THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
The Galapagos is an archipelago surrounded by volcanic islands, it consists of 21 islands in total, the archipelago is located on the Pacific Ocean right in the equator line 563 miles to the west of continental Ecuador. The islands are part of the Republic of Ecuador, and are known by their vast number of endemic species. The Galapagos was the place where Charles Darwin have made his studies about the theory of evolution.
Seeing Galapagos in depth is every tourist’s goal and, this is one of the best ways to do it: Stay longer on the Islands and explore the Galapagos natural treasures. This is also a perfect alternative for people who do not feel comfortable navigating in cruises, as well as those who desire an extension before or after a Galapagos cruise.
Ecuador has a small military base on this island and has also the principal airport for the Galapagos Islands, where tourists and colonists arrive and depart. Baltra is also called South Seymour and its dock, Canal Itabaca, is only 5 minutes from the air terminal.
Interesting lava formations and ash cones can be seen on this Island. A beautiful view of the nearest bays is waiting at the high part, after climbing a wood staircase for 30 to 40 minutes to the top. This is one of the most visited and photographed Islands because of its unique Pinnacle Rock with sea lions and penguins at its foot. Dry landing.
- Sullivan Bay: You can swim and snorkel here with seals and penguins. The landing is on a beautiful white sand beach where you will see lava formations. Wet landing.
- Puerto Egas: Black rocky lava is the characteristic scenery here. Natural swimming holes invite you to swim and snorkel with sea lions and marine iguanas. Tourists can walk around and watch Darwin finches, Galapagos hawks and fur seals. This is an excellent place for diving. Wet landing.
Colonies of fur seals rest on this dark red sandy beach. Towards the back of the beach, there is a flamenco lake, and it is also possible to see brown penguins, boobies and nine species of Darwin finches. Diving is excellent here. Wet landing.
This Island is famous for its large number of blue-footed boobies, colonies of magnificent frigate birds, fork-tailed seagulls, sea lions and marine iguanas. Plant life includes the very interesting palo santo (holy wood) trees. Wet landing.
This Island is full of life with its colonies of sea lions and land iguanas. Many birds like the tropicbirds and fork-tailed seagulls rest on the cliffs. You must not miss the beautiful view from the high part of the cliffs. Walking along the edge is a very pleasant experience. Dry landing.
Here it is interesting to observe colonies of sea lions, land iguanas, fork-tailed seagulls, terns and petrels. A trail leading into the heart of the island takes you to a forest of giant cactus and palo santo trees. After this visit on land, you can swim and snorkel. Wet landing.
- Cormorant Point: Olivine crystals make the sand of this beach unique. Flamingos can be spotted in the lake. After walking to the other side of the island, you will see a very fine white sand beach where marine turtles nest from December to May. Wet landing.
- Devil’s Crown: Snorkeling is good here, because beautiful formations of coral make the underwater scenery impressive. At a depth of only six meters, there are schools of multi-colored fish, sharks and sea turtles.
- Post Office Bay: You will see the famous barrel where letters were deposited to be picked up by 18th century whaling ships. Here no stamps are required for letters and postcards tourists want to mail – they will be delivered free of charge!
- Cerro Asilo de la Paz: This 450-meter-high hill is behind Cerro Pajas in the farming land on the Island. Its main attractions are historical. One site is the cave used by pirates, whereas another site is the freshwater spring, both at the bottom of the hill. Near Asilo de la Paz, the Galapagos National Park has built a corral for Galapagos turtles, brought from several islands, where they are maintained in captivity.
- La Loberia: Local inhabitants use a 900-meter-long path here for entertainment purposes. The path is part rocky and part sandy. The main attraction here is the presence of Galapagos seals lying on the beach and in the bay. Marine iguanas can be seen and there are also many sea turtles on the rocky reefs in the bay.
- The Baronesa Viewpoint: This viewpoint is located in the northern part of Floreana Island in La Olla Bay. It is a formation of basaltic tufa between Cormoran Point and Post Office Bay. There are golden eagle rays, sea turtles, sea lions, mullets and sometimes even Galapagos penguins. This spot is especially attractive because in addition to its impressive and beautiful scenery letters tell the story that Baroness Eloisa Von Wagner had spend hour after hour watching ships approach the island. The ruins of the Baroness’ house are within walking distance.
This is the most populated island in the Archipelago. Puerto Ayora, the principal port, is a required stop for all ships and has grown noticeably in recent years. Now there are many hotels, restaurants, craft shops, discotheques, bars, internet cafés and other businesses where tourists can spend their free time making purchases or learning more about the inhabitants’ customs.
