While there are many places to travel, no destination can compete with the offerings provided by the Galapagos Islands. Whether you’re looking for an unspoiled beach to relax on or feel ready to experience nature in such a way you may never have before, this archipelago doesn’t disappoint. Located off the coast of Ecuador in South America, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has lots to offer.
As a protected national park, the Galapagos Islands limits the number of visitors at any one time, so you’ll never feel rushed or crowded. Take your time and enjoy the various wildlife on the islands, learn about their history and cultural influences, try local and regional dishes, or enjoy the beautiful waters surrounding the island by swimming, snorkeling, or scuba diving.
Whether you embark on a cruise through the islands with occasional land tours or decide to stay on one of the four inhabitable islands and take boat tours, consider adding these 17 must-see Galapagos Islands tourist attractions to your itinerary.
Located on the island of Santa Cruz with its various hotels, restaurants, and shops, you can escape to Tortuga Bay for a day on its isolated white sandy beach. This location is popular for marine life spotting, including local turtles. You can also snorkel or kayak around the bay. This is one of the first attractions many visitors experience and provides a relaxing way to start their Galapagos vacation.
Discover the realm of Charles Darwin and his theory of natural section at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island. Here you can gain insight into the island’s history and ecology while you view the various displays in the exhibition hall. Wander outside to the gardens and also catch a glimpse of the giant Galapagos tortoises. On the grounds are also a tortoise breeding center and a public library. The center is located about a mile from the town center of Puerto Ayora. Plan to spend a few fascinating hours here, including a snack in their café. While free to visit, they do request donations.
Make your way to the largest island of Isabela to take a hike to the Wall of Tears. Tucked away on the island, the mostly flat path begins at the edge of Puerto Villamil and takes an hour or more by foot or bike. Enjoy breathtaking scenery along the way, including natural lakes, shorelines, and mangroves. You may even see numerous flamingos and iguanas. Amidst the beauty and natural splendor here, you’ll also find history of a penal colony from the 1940-50s.and the building of the Wall of Tears from lava rock. The unfinished wall can be seen at the end of your walk.
Take a tour to Los Tuneles on Isabela for a rare walk through the island’s volcanic tunnels. Expect this to be a day-long trip. Bring your swimsuit also as you can snorkel here and maybe even catch a glimpse of a shark or two. Volcanic formations on the islands are unique when it comes to Galapagos attractions, and being so close to them is a unique experience not often found elsewhere.
On the secluded island of Floreana, take the Punta Cormorant hiking trail and look for flocks of wild flamingos along the way. This best-known hiking trail also provides views of the greenery that grows along volcanic rock. If you’re looking for seclusion, this is the island to go to.
See the famous Giant Galapagos tortoises up close at the Rancho Primicias Galapagos Tortoise Ranch. These gentle giants are one of the reasons why the Galapagos Islands attract tourists year after year. Located on Santa Cruz Island, you’ll be in awe as you watch these slow-moving creatures make their way across this privately-owned tortoise sanctuary.
Catch a sight of the lively sea lion population on La Loberia, an isolated stretch of beach located near the main town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island. Take the 30-minute walk from town or hire a taxi to get you there quicker. You can swim and snorkel in the beautiful waters here or sit back and photograph the various wildlife in addition to the sea lions. These most likely will be yellow warblers, frigates, lava lizards, and wild iguanas.
Explore the pirate hideaway of Tagus Cove on the uninhabited Fernandina Island, the westernmost island in the archipelago. See the lava caves, coves, and various locales perfect for hiding away treasures. Look for writings and drawings on the cliff walls, etched there by pirates, whalers, and naval soldiers of the past. Also, spend time snorkeling in the cove you’ll find here. The island volcano is the youngest of all the islands and remains active today.
To gain perspective on what you’ll find on these islands, start with a visit to the Interpretation Center of San Cristobal. Within this center are four laboratories where studies of all life forms on the islands occur. Examine exhibits for an overview of biology, geology, and history of the islands. Learn about volcanic formation, ocean currents, and the differing species that call the islands home. Also, see how human history relates to the islands and their conservation efforts.
Located on one of the smaller islands, Pinnacle Rock is a must-see and perfect spot to capture some of your best photographs. A sharply shaped volcanic rock sticks out into the bay, close to the island’s Playa Dorado beach, and is an awe-inspiring sight to see. Bartolome Island is tiny and home to many nesting sea turtles. You may also get glimpses of sea lions and penguins here.
Explore the various lava tunnels on the island of Santa Cruz for an illuminating look at the size and power of volcanic activity of the past which created the island. What is particularly unique about these lava tunnels is that they are large enough for you to walk through. No need to crouch or crawl for the experience.
On Isabela Island, make your way to Albemarle Point, where you’ll find an uncommon type of lava flow known as Pahoehoe. You’ll be mesmerized by the smooth, natural patterns of the lava in contrast to the jagged ones commonly found elsewhere on the islands. In addition, you can see wildlife, including the largest marine iguanas found in the islands and the flightless cormorants, an endangered species. This location also is part of world history, serving as a WWII radar base. You can wander through its ruins.
A unique, modern way to learn more about the ancient cultures of Ecuador’s coastal and Amazon regions is found here at the Maprae museum. The Augmented Reality Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, located in Puerto Ayora, showcases 50+ archeological pieces, supplemented with augmented reality features. Just point a smartphone or tablet at the relics and watch as 3D images and historical information appear on your device.
Get ready to experience a dramatic site as you arrive at Punta Espinoza on Fernandina Island. Hundreds if not thousands of marine iguanas cover the black lava formations of the beach area, creating an overwhelming sight. In the nearby lagoon, observe sea lions at play, along with turtles and penguins. Admire the nesting flightless cormorants nearby as well.
Admire the giant Galapagos tortoises in their natural habitat here at El Chato Tortoise Reserve. This protected wildlife sanctuary aims to keep the species safe from predators. You’ll also have access to lava tunnels in the area to explore. If you’re an avid birdwatcher, bring your binoculars to catch a glimpse of the Darwin finch. There is an on-site restaurant, so plan your visit around lunchtime if you can. From Puerto Ayora, hail a taxi to the reserve or bike ride an unpaved pathway from the small village of Santa Rosa.
Make your way to Los Gemelos, where you’ll see twin craters formed from the collapse of the roof of a volcano. These are not actually craters but instead considered to be sinkholes formed when the empty magma chambers of the volcano collapsed due to erosion and tectonic shifts. Surrounding the craters are Scalesia forests. Consisting of an endemic species of shrubs and trees, the Scalesia forests are among the most unique ecosystems in South America.
Venture into the town center of Puerto Ayora for a lively scene at the Santa Cruz Fish Market. Residents of the island hustle and bustle about, weighing piles of fish and lobster and cutting up the various catches of the day. These may be red snappers, groupers, yellow-thin tunas, scorpion fish, or the endemic camotillo fish. The freshest of fish for your afternoon meal. Watch as sea lions sit in wait for leftover pieces, competing with pelicans and frigate birds who occasionally take a chance at swooping down and stealing a fish or two.
While the Galapagos Islands main attractions focus on the astonishing nature and wildlife found here, you can also make each one uniquely your own. Relax as you explore, or be active and participate as much as you like, including snorkeling, diving, bicycling, or hiking. The Galapagos Islands are by far one of the most unique destinations in the world, so make the most of your islands’ visit by exploring these one-of-kind attractions.
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