1960s prompted the naming of the site, and today you can follow the steps of royalty to a stark forest of palo santo trees where frigatebirds and Nacza boobies flit between the branches. The trail also leads through stretches of aged pahoehoe lava flow, beautiful yet daunting with its ropy, marbled surface. Along Genovesa’s eastern coast, visitors can find a deep fissure into which the molten lava once flowed to look down upon the mantle of Galápagos storm petrels that nest in the lava tubes and along the fracture. Short-eared owls and Madeiran storm petrels also share these volcanic accommodations. It’s a stunning sight to see, although it might not be on the Galápagos Must-See List of those emotionally scarred from Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Wildlife:

  • Hammerhead Shark
  • Galápagos Fur Seal
  • Galápagos Sea Lion
  • Galápagos Green Turtle
  • Marine Iguana
  • Band-rumped Storm Petrel
  • Galápagos Storm Petrel
  • Madeiran Storm Petrel
  • Wedge-rumped Storm Petrel
  • Brown Noddy
  • Red-footed Booby
  • Nazca Booby
  • Galápagos Mockingbird
  • Galápagos Dove
  • Great Frigatebird
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Red-billed Tropicbird
  • Large Cactus Finch
  • Large Ground Finch
  • Sharp-beaked Ground Finch
  • Warbler Finch
  • Lava Gull
  • Lava Heron
  • Yellow-crowned Night Heron
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Whimbrel
  • Wandering Tattler

Flora:

  • Red Mangrove
  • Galápagos Shore Petunia
  • Morning Glory
  • Galápagos Croton
  • Palo Santo
  • Prickly Pear Cactus
  • Lava Cactus
  • Scorpion Weed
  • Saltbush
  • Spurge

Visitor Sites:

  • El Barranco
  • Prince Philip’s Steps
  • Darwin Bay

Dimensions:

  • English Name: Tower Island
  • Land Surface: 5.4 square miles
  • Maximum Elevation: 250 feet
  • Approximate Age: 2 million years old

 

SOUTHERN ISLANDS

ESPAÑOLA

With its high rate of island-specific endemism, jagged cliffs perpetually awash in surf, and striking geologic features, Española embodies all that Galápagos dreams are made of. Española, as its southernmost position in the archipelago suggests, sits as one of the oldest islands in the Galápagos. Around 3.4 million years ago, Santiago was formed from a shield volcano whose caldera sits at the heart of the island, though over time erosion has resulted in Española’s low elevation.

Española is one of the archipelago’s more isolated islands, and it hosts a large number of endemic species—not just to the Galápagos Islands but to the island of Española itself. With the the Española/Hood lava lizard, the Española/Hood mockingbird, the Española/Hood race snake, brilliantly colored marine iguanas, and nesting waved albatross (not to mention all of those “ordinary,” “boring” Galápagos fauna that inhabit the island), Española embodies all that brings visitors to the Galápagos.

Wildlife:

  • Galápagos Green Sea Turtle
  • Galápagos Sea Lion
  • Marine Iguana
  • Ghost Crab
  • Sally Lightfoot Crab
  • Española (Hood) Lava Lizard
  • Española (Hood) Racer Snake
  • Green Sea Urchin
  • Pencil-spined Sea Urchin
  • King Angelfish
  • American Oystercatcher
  • Blue-footed Booby
  • Nazca Booby
  • Large Cactus Finch
  • Small Ground Finch
  • Warbler Finch
  • Galápagos Dove
  • Galápagos Hawk
  • Lava Heron
  • Red-billed Tropicbird
  • Wallow-tailed Gull
  • Wandering Tattler
  • Waved Albatross

Flora:

  • Beach Morning Glory
  • Beach Dropseed
  • Galápagos Shore Petunia
  • Galápagos Lantana
  • Desert Plum
  • Desert Thorn
  • Palo Verde
  • Mesquite
  • Horse Purslane
  • Salt Sage
  • Saltbush

Visitor Sites:

  • Gardner Bay
  • Punta Suarez

Dimensions:

  • English Name: Hood Island
  • Land Surface: 23 square miles
  • Maximum Elevation of 676 feet
  • Approximate Age: 3.4-4 million years old

FLOREANA

If you’re hoping for salacious, creepy stories in Galápagos history, look no further than Floreana. Floreana might have seen its fair share of buccaneers and whalers, but it’s been a permanent residence for people since the mid-1800s when the Galápagos Islands’ first permanent settlers moved in. If you check out our Galápagos History page, you can discover the mysterious turn this settlement took.