- Charles Darwin Research Station: This visit is an excellent introduction to the Islands, their origin and their formation. You can see how Galapagos turtles are bred. The Research Station has its own beach, which is very crowded on weekends.
- Tortuga Bay: A 45-minute walk from Puerto Ayora along a lovely path takes you to the beach at Tortuga Bay, with its fine white sand where you can swim and snorkel.
- High Part of Santa Cruz: In this part of the island, there are many interesting and attracting places to see, such as Santa Rosa, Primicias (the lava tunnels and the turtle reserve), El Chato, The Twins and Cerro Mesa. There are also other important places on Santa Cruz Island, but you have to go by sea to reach them: Caleta Tortuga Negra, Las Bachas Beach, Cerro Dragon, Conway Bay and Walker Bay.
- Caleta Tortuga Negra: This cove is at the northern part of Santa Cruz. Getting there you have to go by panga boat to see the mangroves where at certain times in the year sea turtles can be seen nesting. Sharks and rays are present in the waters.
- Las Bachas Beach: This beach in the northern part of Santa Cruz is an excellent place for swimming.
- Dog Beach: This white sand 75-meter-long beach is located in Academy Bay. When the tide is low, it is possible to walk along the shore to the lagoon at Las Tintoreras which can be seen from the viewpoint. The plants growing along the path are chala (Croton scoulen), muyuyo (Cordia lutea), espino (Scutia pauciflora), prickly pear cactus and mangroves. Fauna includes blue-footed boobies, pelicans, frigate birds, terns, finches and Sally Lightfoot crabs, and there will be marine iguanas on the beach.
- Las Grietas: This site is west of Academy Bay. The saltwater lakes along the road are an ideal place for migratory and coastal birds such as royal herons, curlews, patillos, lava seagulls and ruddy turnstones.
- El Garrapatero: This site is located 19 km northeast of Puerto Ayora. A 1,500-meter-long white sand beach and a flamingo and patillo lagoon 100 meters from the beach are two of its principal attractions. The plants along the path are candelabra cacti, chala, carob, muyuyo, palo santo, espino and barragancillo. The fauna includes many birds such as cucubos, finches, patillos, flamingos and oyster birds, and there are Sally Lightfoot crabs and a few marine iguanas.
- Cerro Dragon: This hill is located in the northeastern part of Santa Cruz Island and has a 1,600-meter-long path. Shrimps in the lakes here provide food for the flamingos, but there are more abundant during certain times of the year and consequently attract more birds at those times. During rainy seasons, the water in the lakes are very fresh, resulting in a decrease in the crustacean population and a consequent decrease in the number of coastal birds.
- The Twins: These craterlike holes were not formed by the direct action of volcanoes, but rather as the result of surface material collapsing or sinking into crevices or underground chambers. The most outstanding land bird in this part of the islands is the witch bird.
- Whale Bay: This is a green-sand cove located at the bottom of Cerro Ballena on the western coast of Santa Cruz Island. There are many olivine crystals on the beach produced from volcanic material. This crystal was formed when the magma was still underground and it contains iron-magnesium and silica.
- Conway Bay: The end of this bay encloses to form a narrow canal of turquoise water, which you pass through in order to land on the island. Once on land, visitors will see many land iguanas and a large beach of black rocks that make an impressive backdrop in the landscape.
- Station Beach: This beach is near the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation facilities. It is approximately 320 m2 and is surrounded by a rock perimeter. It is a good place to snorkel, because there are many fish to be seen there, for instance, damsels, sargent fish, butterflyfish, vieja fish, parrotfish, small rays, and also turtles, marine iguanas and seals.
- Caamaño Islet: This small islet is an ideal spot to swim or snorkel alongside seals all year round.
- Puntudo, Media Luna and Cerro Crocker: These are the highest hills on the Island with unique vegetation and a fantastic view. The Galapagos petrel nests here, but can be seen only when it is looking for food in the ocean. During this tour, visitors must stay on the paths so as not to disturb the petrel nests at ground level.
- Cerro Mesa: This hill is at the high part of Santa Cruz. It is ideal for such sports as walking or biking.
- Suarez Point: The natural life on this island is really marvelous. Here we can see blue-footed boobies, masked boobies, colonies of marine iguanas, fascinating albatross from April to June, sea lions, Galapagos doves and Darwin finches. There is another natural attraction here – the lava blowhole.
- Gardner Bay: From Suarez Point, it takes 45 minutes by boat to reach this site. The white sand beach is home to a group of sea lions. Swimming and snorkeling are excellent possibilities here.
