Galapagos Islands Travel Guide

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Galapagos Islands Area Map

Neighborhoods

It is unlikely you'll visit just one island while vacationing on the Galápagos Islands. Each of the archipelago's 20 main islands is home to a variety of natural wonders (like beaches and towering rock formations) and animal species, giving you many opportunities to snorkel and dive, and catch a glimpse of creatures like giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies and marine iguanas. Some of the larger islands also boast towns with shops, restaurants and hotels, making them great jumping-off points for daytrips to sights like Sierra Negra Volcano.

The largest of the Galápagos' islands, Isabela – accessible via General Villamil Airport on the western side of the archipelago – is where you'll find Puerto Villamil, a port town situated near outdoor oases like Las Tintoreras and Los Tuneles. The island, which was formed from eruptions from six volcanoes (Ecuador, Wolf, Darwin, Alcedo, Sierra Negra and Cerro Azul), is also one of the Galápagos' best spots for hiking. Additionally, Isabela Island is where three endangered or critically endangered species – the Galapagos penguin, the flightless cormorant and the mangrove finch – reside, and 16 kinds of whales, including humpbacks and orcas, are regularly spotted in its surrounding waters. Plus, the island's Wolf Volcano is the only place in the world where you can see a pink-hued Galapagos land iguana.

The Galápagos' second-largest island is situated in the center of the archipelago and serves as the region's main tourism hub. After arriving by boat or via plane at Seymour Airport, which is just north of Santa Cruz Island on Baltra Island, you can look for animals like giant tortoises, white-tipped sharks and manta rays on and off shore. Santa Cruz Island is also a haven for most of the Galápagos' bird species. Birds you may spot while bird-watching here include Darwin's finches, vermilion flycatchers and short-eared owls. What's more, this island is where Puerto Ayora sits. This port town (on Santa Cruz Island's southern coast) is filled with eateries and laid-back nightclubs, and accommodation options range from budget-friendly hostels to five-star properties overlooking Academy Bay.

San Cristóbal Island is the Galápagos' fifth largest and easternmost island. Here you'll find the Galápagos province's capital, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, which houses the island's airport – San Cristóbal Airport – and features two main streets lined with boutiques, restaurants and hotels. Though Puerto Baquerizo Moreno's shopping, dining and accommodation options are not as plentiful as what you'll find in Puerto Ayora, the town is conveniently situated near natural wonders like La Loberia, Kicker Rock and Frigatebird Hill. San Cristóbal Island is also where you can see blue-footed, red-footed and Nazca boobies, as well as giant tortoises, sea lions and Galapagos sharks.

This small island off the coast of the central island of Santiago is one of the Galápagos' most photographed areas. The island, which appears in the movie "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," features colorful mountains and white sand beaches. Its most recognizable natural wonder is Pinnacle Rock, a volcanic cone that has two beaches where green sea turtles and Galapagos penguins are regularly spotted. No accommodation options are available on the island, but daytrips from Santa Cruz and Isabela islands are offered by several tour companies.

One of the Galápagos' most remote islands is Wolf Island. Nestled within the northwestern part of the archipelago, about 100 miles northwest of Isabela Island, Wolf Island's only residents are birds (think: sharp-beaked ground finches and red-footed boobies). As such, you won't find tourist amenities like shops and hotels here, and there is no airport access. Expert divers, however, sign up in droves for multiday cruises that stop at the island, all so they can dive at El Derrumbe, where various shark species, including hammerhead sharks, white-tipped sharks and whale sharks, are known to lurk.

Situated just north of Baltra and Santa Cruz islands, North Seymour Island is best known for its large populations of Galapagos land iguanas and birds. Birdwatchers often come to the island to search for blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds and swallow-tailed gulls, among other species, while travelers who want to see iguanas can find them sunning on rocks throughout the island. Other animal species that live here include sea lions, marine iguanas and Sally lightfoot crabs. No tourist amenities like hotels or eateries are available on North Seymour, but its proximity to Santa Cruz Island makes it a popular daytrip option from Puerto Ayora.

Española (or Hood) Island's isolated location in the southeastern corner of the Galápagos archipelago makes it a great place to see endemic species like the Española lava lizard and the Hood mockingbird. But this island is most commonly associated with waved albatrosses, native birds that have wingspans that measure up to 8 feet long. Española is the only island in the world where these critically endangered birds breed. Visiting Española Island requires booking a cruise or daytrip from San Cristóbal Island, since no airports or accommodations are available on-site.

This horseshoe-shaped island in the Galápagos' northeastern region is another prime spot for bird-watching. In fact, the island is often called "The Bird Island" of the Galápagos because so many species (including red-footed boobies and red-billed tropicbirds) nest on it. A sizeable population of marine iguanas is also regularly seen on Genovesa Island, and at Darwin Bay, visitors can snorkel with aquatic animals like sea turtles and manta rays. But remember, there are no hotels or airports on the island, so the only way to explore it is to sign up for a multiday cruise.

Located just south of Santiago Island in the middle of the Galápagos archipelago, Rábida Island's waters are filled with eagle rays, garden eels and sea turtles, making it a good option for snorkeling. But the island's standout feature is undoubtedly its red sand beach, where marine iguanas and sea lions like to lounge. A saltwater lagoon with pink flamingos is also situated on Rábida. Like other small islands in the area, this locale does not have hotels or an airport. To get here, plan on joining a multiday cruise.

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