Due to strict conservation efforts, the only way to visit many of the islands in the Galapagos is with a licenced guide. If you would like to take in the more remote islands and get a real sense of what the Galapagos is all about, a live-aboard cruise tour is the best way.
Each island in the Galapagos has something unique to offer. From lush flora and fauna to incredible marine life and breathtaking views, you’ll find it all and more in this magical corner of the world. With so much to see and do, it can be hard to know where to start. To give you a better idea of what to expect, we’ve put together a guide to the islands to help you decide how to get the most from your visit.
Good to Know Galapagos facts
- Many of the animal species in the Galapagos are native to the islands and you won’t find them anywhere else in the world. People travel from far and wide to see incredible creatures like the Galapagos Penguin, Galapagos Green Sea Turtle and the beloved Galapagos Giant Tortoise.
- Wildlife tourism is strictly controlled. Visitors are only allowed to disembark from tour boats at designated landing spots and must only walk on marked trails.
- There are two distinct seasons in the Galapagos: The ‘dry’ season from June to December and the ‘warm’ season from December to May. Visitors can expect tropical rain in the warm season and blue skies with midday shower during the dry season.
- The Galapagos Islands and the Galapagos Marine Reserve are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Islands to Visit in the Galapagos
Santa Cruz Island
Santa Cruz is the second largest of the islands in the Galapagos. A visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station is a must. Located in Puerto Ayora, here you can learn all about the conservation efforts that go into protecting and supporting the Galapagos Islands’ diverse ecosystem and biodiversity, as well meet the famous Galapagos Giant Tortoise.
Where to eat: To the south of the island in Puerto Ayora is the popular Galapagos Deli. Great for fresh sandwiches, refreshing cold drinks and delicious ice cream deserts.
San Cristóbal Island
San Cristóbal is the fifth largest in the Galapagos. The island’s main town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is home to the Centro de Interpretacion (the Interprative Centre). This small museum contains several fascinating exhibits relating to the history of the island.
Where to eat: Otoy Restaurant Organic Farms serves up seafood and South American cuisine with a spectacular ocean view.
The volcanic landscapes of Santiago Island are a wonder to behold. Made up of two overlapping volcanoes, the island spans an area of 226 square miles. There are a large number of animals to be found on the island, including California Sea Lions, Marine Iguanas, Whimbrels, Great Blue Herons and Ruddy Turnstones.
Don’t miss: Puerto Egas on the west of the island is the ideal spot for snorkelling. You’ll find a huge variety of wildlife here too, including Sally Lightfoot crabs.
One of the many uninhabited islands in the archipelago. Albatrosses settle on this island to mate and raise their young. If you visit in May and June, you may well be lucky enough to witness their beak-cracking mating ritual. Visit between September and December for the chance to see some baby chicks.
Don’t miss: Punta Suarez is a must for birdwatching enthusiasts.
Fernandina is the westernmost island in the Galapagos archipelago and one of the most volcanically active. It is also known for being one of the most pristine islands. Although uninhabited, there is a visitors centre on the northeast coast. Many people flock to the island hoping to catch a glimpse of Galapagos Penguins and Flightless Cormorants.
Don’t miss: There are two dive sites on the island, making it the perfect location for snorkelling with penguins and marine iguanas.
The largest of all the islands in the Galapagos, Isabela is home to approximately 1800 people. There are so many wonderful things to see on the island – from the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre to the magnificent Sierra Negra Volcano, this 1800 square mile hideaway is bursting at the seams with natural wonders.
Don’t miss: A guided hike to the Wall of Tears is recommended. This historic site was built by prisoners of the penal colony between 1945 and 1959 and its construction is believed to have resulted in thousands of deaths.
Where to eat: Tucked away in the small port village of Puerto Villamil you’ll find Booby Trap, a friendly restaurant where you can tuck into generous portions of fresh seafood and sample South American and Ecuadorian cuisines.
Rabida offers some excellent snorkelling opportunities (you’ll have to bring your gear though). The island is heavily populated with sea lions, but if you’re lucky you’ll also spot penguins, flamingos and even marine iguanas.
Don’t miss: Rabida Island is famed for its pristine lagoons, where lucky visitors can observe flocks of majestic pink flamingos.
Also known as Bird Island, Genovesa is home to an incredible variety of birds, including the Galapagos Mockingbird and the Galapagos Storm Petrel. Getting to Genovesa involves a long sail, so only the longer tours tend to include a visit here. However, if you do decide to make the trip you’ll be treated to the sight of the largest red-footed booby colony on the archipelago.
Don’t miss: Prince Philip’s Steps. An incredibly steep path that winds its way up the cliffs and leads through a seabird colony. Be prepared – this trail isn’t for the faint of heart.
Bartolomé Island, or Bartholomew Island, is a former volcano, and it has the landscape to match. Take on the challenge of climbing the 372 steps to the top of an extinct volcano and enjoy spectacular views of Pinnacle Rock below.
Don’t miss: Be sure to bring your snorkelling gear, Bartholomew’s beach offers one of the best snorkelling spots of all the islands.
Floreana is home to around 100 people, and was the first island in the Galapagos to be inhabited. Few tourists visit this small island, but those who choose to make the trip are richly rewarded with spectacular views and the opportunity to see an abundance of coral reefs and marine life.
Don’t miss: Pay a visit to Post Office Bay to see the famous post office barrel that pirates and whalers used 300 years ago to send their mail. Drop an addressed postcard of your own and see if anyone finds and delivers it!