- Puerto Baquerizo Moreno: This is the capital of the Archipelago, and the airport has the same name. There is an interesting Research Center located. A number of tourist routes have been created, that offer good alternatives for passengers spending time on the island. The craft shops are also interesting. Dry landing.
- Lobos Island: The most important colony of sea lions and blue-footed boobies has its home on this Island. The scenery is beautiful, and it is the perfect spot to snorkel. Wet landing.
- Leon Dormido: This giant rock was formed by a volcanic eruption. A narrow canal cuts through it and allows the passage of small boats. This rock is home to many sea birds and is considered as a great diving site.
- Pitt Point: On the north side of San Cristobal Island, this point shelters a great variety of endemic species such as lava lizards and red-footed boobies. The view from the high part of the island is impressive.
- El Junco Lake: The lake’s surface measures 60,000 m2 and its volume is 360,000 m3 –the equivalent of nine million gallons of water. The water it receives is entirely rainwater. During the dry season, the water level drops as much as one meter, but when rains are heavy, the level raises so high it overflows and a stream flows off. The lake is 10 km from the port and is situated inside a small crater which in turn is located inside the chamber of a large volcano.
- Puerto Chino: This site is 24.5 km from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and a few kilometers away from the Breeding Center next to Cerro Colorado. Entry is by land as far as gravel mine and then there is a footpath about 1,475 meters long, that leads to the beach.
- La Loberia: The coral sand beach is 10 minutes away from the San Cristobal airport. It got its name because of the large number of sea lions that rest on the rock and sand. Some of the species here are button mangrove, white mangrove, chala, palo santo, cotton, Tiquilia and morning glories. There are sea lions, canaries, frigate birds, different types of finches, and enormous unique Galapagos marine iguanas rest on the rocks.
- Semi-natural Turtle Incubator: This is a good place to see Galapagos turtles. Although the population is small, visitors can appreciate a number of them can be seen near the shore in their natural habitat. These turtles have to compete with goats and donkeys for their food. In this region, there are found Galapagos cotton, palo santo trees, dogwood and many kinds of herbs and annual grasses.
- Cerro Tijeretas: Tijeretas is the popular name for the frigate bird. This hill is close to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. It is one of the few places where the two species of frigate birds can be seen nesting in the same colony.
- Puerto Grande: This site is next to Leon Dormido on the northern shore of San Cristobal. Its main attractions are the beach, the scenery and sports. Coastal area plants and a system of dunes are interesting, and there also live seabirds, shoreline birds and migratory birds.
- Cerro Brujo: Cerro Brujo is located on the north Shore of San Cristobal Island. Its main attraction is the coral sand beach and different flora and fauna species. Cerro Brujo has wonderful scenery. Leon Dormido can be seen from this spot as well as the south side of the high part of San Cristobal and the Cerro Brujo shoreline.
- Interpretation Center: The tour given at the Interpretation Center’s facility explains the history of the islands and their natural, human and conservation contexts. The Natural History Room offers an explanation of a number of natural circumstances such as the volcanic origin of the islands, their distance from the mainland, the ocean currents, the special climate, and the arrival of different species and their adaptation to the environment. The Human History Room narrates in chronological order the most significant events related to the discovery and colonization of Galapagos, and then there is an explanation of the present situation in Galapagos at present – the existing problem and the struggle several institutions and persons have initiated to conserve Galapagos.
- Ochoa Beach: This beach is on the north side of San Cristobal, an approximate 30-minute boat trip from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The only area to be seen is the beach, which is about 160 m2 There is a considerable colony of Galapagos sea lions, ghost crabs and hermit crabs. A seasonal lagoon has a constant influx of migratory and coastal birds. This is one of the sites where the endemic cucube (sinsonte) of San Cristobal can be seen.
- Espinosa Point: The scenery of black rock and lava is very attractive. There is a colony of marine iguanas, a large number of penguins, pelicans, and colonies of cormorants – birds that cannot fly. The vegetation is unique and some areas are very dry. Dry landing.
This is the largest island in the Archipelago. There are located 6 active volcanoes: Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra and Wolf. The enormous amount of lava that spilled down from these volcanoes created this island. Each volcano has its own type of giant turtle. The very interesting sites on this island that are authorized by the National Park listed below.
- Vicente Roca Point: A panga boat takes you to this site to watch hundreds of seabirds. The steep cliffs and caves are spectacular.
- Caleta Tagus: This was a natural port, where whaling ships arrived and left the names of their ships painted on the hills in 1800. You can walk to the high part to see the crater and Darwin Lake (a salt-water lake). The view from this spot is spectacular. A tour through the cliffs turns up penguins, flightless cormorants, boobies, pelicans and Sally Lightfoot crabs.