Whalers, who frequently stopped at Floreana, also set up the islands’ first “post office” in a barrel, a system which continues in the site now-known as Post Office Bay. Behind the post office barrel visitors often take a trip down a lava tunnel and enjoy the shenanigans of the local Galápagos sea lion rookery.

Floreana also offers Devil’s Crown off of Punta Cormorant, where Galápagos marine life and sea birds are at their best. For that, Floreana and Devil’s Crown remain a top Galápagos diving and snorkeling site.

Wildlife:

  • Galápagos Penguin
  • Galápagos Green Sea Turtle
  • Galápagos Sea Lion
  • Stingray
  • Hammerhead Shark
  • Azure Parrotfish
  • Bicolor Parrotfish
  • Bumphead Parrotfish
  • Yellow-tailed Surgeon Fish
  • Pencil-spined Sea Urchin
  • Floreana Lava Lizard
  • Galápagos Hermit Crab
  • Ghost Crab
  • Blue-footed Booby
  • Brown Noddy
  • Brown Pelican
  • Dark-billed Cuckoo
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Galápagos Flycatcher
  • Great Frigatebird
  • Greater Flamingo
  • Red-billed Tropicbird
  • Ruddy Turnstone
  • Sanderling
  • Semipalmated Plover
  • Small Ground Finch
  • Western Sandpiper
  • Whimbrel
  • White-cheeked Pintail Duck
  • Wilson’s Phalarope
  • Willet
  • Yellow Warbler

Flora:

  • Black Mangrove
  • Button Mangrove
  • Beach Morning Glory
  • Morning Glory
  • Galápagos Passion Flower
  • Ink Berry
  • Pearl Berry
  • Cut-leafed Daisy
  • Floreana Daisy
  • Galápagos Lantana
  • Galápagos Cotton
  • Galápagos Croton
  • Galápagos Milkwort
  • Galápagos Clubleaf
  • Leatherleaf
  • Longhaired Scalesia
  • Mesquite
  • Palo Verde
  • Palo Santo
  • Spiny Bush
  • Saltbush
  • Bitterbush

Visitor Sites:

  • Post Office Bay
  • Devil’s Crown
  • Punta Cormorant
  • Highlands: Cerro Alieri and Asilo de la Paz

Dimensions:

  • English Name: Charles Island
  • Land Surface: 67 square miles
  • Maximum Elevation of 2,100 feet
  • Approximate Age: 3.5 million years old

 

WESTERN ISLANDS

FERNANDINA

In contrast the Santiago’s old age and southernmost position, Fernandina is the westernmost and most volcanically active of the Galápagos Islands. Fernandina, with its single volcano known as La Cumbre, illustrates the Galápagos in adolescence—still growing into its appearance and form with every one of its continuing volcanic eruptions.

Fernandina has a reputation as being the most pristine of the Galápagos volcanos. With its active volcanic history, there’s plenty of impeccable ‘a’a and pahoehoe flows to view. Further, the Cromwell Current brings upwelling, cool waters to Fernandina, making the surrounding waters of western Isabela and Fernandina the richest waters throughout the archipelago. These rich, cold waters are, in turn, inviting to Galápagos penguins and flightless cormorants.

