Which Galapagos Islands are Best to Visit?
The Galapagos Islands are part of the Republic of Ecuador and are found around 1000km from the country’s mainland in the Pacific Ocean. Whilst the remote nature of the archipelago means that the habitats and wildlife preserved on the islands are some of the most spectacular in the world, it is a travel destination that takes a while to get to, which is why it is best to visit the Galapagos Islands as part of an organised Galapagos tour.
If you’re planning a tour of the Galapagos then you’ll likely be faced with the challenge of trying to choose which of the 127 different islands you’d like to visit during your stay. We’ve highlighted some of the key things that visitors to this part of the world are looking for when they plan a holiday and have identified the best locations in the archipelago to enjoy each.
Best Galapagos Islands for Wildlife
The wildlife of the Galapagos islands has a reputation that is known around the world. As one of the most biodiverse places on the planet that is home to countless endemic species, there’s no better place to travel if you’re a fan of birds, reptiles, sea creatures and land mammals that are unlike anything you’ll find in any other country.
Here are the top recommendations for where to see wildlife if you’re visiting the Galapagos Islands.
Found at the furthest southeast point in the Galapagos, Espanola is known for its remote location that has led to numerous endemic species living exclusively on the island. It’s for this reason that it’s one of the best Galapagos Islands to visit if you want to enjoy the area’s unique range of wildlife, so whilst it’s a bit of a journey to get to Española the results are definitely worth it.
Highlights of the wildlife on Española include the Española mockingbird and Española lava lizard, which are both native to the island. Española is also famous for being the location that brought a native giant tortoise species back from the brink of extinction in one of the most successful conservation efforts in the Galapagos, so spotting one of these reptiles is also a must for many visitors.
North Seymour is relatively small in size and doesn’t have a permanent human population, which makes it a great island in the Galapagos to visit if you’re looking for wildlife. The landscape is quite flat and dry in comparison to other parts of the archipelago, but this makes it a perfect place for reptiles and a large colony of the famous blue-footed boobies, which bring numerous groups of tourists to the island in the spring to watch their unique mating dance.
Sea lions and marine iguanas are also plentiful on North Seymour, which are two of the Galapagos Islands’ most famous examples of rare wildlife. The island has a popular visitor trail that winds for just over a mile to the coast and is a great place to start exploring if you’re hoping to spot a range of native creatures.
Fernandina is one of the furthest outlying islands in the western area of the Galapagos archipelago, but again it is this remote location that makes it an excellent spot for appreciating the native wildlife. It’s one of the islands of the Galapagos that received a fair amount of media attention in recent years after a volcanic eruption that left some of the landscape quite bare, but this makes it easier to spot the animals that live on land and has also led to some quite stunning, barren scenery.
There’s a large population of land iguanas on Fernandina around the island’s volcano, which are known for being some of the largest you’ll see in all of the Galapagos. Flightless cormorants are another notable species that visitors come to Fernandina to admire, as well as groups of blue-footed boobies and sea lions along the coastline.
Best Galapagos Islands for Snorkelling
Snorkelling is one of the most popular activities for those enjoying a visit to the Galapagos islands. The biodiversity of the archipelago extends to the underwater habitats as well, and there are countless areas of the Pacific Ocean around the islands that are frequently visited by scuba divers and snorkelers wanting to catch a glimpse of the incredible marine landscape.
If you’re looking for recommendations of the best Galapagos islands for snorkelling, check out our top picks below.
Floreana is a Galapagos island with a rich and varied history, which includes stories of smugglers, pirates, whalers, ambitious early colonisers and even murderers. It’s the number one location for snorkelling in the area, but is also home to other popular tourist attractions including Post Office Bay, which was originally used by whalers to send letters back home and is still in use by travellers today.
The highlight of snorkelling in Floreana is Devil’s Crown lagoon which is a semi-submerged, volcanic cone home to a wide range of marine wildlife. There’s a coral reef in the centre of the lagoon which is the top attraction for underwater explorers, along with chances to see dolphins, penguins, seas lines and hundreds of varieties of colourful fish.
Isabela has the largest landmass of any of the locations in the Galapagos and is formed of five different extinct volcanoes that have fused together. The waters around its shore are rich in plankton which attracts a huge range of different marine life to come and feed along the coastline, consequently also attracting a lot of snorkelers to come and admire the diverse array of sea creatures.