- Urbina Bay: This bay is on the west shoreline. From here, it is easy to reach the Alcedo Volcano and Darwin. There can be found large colored land iguanas and it is possible to see giant turtles, flightless cormorants, blue-footed boobies, penguins and marine iguanas.
- Moreno Point: This is in the southeastern part of Isabela. There is a spectacular view of the Alcedo, Sierra Negro and Cerro Azul volcanoes. This area is characterized by its lakes which are home for hundreds of frigate birds, flamingos and pelicans.
- Elizabeth Bay: Situated on the west side of Isabela Island, this site is extremely interesting for observing marine life. Some of the species here are sea turtles, rays, seals and Galapagos falcons.
- Garcia Point: This site is on Isabela’s east shore. Previously, the only way to see it was from a panga boat, but now land visits are permitted.
- Sierra Negra Volcano: This volcano is located in the western part of the Galapagos Archipelago, in the southern part of Isabela Island between the Alcedo and Cerro Azul volcanoes. The Sierra Negra chamber measures 6×5 miles and is the largest of the Galapagos Islands and the second largest in the world, only after Ngoro in Africa. The climb to Sierra Negra Volcano’s crater starts in Puerto Villamil and takes forth to five hours.
- Chico Volcano: This volcano is northeast of Sierra Negra Volcano, and the altitude is approximately 850 meters. It is a fissure of several parasite cones composed of volcanic ash and lava. The area surrounding Volcano Chico is northeast of the chamber so it is not affected by the constant mist present in the southeast sector of the high islands. This is one of the reasons why Volcano Chico is in perfect condition and can also be seen when there is sun and the visibility is good.
- Puerto Villamil: This port is on the southeast coastline of Isabela Island. Inhabited by quiet people, this village, as well as its neighboring village Santo Tomas, was founded by Antonio Gil in 1897. Villamil started out as a center for the production of lime which was used to burn the coral found on Isabela. Puerto Villamil is considered as one of the most beautiful sites in Galapagos, because of its extensive white sand beaches and long lines of palm trees. Lakes full of pink flamingos that nest in these large lakes from November to April are also an attraction. The beaches and lakes near Villamil are home to many birds that have migrated to the Galapagos Islands.
- Albermarle Point: This site on the north side of the island is composed of two areas. One is an area of mangroves in the midst of lava flows solidified in waves that form coves and channels. The other area is the former radar base near the beach that the North Americans left behind during World War II. The Punta Albermarle marine iguanas and those from the western side of Isabela seen here are the largest in the Archipelago.
- Wetlands Complex: The Wetlands is a complex of 7 paths that form the following sites.
- La Playita: This is a fine white sand beach that has a lava crag where seabirds rest after feeding. The site is ideal for enjoying the sun and nature, surrounded by mangroves and a panoramic view of Puerto Villamil and nearby islets.
- Pozas Verdes: The path crosses along the border between the dry carob tree grove and the humid mangrove forest. From a footbridge, you can contemplate one of the most unique sights in Galapagos, candelabra cacti next to white mangroves –so very different, but living alongside each other next to a tranquil green lagoon.
- Los Tunos Lookout: From the edge of the collapsed lava, there is a panoramic view of Poza Verde surrounded by mangroves and a thousand-year-old forest of enormous candelabra cacti.
- Tunel del Estero: This tunnel was formed by volcanic eruptions and its mouth is underwater. You can walk a few meters inside the tunnel at low tide.
- Poza Redonda: Collapsed lava formed a small lake here. From the edge, you can see how plants in Galapagos grow inside lava blocks. You can also go down to the edge of the lake to see the different petrified currents of magma.
- Poza Escondida: A path leads through a typical dry Galapagos forest of cactus and carob trees. After walking a few meters, you will find yourself in the middle of a mangrove swamp surrounding a small lake that opens directly into the ocean.
- El Estero: Along this path, you can see the mangrove ecosystem up close and admire the black mangrove tree thought to be the largest in the Galapagos Islands. This is really one of the most interesting sites because of its uniqueness since there is nothing like this in any other place in Galapagos. A freshwater stream surges from the ground and forms a river when the tide is low. It then flows down to a sandy bay next to a crag where seabirds rest.
- Orchilla Lookout: From the top of Cerro Orchilla, you can see the entire wetland system of Los Diablos and Puerto Villamil and the beaches, volcanos and islets southeast of Isabela. When the day is clear, it is ideal for taking photos.
