The Galapagos archipelago is formed by 127 volcanic islands painted with unlikely landscapes and bursting with endemic species. This makes choosing which few to visit on your Galapagos cruise an impossible task without a bit of guidance. Since Totally Latin America has been facilitating adventures to this archipelago for the world’s most intrepid travelers for many years now, we have valuable insight to help you narrow down your options. So, not only does our list of best islands to visit in the Galapagos show you which ones are most worth visiting, but it also tells you what makes each of the islands we have chosen to share unique in their offering. Plus, we share each island’s top highlights to give you an idea of the exciting activities you can do, the kind of wildlife you can see, and the memories you can make.
Why Santa Cruz is One of the Best Islands to Visit in the Galapagos
Although it’s the Galapagos’ second-largest island, Santa Cruz is the most populated with 12,000 people living and working there and it’s used as the embarkation point for most Galapagos cruises. As the commercial hub of the archipelago, Santa Cruz’s main town Puerto Ayora offers an exciting selection of restaurants, shops, and cafes that immerse you in this unique destination’s colours and flavours. Beyond Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz is a wildlife-rich island characterized by its volcanic landscapes. Most Galapagos hotels are based on this island, not just because of its accessibility, but also because of the diverse range of activities it offers from hiking in lava tunnels to learning about turtle conservation.
What Makes Santa Cruz Unique
Like all Galapagos islands, Santa Cruz was created from volcanic eruptions from the ocean. However, the landscapes formed from these eruptions on Santa Cruz are unlike any other in the archipelago. One of the island’s most famous landscapes is Las Grietas, an emerald-green swimming hole between two lava rock formations. Another is the 2000-meter-long lava tunnels beneath the island’s surface.
Santa Cruz Highlights
Tortuga Bay — one of the Galapagos’ dreamiest white-sand-turquoise-sea beaches where you can find marine iguanas, green sea turtles, and Galapagos fur seals
Charles Darwin Research Station — learn about the history of Charles Darwin’s visit to the Galapagos, as well as his research findings, and the modern-day research and conservation efforts for giant tortoises and other endemic species
Puerto Ayora — spend an afternoon immersing in Galapagos life and culture in one of the archipelago’s few communities with some shopping, eating, and exploring
Why Isabela is One of the Best Islands to Visit in the Galapagos
Isla Isabela is by far the Galapagos’ biggest islands, and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful. With around only 2000 people living on this giant island, a stop here is all about spotting endemic nature. The island’s coastline is lined with beaches, bays, and coves home to an array of birds and marine life including white tip reef sharks, Galapagos penguins and tortoises, flightless cormorants, and more. Inland, there are six volcanoes with frequent activity on this island, making it one of the most active volcanic islands in the world. Wolf Volcano (Mount Whiton), which boasts the highest peak in the Galapagos at 1,707 meters, erupted as recently as January 2022.
What Makes Isabela Unique
Since Isabela is subject to frequent volcanic activity, layering the earth with lava, volcanic rock, and ash, it has a lot less vegetation than most Galapagos islands. It’s an interesting contrast from the more tropical island of Santa Cruz. Not only does this make its landscape more stark and arid, but it makes its wildlife more varied.
Elizabeth Bay — this bay features numerous islets where penguins, blue-footed boobies, and other birdlife can be spotted resting, and its crystal-clear waters are perfect for snorkeling amongst sea lions, sharks, and fish
Minas de Azufre — hiking from the base of one of the island’s volcanoes Sierra Negra, you’ll get a chance to see the volcanic landscape in its full beauty before reaching the historic mines
Moreno Point — after a dinghy ride along the coast hike along the lava rock to the tide pools and mangroves where you can spot a plethora of wildlife including flamingos
Why San Cristobal is One of the Best Islands to Visit in the Galapagos
San Cristobal is not the Galapagos’ largest or most populous island, yet it is home to the region’s capital, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, otherwise known as the ‘Capital of Paradise’. Once a penal colony, Puerto Baquerizo is now a thriving hub of culture, history, and food. As well as tourist-centered shops and markets, you’ll find a fascinating natural history museum and harbourfront restaurants overlooking piers full of sleeping seals. This makes the island an ideal base for hotel stays with excursions to Española Island to visit Punta Suárez and Gardner Bay. Beyond the small sleepy city, the island awaits to show you some of the archipelago’s best snorkeling and diving spots.
What Makes San Cristobal Unique
San Cristobal is one of the best islands to see the Galapagos’ most famous endemic birds, the blue-footed, red-footed, and Nazca boobies, flightless cormorants, and frigates at once.
