Located 620 miles off Ecuador’s coast, the Galapagos Islands are a volcanic archipelago of approximately 19 islands and smaller islets, and it’s one of the world’s most sought-after ‘bucket list’ destinations.
However, many people assume all the islands are centrally located and quite similar – which couldn’t be further from the truth! The Galapagos are much more than just the tourist hubs of Puerto Ayora (on Santa Cruz) and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (on San Cristóbal).
If you’re serious about seeing everything the Galapagos has to offer, then you must experience the outer, more remote islands – and the best way you can do this is by going on a Galapagos Cruise. However, with roughly 70 ships offering over 300 different cruises that all vary in length, activity types and islands visited, which one should you chose? Which island is a ‘must see’? With the help of Galapagos travel experts Galapatours.com, we have put together this guide to the top five islands you should see when you travel to the remarkable Galapagos.
1. Genovesa. A bird lover’s paradise
If at all possible, choose a Galapagos cruise that visits Genovesa – this island is the clear favourite with most local guides and travel experts! Genovesa is a circular island with a dramatic horseshoe bay. Sitting to the northeastern side of the Galapagos, it got its distinctive shape from the collapse of a giant volcanic crater. This resulted in the formation now known as Darwin Bay, which is surrounded by cliffs that provide homes for many different seabirds. Due to this large variety of nesting colonies, Genovesa is also known as Bird Island.
When you arrive, you can’t fail but be impressed with the enormous numbers of Frigatebirds, Nazca-Boobies and Red-footed Boobies, Swallow-tailed Gulls, Storm Petrels, Red-billed Tropicbirds, finches, and mockingbirds…just a few of the many species that call Genovesa home. In the centre of the island is Lake Arcturus, a salt-water crater lake, filled with hammerhead sharks and green turtles. Even whales have been sighted here during the months of September and October!
Tip: Not many ships visit this pristine island, so it’s worth comparing the exact itineraries of all the cruises that fit your date range.
2. Fernandina: Dinosaurs do exist
The youngest and most pristine of the Galapagos Islands, Fernandina doubtlessly has the most extreme appearance of all of them. The island has many young lava fields, and early visitors to the Galapagos Islands commented on Fernandina’s dramatic, naked landscape, her smoking craters, and tales of violent volcanic eruptions. Indeed, you might feel like being stranded on a different planet or back in prehistoric time – not least thanks to Fernandina’s unique dragon-like inhabitants, the Marine Iguanas.
These iconic reptiles are found nowhere else on Earth, but the Galapagos, and Fernandina has the largest colonies in the whole archipelago. The waters surrounding Fernandina are among the richest around any of the islands thanks to the rising of the cold water Cromwell Current that hits the westerly shores. This creates an excellent feeding habitat for other unique species like the Flightless Cormorant and Galapagos Penguins.
3. Isabela: The greatest variety of animals and plants
Some Galapagos Cruises that visit Fernandina also stop at Isabela and vice-versa, so it’s worthwhile checking out all the different itineraries you can choose from for your holiday because it would be a shame to miss out on a visit to Isabela. Why? As well as being the largest of all the islands, at 120 km long, she boasts a large variety of animals and plants and her flora and fauna are the most diverse in the Galapagos.
The northwestern side of the island features Tagus Cove, a notorious anchorage used originally by marauding pirates and buccaneers, and later by whalers and fishermen. As well as its incredible wildlife you should consider taking a cruise that includes a visit to Puerto Villamil. With its white sand beaches and lagoons, this is a lovely laid-back beach town experience.
4. Darwin & Wolf – paradise for divers
Over 100 miles northwest of Isabela, Darwin and Wolf are two separate islands that together form the most remote part of the Galapagos archipelago. Despite their isolations, the waters around these islands are considered by many to be the best underwater habitats anywhere on Earth. There are no landing sites on these islands, and Galapagos diving cruises are the only ones to visit them.
If you’re a competent diver, though, your patience will be rewarded! Darwin and Wolf are the tips of massive long-extinct undersea volcanoes that grew up over half a mile from the seafloor below, and they are renowned for the huge schools of hammerhead sharks that gather here for reasons scientists still don’t fully understand.
Needless to say, the diving you will enjoy here is spectacular. As well as the remarkable hammerhead sharks, other species you are likely to encounter include whale sharks, a great variety of rays, green turtles, and a myriad of stunning tropical reef fish.
5. Española: Oldest Island and Albatross Haven
Española is rather the opposite to Fernandina, being the oldest of the Galapagos Islands, as well as its most southerly outpost. Geologists have estimated that Española is over 4 million years old – old enough to not only show the effects of wind and waves but also the movement of the Earth’s crust!
Thanks to the tectonic activity, over hundreds of thousands of years the island has slowly drifted away from its birthplace over the volcanic hotspot that is now under Fernandina. Once she cooled, the weather and colonising plants began their slow process of erosion on her, and now she is remarkably flat and low-lying compared to most of the other, younger Galapagos islands.
Española Island enjoys an excellent variety and large numbers of unusual species and its visitor sites are among the most popular in the Galapagos. Because of her age and relative isolation, Española is home to many unique species found nowhere else in the world, or even elsewhere in the archipelago. Among these treasures are the Española Mocking Bird, the Española Lava Lizard, and the Española Giant Tortoise. This last species was saved from the brink of extinction, and this feat has become one of Galapagos’ best-known conservation successes.
A new conservation challenge is now being faced to protect another of Española’s unique creatures as she is the only known breeding ground for the entire world population of Waved Albatrosses, currently critically endangered. Their numbers are now being regularly monitored, and the National Park is taking steps to protect their habitat.
If you need help planning your Galapagos cruise and excursion experience, contact us.