- Concha de Perla: This site is in Puerto Villamil, only a few meters from the El Embarcadero Port. A natural rock wall forms a circular concave bay-like structure that fills with ocean water according to the tides. The site is ideal for swimming and snorkeling.
- Las Tintoreras: This site is south of Puerto Villamil. The small bay of tranquil turquoise water befriends sea lions, sea turtles and rays. This site is also famous for the canals where you can easily distinguish resting sharks. Most of the path is lava, except for two white sand beaches and one black rock beach.
- Cape Rosa: The site is at the south end of Puerto Villamil. You can walk on the interlaced lava tunnels running through the blue ocean water. It is easy to spot dozens of sharks, sea turtles, penguins and rays. This site is ideal for snorkeling. On the trip to Puerto Villamil, you will see rays.
- Union Rock: This site 7 miles from Puerto Villamil will be seen from the launch. Here there are lobsters, sea lions, manta rays, and schools of fish and barracudas as well as seabirds. The launch will circle so you can see all the flora and fauna.
- Tortuga Island: This island west of Isabela Island is reached by sea and is good for snorkeling. Seabirds and a variety of colored fish can be seen here.
- El Mango Lookout: This lookout on Isabela Island is 9 km from Puerto Villamil. From here you can see the southern part of Isabela Island and part of the agricultural area. The attraction here is the scenery, the typical vegetation and different kinds of birds.
- Las Cuevas de Sucre: These caves are in the agricultural area of Isabela Island about 14 km from Puerto Villamil. A path approximately 480 meters long passes through a strip of vegetation typical in humid areas. It crosses a lava tunnel and finally ends up at a tree nursery which serves to reproduce native and endemic plants.
- Sulfur Mines: These mines are on the west side of the Sierra Negra Volcano about 11 km from the El Cura control booth. The main attraction here is the scenery, several fumaroles and the sulfur mines.
- Wall of Tears: This historic site near Puerto Villamil is an optional visit for tourists staying in Puerto Villamil. It is historic because between 1946 and 1959 a penal colony lived here. The prisoners were forced to build a lava-block wall approximately 100 meters long as part of their punishment. There is a stairway you can climb to get a good view of this site.
- Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Center: The Center is 1.5 km from Puerto Villamil. Galapagos turtles from other places in the southern part of Isabela are reproduced in captivity in this breeding facility. The young and adult turtles living here total 330. There are beautiful gardens full of native plants such as manzanilla olive trees, carob trees, prickly pears, palo santo, cat’s claw, espino (Scutia pauciflora), chala (Croton scoleri), rodilla de caballo (Clerodendrum molle /Glory Bower), cotton, lechoso (Scalesia affinis), muyuyo (Cordia lutea), espuela de gallo (Chiococca alba), myrtle, chililica (Caesalpinia bonduc), and the Galapagos daisy.
This is one of the most important islands because of the number of colonies of birds found here, the reason it is called Bird Island. The boat excursion is a little long but very worthwhile, because we will see many different natural attractions.
- Prince Philip’s Steps: From here a walk among lava rocks is astonishing. There is a palo santo forest and many nesting red-footed boobies. This island is full of life and you can see frigate birds, red-footed boobies, lava seagulls, doves, tropical birds, petrels and many other kinds of birds. You can snorkel near the cliffs.
- Darwin Bay: This enormous bay dominates the island and like the Prince Philip’s Steps, this site is the home of large colonies of frigate birds and a wide variety of seabirds.
• Mejia Point: The visit is by sea to the northern part of the Archipelago in the Marchena Island. This is the home of a number of endemic species such as the cucube (sinsonte), the Galapagos falcon and the lava lizard, native to the Marchena Island.
• Black Beach: The visit is by sea to the eastern part of the island. Here where you have one of the best views of the Islands you can snorkel or dive and see sharks, rays, turtles and penguins.
The beach is red sand with a lake next to the beach and a path all the way around. The color of the rocks and the sand comes from their composition of volcanic material. The main attraction is the red sand beach, the scenery and also the vegetation in this dry area and the presence of native and endemic species.
This islet is near the southeast shore of Santiago. Seen from a distance, it looks like a Chinese hat. On the west side, there are pillow-like lava formations that invite you to analyze such geological aspects as lava tubes and lava flow.
Mosquera Islet is located between Baltra Island and North Seymour Island. It is a reef of rock and coral produced from an upheaval, and the large beach is white sand. This islet has one of the largest groups of sea lions. There are also different species of costal birds here. Killer whales feeding on sea lions have been seen at this site on several occasions.