Wildlife:

  • Galápagos Green Sea Turtle
  • Galápagos Sea Lion
  • Galápagos Penguin
  • Galápagos Racer Snake
  • Banded Galápagos Snake
  • Lava Lizard
  • Marine Iguana
  • Sally Lightfoot Crab
  • American Oystercatcher
  • Blue-footed Booby
  • Flightless Cormorant
  • Galápagos Hawk
  • Galápagos Mockingbird
  • Mangrove Finch
  • Medium Ground Finch
  • Small Ground Finch
  • Yellow Warbler

Flora:

  • Red Mangrove
  • Black Mangrove
  • White Mangrove
  • Galápagos Shore Petunia
  • Lava Cactus
  • Saltbush

Visitor Sites:

  • Punta Espinosa

Dimensions:

  • English Name: Narborough Island
  • Land Surface: 249 square miles
  • Maximum Elevation: 4,900 feet
  • Approximate Age: 30,000 years old (continued formation with recent eruptions)

FUN FACT:

A unique taxon of the Galápagos Giant Tortoises once roamed Fernandina, though the taxon is now extinct. However, Fernandina’s extinct Galápagos tortoises are unique in that fossil evidence suggests that they died off naturally—sadly, a rare feat as humans are the usual cause of the giant tortoises’ extinction throughout the islands. Fernandina’s tortoises most likely went extinct from lack of food as well as the island’s regular volcanic activity.

ISABELA

Isabela, the largest of the Galápagos Islands, harbors more than half of the archipelago’s total land surface area. Much like Fernandina, Isabela remains volcanically active—not shocking as the island itself is made up of six volcanoes (Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Sierra Negra, and Wolf) joined by mass lava flows.

Bustling Puerto Villamil stands as Isabela’s main settlement and tourist hub from which visitors set off to other top Galápagos sites such as Tintoreras, the Wall of Tears, Villamil Lagoons, Volcán Chico, and the Tortoise Breeding Center.

Though the Galápagos giant tortoises have their own breeding center on Isabela Island, they have done a pretty good job on their own throughout the island’s history. With Isabela’s diverse volcanic topography and immense size, the slow-moving wild tortoises found many an impediment to crossing the lava flows and migrating. Over time, several unique sub-species of tortoises have developed on Isabela Island, and many continue to roam—slowly, but freely—in the calderas of Sierra Nega, Wolf, Darwin, Cerro Azul, and Alcedo.

In fact, the Galápagos Island’s largest and most thriving tortoise population can be found on Alcedo. Over 5,000 tortoises have been known to gather in the caldera’s marshy pools.

Meanwhile, off of Isabela you can find Tagus Cove and Bolivar Channel, where the nutrient-rich waters of the Cromwell Current upwelling make it one of the best places to see whales in the Galápagos Islands. Around 16 different whale species have been seen here, including orca, humpback, minke, sperm, and sei. Of course, whalers discovered this years ago, and Tagus Cove’s looming cliffs still display the inscriptions and graffiti of many of the whalers that once sailed the Galápagos seas.

Wildlife:

  • Galápagos Giant Tortoise
  • Galápagos Green Sea Turtle
  • Galápagos Penguin
  • Galápagos Sea Lion
  • Whitetip Reef Shark
  • Golden Cownose Ray
  • Spotted Eagle Ray
  • White Sea Urchin
  • Sally Lightfoot Crab
  • Semi-terrestrial Hermit Crab
  • Lava Lizard
  • Marine Iguana
  • Land Iguana
  • Greater Flamingo
  • Flightless Cormorant
  • Striated Heron
  • Yellow-crowned Night Heron
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Lava Heron
  • Franklin’s Gull
  • Laughing Full
  • Lava Gull
  • Large Tree Finch
  • Medium Ground Finch
  • Small Ground Finch
  • Small Tree Finch
  • Vegetarian Finch
  • Warbler Finch
  • Woodpecker Finch
  • American Oystercatcher
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • Brown Pelican
  • Common Gallinule
  • Galápagos Hawk
  • Paint-billed Crake
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Ruddy Turnstone
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Wandering Tattler
  • Whimbrel
  • White-cheeked Pintail Duck
  • Yellow Warbler

Flora:

