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Best Things To Do in Galapagos Islands

The Galápagos' various islands are strikingly different. Some feature imposing active volcanoes, while others flaunt idyllic beaches and remote wildlife reserves. If you're planning an extended visit, you'll want to explore them all. But should you have time limitations, you'll need to build a selective itinerary. Wildlife-watchers will want to venture to the small town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island to tour the Charles Darwin Research Station before continuing southwest to catch a glimpse of critters basking in the sun along Santa Cruz's Tortuga Bay. Intrepid hikers will take pleasure in exploring Sierra Negra, Isabela Island's active volcano, while aquatic enthusiasts will enjoy sharing the waters with exuberant tropical fish during a snorkeling or diving excursion. Whatever pursuits pique your interest, just be sure to make time for exploring the Galápagos' unspoiled landscapes and interacting with its magnificent creatures.

How we rank Things to Do.

#1

#1 in Galapagos Islands

Free
Outdoorsy types don't flock to these two white sand beaches simply to bake in the warm equatorial sun. Travelers visit this isolated strip of Santa Cruz Island's southern coastline for some quality face time with the Galápagos' marine turtles. If you visit between January and February, you may even catch sight of the black turtles laying their eggs (hatchlings emerge and make their way to the sea between April and May). Even if you're not a turtle-lover, you can still get up close and personal with the other beach combers like marine iguanas and Sally Lightfoot crabs.
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Beaches Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Tortuga Bay (Santa Cruz Island)
Outdoorsy types don't flock to these two white sand beaches simply to bake in the warm equatorial sun. Travelers visit this isolated strip of Santa Cruz Island's southern coastline for some quality face time with the Galápagos' marine turtles. If you visit between January and February, you may even catch sight of the black turtles laying their eggs (hatchlings emerge and make their way to the sea between April and May). Even if you're not a turtle-lover, you can still get up close and personal with the other beach combers like marine iguanas and Sally Lightfoot crabs.
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#2

#2 in Galapagos Islands

One of the Galápagos Islands' most well-known creatures is the giant tortoise, and one of the region's best places to see them is at Rancho Primicias. Located on Santa Cruz Island roughly 13 miles away from Puerto Ayora, this privately-owned animal sanctuary is filled with giant tortoises. The site also features empty tortoise shells to climb into and tunnels made of cooled, hardened lava to walk through, plus facilities like a restaurant and restrooms.
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Parks and Gardens Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Rancho Primicias (Santa Cruz Island)
One of the Galápagos Islands' most well-known creatures is the giant tortoise, and one of the region's best places to see them is at Rancho Primicias. Located on Santa Cruz Island roughly 13 miles away from Puerto Ayora, this privately-owned animal sanctuary is filled with giant tortoises. The site also features empty tortoise shells to climb into and tunnels made of cooled, hardened lava to walk through, plus facilities like a restaurant and restrooms.
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#3

#3 in Galapagos Islands

Free
Located near Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal Island, this scenic sea lion-laden beach offers ample opportunities for catching sight of the island's lively local residents. For those looking to hit the waves, there are also ample places to surf, swim and snorkel. Just be sure to stay a safe distance away from the sea lions; alpha males are known for being territorial and can be aggressive toward humans if they feel threatened.
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Beaches Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
La Loberia (San Cristóbal Island)
Located near Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal Island, this scenic sea lion-laden beach offers ample opportunities for catching sight of the island's lively local residents. For those looking to hit the waves, there are also ample places to surf, swim and snorkel. Just be sure to stay a safe distance away from the sea lions; alpha males are known for being territorial and can be aggressive toward humans if they feel threatened.
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#4

#4 in Galapagos Islands

Free
To many, the Galápagos' charm lies with its abundance of land-roaming creatures. But for aquatic enthusiasts more interested in the incredible diversity of wildlife found beneath its turquoise waves, the Galápagos' surrounding waters are just as alluring. As soon as you take the plunge, you'll come face-to-face with a myriad of colorful tropical fish, sea horses and sharks, among other creatures.
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Natural Wonders Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Snorkeling & Diving
To many, the Galápagos' charm lies with its abundance of land-roaming creatures. But for aquatic enthusiasts more interested in the incredible diversity of wildlife found beneath its turquoise waves, the Galápagos' surrounding waters are just as alluring. As soon as you take the plunge, you'll come face-to-face with a myriad of colorful tropical fish, sea horses and sharks, among other creatures.
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#5

#5 in Galapagos Islands

If you came to the Galápagos to stand face-to-face with a giant tortoise, then you can't pass up a trip to El Chato Tortoise Reserve. But tortoises aren't the only animals to look out for here: As you get acquainted with these immense, dome-shaped creatures, you may even hear the chirp of a Darwin finch or the hoot of a short-ear owl overhead.
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Parks and Gardens Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
El Chato Tortoise Reserve (Santa Cruz Island)
If you came to the Galápagos to stand face-to-face with a giant tortoise, then you can't pass up a trip to El Chato Tortoise Reserve. But tortoises aren't the only animals to look out for here: As you get acquainted with these immense, dome-shaped creatures, you may even hear the chirp of a Darwin finch or the hoot of a short-ear owl overhead.
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#6