As well as sea lions, sharks and rays, snorkelers may also get the chance to watch the famous flightless cormorants diving for food and cutting through the water with incredible speed. Popular spots for snorkelling on Isabela include the Concha de Perla, the volcanic rock pools at Los Túneles and Tagus Cove.
Best Galapagos Islands to Stay On
Although there are 127 islands in the Galapagos, only a handful of them are actually populated which means that the choices of where to stay are quite limited. Many people choose to explore the archipelago on a cruise tour, which removes the need to find an island to stay on, but if you’d like to spend a couple of days on land then below are our top recommendations of where to look for accommodation.
As the biggest tourist hub in the archipelago, Santa Cruz is the number one choice for where to stay out of all the islands in the Galapagos. Puerto Ayora is the largest town on the island and in the entire area, which is where many people decide to stay if they arrive by plane in Baltra or want to explore the various tourist attractions.
There are six different vegetation zones in Santa Cruz; the largest range of any of the islands, so there are plenty of different natural habitats to explore if you want to get away from the island’s urban areas. Tortuga Bay and its protected population of birds, reptiles and sea creatures is a particularly popular spot, as is Carrion Point lagoon with its range of brilliant places to snorkel.
San Cristóbal is the easternmost island in the Galapagos and also one of the oldest of the whole area. If you’re looking for a place to stay in the archipelago that isn’t quite as overrun with tourists then San Cristóbal is an excellent option, with a great range of beaches, lagoons, and impressive rock formations to visit whilst you’re there.
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galapagos, is found on San Cristóbal and is a relaxed and colourful town with plenty of attractions as well as accommodation options. Here, you can find out more about how the island became famous for being the first place that biologist Charles Darwin arrived at when he visited and was inspired to write his influential book The Origin of Species, which went on to have a colossal impact on the way we understand evolution.
Best Galapagos Islands for Families
The Galapagos are an incredible place to take your family for an unforgettable holiday. Whether they’re learning about the history of the destination, getting the chance to see rare animals in the wild or spending time on the beach and in the ocean, there is a massive range of things to do with kids across the Galapagos Islands. Below are some of the highest-rated locations.
Santiago is one of the most volcanic islands in the Galapagos, giving it some of the most dramatic landscapes of the whole area that children of all ages will find incredibly exciting. Slowly oozing black lava flows can be found in various places, most notably Sullivan Bay, offering a fantastic chance to see a true geological marvel that it’s hard not to get excited about, no matter your age!
Santiago is also famous for once being one of the most popular spots for pirates to stop, rest and repair their ships in the 1700s and 1800s, and the history and stories surrounding this reputation are great for keeping the kids entertained when you visit. It was also the second place that Charles Darwin stopped when he toured the archipelago to learn more about the process of evolution, which offers a great way into describing what the naturalist discovered on his groundbreaking trip.
Genovesa is best known as being the horseshoe-shaped Galapagos island that floats in the northeast of the archipelago. The huge array of different bird species that are found around the island have given Genovesa the nickname ‘The Bird Island’, so it’s a fantastic place to come with children who are interested in animals and want to see a great selection of the creatures that make the archipelago so popular with birdwatchers.
Notable examples of what you might see on Genovesa include red-footed boobies, storm petrels and red-billed tropicbirds. The famous marine iguanas are also found here, and it’s close enough to other, larger islands in the area that it makes a great location for a day trip.
With so many different locations on offer, deciding which are the best places to visit in the Galapagos Islands is a very tricky task. Each destination has something unique on offer, from the creatures that live there to the topography of the landscape and the history of its inhabitants. It’s this reason that prompts so many travellers to plan a tour of multiple islands when they visit, ensuring that they get a full experience of everything the Galapagos has on offer.
What is the rarest animal on the Galapagos Islands?
The Galapagos Islands are famous for the variety of endemic, engaged species that live across the archipelago, so there are plenty of rare varieties that the area is famous for. One of the rarest is the marine iguana, which is the only oceangoing lizard in the world and lives entirely on a diet of marine algae. This endangered species is threatened by changes to its habitat caused by global warming and also by invasive species that have been brought to the Galapagos by humans and attack the iguana’s eggs and young offspring.
What is the best month to go to the Galapagos?
The best month to go to the Galapagos depends on what you want to do when you visit, as some times of the year are more suited to activities like snorkelling whilst some travellers want to visit when the weather is at its driest. In general, the months between May and December are considered the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands as this is the crossover period between the very warm and very cool seasons, meaning that you’ll get pleasant temperatures, low humidity and avoid getting caught in too many rain showers.