  • Black Mangrove
  • Button Mangrove
  • White Mangrove
  • Red Mangrove
  • Candelabra Cactus
  • Lava Cactus
  • Prickly Pear Cactus
  • Galápagos Croton
  • Galápagos Cotton
  • Galápagos Lantana
  • Galápagos Shore Petunia
  • Galápagos Tomato
  • Red-haired Tournefortia
  • White-haired Tournefortia
  • Acacia
  • Heart-leafed Scalesia
  • Radiate-headed Scalesia
  • Beach Morning Glory
  • Bitterbush
  • Saltbush
  • Spiny Bush
  • Narrow-leafed Darwin Bush
  • Common Carpetweed
  • Guayabillo
  • Mesquite
  • Mollugo
  • Muyuyo
  • Needle-leafed Daisy
  • Palo Santo
  • Palo Verde
  • Pega Pega
  • Poison Apple

Visitor Sites:

  • Puerto Villamil
    • Tortoise Center
    • Tintoreras
    • Wall of Tears
  • Sierra Negra Volcano
  • Elizabeth Bay
  • Urvina Bay
  • Tagus Cove
  • Punta Moreno
  • Punta Vicente Roca

Dimensions:

  • English Name: Albemarle Island
  • Land Surface: 1,771 square miles
  • Maximum Elevation: 5,600 feet
  • Approximate Age: 2 million years old

 

EASTERN ISLANDS

SAN CRISTÓBAL

San Cristóbal, the easternmost island of the Galápagos archipelago, was the first to welcome Charles Darwin to its shores in 1835 as well as the islands’ oldest permanent settlement. San Cristóbal’s attraction most likely likes in El Junco Lagoon, the Galápagos Island’s only lasting source of freshwater.

Today, visitors don’t travel to San Cristóbal for the freshwater, though many pass through here as it’s home to one of the Galápagos Islands’ two airports (the other being on Baltra) as well as many other top Galápagos sites. Punta Pitt—where all three species of boobies rest, can be found on the eastern side of the island. Kicker Rock, with its narrow channel, brings in sea kayakers, snorkelers, and scuba divers.

And those hoping to learn more about the Galápagos’ incredible ecosystem and biodiversity? San Cristóbal offers the Galapaguera Tortoise Reserve as well as the San Cristóbal Interpretation Center, where guests can learn all about the Galápagos’ ecosystems, wildlife, plants, and human history.

Wildlife:

  • Galápagos Sea Lion
  • Galápagos Green Turtle
  • Galápagos Flycatcher
  • San Cristóbal Lava Lizard
  • San Cristóbal Mockingbird
  • Marine Iguana
  • Sally Lightfoot Crab
  • Blue-footed Booby
  • Red-footed Booby
  • Nazca Booby
  • Cactus Finch
  • Medium Ground Finch
  • Small Ground Finch
  • Great Frigatebird
  • Magnificent Frigatebird
  • American Oystercatcher
  • Brown Pelican
  • Madeiran Storm Petrel
  • Swallow-tailed Gull
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Vermillion Flycatcher

Flora:

  • Galápagos Carpetweed
  • Galápagos Cotton
  • Galápagos Croton
  • Galápagos Lantana
  • Galápagos  Shore Petunia
  • Candelabra Cactus
  • Prickly Pear Cactus
  • Cut-leafed Daisy
  • Grey Matplant
  • Matazarno
  • Mesquite
  • Mollugo
  • Muyuyo
  • Palo Santo
  • Pega Pega
  • Pearl Berry
  • Saltbush
  • Spiny Bush
  • Thread-leafed Chaff Flower

Visitor Sites:

  • Cerro Brujo (Witch Hill)
  • Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve
  • Cerro Tijeretas (Frigate Bird Hill)
  • El Junco Lagoon
  • Frigatebird Hill
  • Kicker Rock
  • La Galapaguera
  • Lobos Island
  • Ochoa
  • Puerto Chino
  • Punta Pitt
  • San Cristóbal Interpretation Center

Dimensions:

  • English Name: Chatham Island
  • Land Surface: 215 square miles
  • Maximum Elevation: 2,395 feet
  • Approximate Age: 3.5 million years old