#6 in Galapagos Islands

Free
The Galápagos Islands served as the site of Charles Darwin's famous flora and fauna observations and the inspiration behind his groundbreaking "On the Origin of Species," so it's hardly surprising that the islands are considered one of the world's best spots for bird-watching. In fact, the region is home to 45 types of birds you won't see anywhere else (think: Galapagos penguins and Darwin's finches), not to mention other unique species like waved albatrosses and blue- and red-footed boobies.
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Sightseeing Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Bird-watching
The Galápagos Islands served as the site of Charles Darwin's famous flora and fauna observations and the inspiration behind his groundbreaking "On the Origin of Species," so it's hardly surprising that the islands are considered one of the world's best spots for bird-watching. In fact, the region is home to 45 types of birds you won't see anywhere else (think: Galapagos penguins and Darwin's finches), not to mention other unique species like waved albatrosses and blue- and red-footed boobies.
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#7

#7 in Galapagos Islands

Free
Set at the center of the Galápagos archipelago, Santa Cruz Island serves as a central base for exploration. And skirting Santa Cruz's southern shoreline along Academy Bay is Puerto Ayora. The island's primary town provides a nice spot for visitors to unwind at the end of the day thanks to its lively restaurants, shops and low-key nightclubs.
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Neighborhood/Area Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz Island)
Set at the center of the Galápagos archipelago, Santa Cruz Island serves as a central base for exploration. And skirting Santa Cruz's southern shoreline along Academy Bay is Puerto Ayora. The island's primary town provides a nice spot for visitors to unwind at the end of the day thanks to its lively restaurants, shops and low-key nightclubs.
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#8

#8 in Galapagos Islands

Free
On Isabela Island, the largest island in the Galápagos, lies the quiet town of Puerto Villamil. Named after General José Villamil, the Galápagos Islands' first governor who settled in the area in 1832, this port town features white sand beaches, lagoons with pink flamingos and multiple restaurants and hotels. It is also a convenient spot to stay if you want to hike Sierra Negra Volcano, bike to the Wall of Tears or snorkel in Las Tintoreras', Los Tuneles' or Concha de Perla's waters.
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Neighborhood/Area Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Puerto Villamil (Isabela Island)
On Isabela Island, the largest island in the Galápagos, lies the quiet town of Puerto Villamil. Named after General José Villamil, the Galápagos Islands' first governor who settled in the area in 1832, this port town features white sand beaches, lagoons with pink flamingos and multiple restaurants and hotels. It is also a convenient spot to stay if you want to hike Sierra Negra Volcano, bike to the Wall of Tears or snorkel in Las Tintoreras', Los Tuneles' or Concha de Perla's waters.
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#9

#9 in Galapagos Islands

Free
A must-see attraction for budding scientists, this exulted site features an active breeding center and informative displays explaining the archipelago's unique ecology and history. Operated by the Charles Darwin Foundation, the center strives to preserve the diversity of the Galápagos Islands through continual conservation research and practices with over a hundred educators, research assistants and volunteers. As you follow the paths, you can catch sight of numerous Galapagos giant tortoises. (Sadly, however, you won't spot Lonesome George, the sole survivor of the Pinta Island giant tortoise subspecies, who passed away in 2012.) Once you've gotten up close and personal with these fascinating creatures, head inside the museum to watch an informational video about the center's mission and conservation efforts.
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Parks and Gardens Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Charles Darwin Research Station (Santa Cruz Island)
A must-see attraction for budding scientists, this exulted site features an active breeding center and informative displays explaining the archipelago's unique ecology and history. Operated by the Charles Darwin Foundation, the center strives to preserve the diversity of the Galápagos Islands through continual conservation research and practices with over a hundred educators, research assistants and volunteers. As you follow the paths, you can catch sight of numerous Galapagos giant tortoises. (Sadly, however, you won't spot Lonesome George, the sole survivor of the Pinta Island giant tortoise subspecies, who passed away in 2012.) Once you've gotten up close and personal with these fascinating creatures, head inside the museum to watch an informational video about the center's mission and conservation efforts.
... more

#10

#10 in Galapagos Islands

Free
Situated on San Cristóbal Island, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno – the province's capital – offers easy access to attractions like Frigatebird Hill (where you can hike and bird-watch) and Kicker Rock (a rock formation that stands 460 feet tall). Some of the island's best surfing beaches (think: La Loberia and Punta Carola) also sit nearby, and within town limits, you'll find a plethora of eateries, shops and hotels.
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Neighborhood/Area Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristóbal Island)
Situated on San Cristóbal Island, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno – the province's capital – offers easy access to attractions like Frigatebird Hill (where you can hike and bird-watch) and Kicker Rock (a rock formation that stands 460 feet tall). Some of the island's best surfing beaches (think: La Loberia and Punta Carola) also sit nearby, and within town limits, you'll find a plethora of eateries, shops and hotels.
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#11

#11 in Galapagos Islands

Sierra Negra Volcano stands majestically over Isabela Island, rising nearly 4,500 feet high. Admirers far and wide are drawn to Sierra Negra to peer into its glowing fumaroles and expansive caldera; with a diameter of 6-plus miles, the crater reigns as the second largest on the planet. Though the volcano remains active today, there hasn't been any recorded activity since 2005. Still, seismologists keep a watchful eye on all eruptive zones to ensure safety.
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Hiking Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Sierra Negra Volcano (Isabela Island)
Sierra Negra Volcano stands majestically over Isabela Island, rising nearly 4,500 feet high. Admirers far and wide are drawn to Sierra Negra to peer into its glowing fumaroles and expansive caldera; with a diameter of 6-plus miles, the crater reigns as the second largest on the planet. Though the volcano remains active today, there hasn't been any recorded activity since 2005. Still, seismologists keep a watchful eye on all eruptive zones to ensure safety.
... more
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