San Cristobal Highlights
Isla Lobos — a small and easy-to-reach island off the coast of San Cristobal that offers some of the most epic snorkeling in the Galapagos promising high chances of swimming with rays, turtles, seals, and tropical fish
David Rodriguez Breeding Center – see turtles being bred, hatched, and trained for the wild up to four months old at this commendable breeding center that is championing the turtle population growth
Kicker Rock — this giant rock stack off the San Cristobal coast nicknamed the ‘sleeping lion’ is a must-see on a hike up the hilly island coastline and one of the most popular dive spots in the archipelago
Why Española is One of the Best Islands to Visit in the Galapagos
Española is a small uninhabited island in the far southeast of the Galapagos archipelago. Its remoteness is a possible cause of its high concentration of extraordinary species endemic to the island itself including the Española mockingbird, lava lizard, and waved albatross. The island’s endemic giant tortoise species was down to the last few dozen in the mid-20th century, but there are now over 2000 of them across the island thanks to the Charles Darwin Research Station. So your chances of seeing this majestic creature are now pretty high.
What Makes Española Unique
Espanola is the only place in the world where you’ll find waved albatross nesting. With a 2.5-meter wingspan, the waved (Galapagos) albatross is one of the largest and most impressive birds on earth, making it a memorable sighting for keen birdwatchers and novices alike.
Gardner Bay — this long bay blessed with some of the most powdery white sand and gin-clear sea in the Galapagos is a great place to sunbathe beside fur seals and swim to Turtle Rock for some reef shark sightings
Punta Suarez — observe an array of birds at this small peninsula on the coast including blue-footed boobies, the Española mockingbird, and the waved albatross
Why Genovesa is One of the Best Islands to Visit in the Galapagos
Situated in the far northeast of the Galapagos archipelago, Genovesa is one of the smallest and most difficult-to-reach uninhabited islands. However, those that choose to make the journey there will not be disappointed. Nicknamed ‘Bird Island’, Genovesa promises some of the best bird sightings of all Galapagos islands. One of the landscape’s defining features is the Great Darwin Bay which carves a large horseshoes shape around its coast. As well as being visually stunning, it’s a cosy home for several shark species including the illustrious hammerhead.
What Makes Genovesa Unique
Aside from its intriguing horseshoe shape, it’s largely the wide array of strange birdlife that makes Genovesa unique. Find everything from short-eared owls to wedge-rumped storm petrels, red-footed boobies, and swallow-tail gulls.
Price Philip’s Steps — climb these naturally formed rocky steps (named after the British royal) up the cliff’s edge from the sea for an adventurous hike past perching seabirds to admire the island’s impressive lava plains
Darwin Bay Beach — go snorkeling or swimming in Great Darwin Bay where you’ll find yourself amongst hammerhead sharks, manta rays, and sea turtles
Why Floreana is One of the Best Islands to Visit in the Galapagos
Floreana is a relatively large Galapagos island with a lush tropical landscape featuring green, coral, and black sand beaches along its shores. While it’s home to just a few hundred human inhabitants, this beautiful island attracts a treasure trove of endemic wildlife to its shores, mangroves, and forests. Find everything from green sea turtles and giant tortoises nesting on the island to reef shark, marbled rays, and penguins swimming around it.
What Makes Floreana Unique
Floreana is one of the oldest and first inhabited islands in the Galapagos. Irishman Patrick Watkins lived here from 1807 to 1809 and between then and now, it’s had a strange human history of pirates and penal colonies.
Devil’s Crown — snorkel in the clear waters of this volcanic cone which juts out of sea like a jagged black-rock crown
Punta Cormorant — while there are actually no cormorants on this beach, it’s well worth a visit because of its olivine crystal beach which gives its sand a green tinge and there is a flamingo-filled lagoon beside it
Why Santa Fe is One of the Best Islands to Visit in the Galapagos
Santa Fe is a small uninhabited island known for having the highest concentration of endemic species of any Galapagos island. This makes it the place to be for wildlife spotting. Since the island is fairly flat, it’s easy to hike around Santa Fe in search of its weird and wonderful inhabitants like the Galapagos hawks, snakes, and mockingbirds. Part of the island is covered by a curious pear cactus forest which is also endemic and can’t be found anywhere else in the world to this day.
What Makes Santa Fe Unique
There are several plants and animals living on this intriguing island that cannot be found anywhere else in the Galapagos, let alone the rest of the world. This makes it an excellent place to score some rare and unique wildlife sightings.
Santa Fe Highlights
Pear cactus forest — those visiting this island will get the chance to hike through the cactus forest in search of wildlife including the Santa Fe land iguana, the biggest in the Galapagos
Enquire about your own Galapagos adventure
TLA provides an enticing selection of cruise itineraries on some of the Galapagos’ most exclusive and luxurious cruises. Our Galapagos experts are on hand to help you find one that includes your must-visit islands or tailor a land-based itinerary instead. To get started, reach out to us with a message here or call us on +1 855 217 9045.