From Breathtaking Landscapes to the Wonders of Wildlife
Though most people would consider Galapagos to be a wildlife photographer's dream destination (they would not be mistaken), the archipelago also offers a wildly diverse range of land and seascapes. Created by a volcanic hotspot under the Earth’s crust, Galapagos consists of a dozen larger and many smaller islands and islets formed by continuous volcanic eruptions during the last 5 million years. The most recent islands to the west are still subject to occasional eruptions. The island of Fernandina is the youngest of all, and 90% of its surface is mostly made up of recent and very arid lava fields, with only a few places sheltering plant and animal life.
All of this volcanic activity has left a legacy of unusual landscapes, volcanic cones, expanses of pahoehoe lava fields, sulphur fumaroles, lava tunnels, one of the largest sunken craters on the planet, pristine beaches with multi-coloured sand and more.
But the 85 sites designated for visitors to the Galapagos National Park Service do not represent equally impressive landscapes. To help visitors better plan their trips and embark on a superior cruise itinerary, we hired 12 naturalist guides who together have worked for a total of 231 years on the islands to assess the extent to which visitors are impressed by what they see or how much time they spend taking pictures of the landscapes at particular sites. Ratings range from 0% (no interest / few pictures taken) to 100% (everybody is impressed / taking pictures). The following is the result of their work.
Bartolome Island: 98%
Bartolome Island has two sites for visitors, which usually combine into one visit. The first includes a swim and snorkel off a beautiful beach around the well-known Pinnacle Rock; the undersea world is very impressive. You’ll be sharing the waves with sea turtles, penguins, rays, white tip reef sharks and a variety of tropical fish. The second site is accessible by a long staircase, which leads to a breathtaking view from which you can see graphic evidence of recent volcanic activity both on the island of Bartolome and beyond the neighbouring island of Santiago.
Punta Espinoza on Fernandina Island: 91%
Barely a few hundred thousand years old and with no invasive species, this is probably the most pristine island you will ever see in your life. Its central volcano dominates the terrain, extending its rugged lava fields to the shore. One of the island’s iconic species is the flightless cormorants, which nest there, along with “lizard city,” which is, in fact, one of the highest densities of marine iguana, penguins and, if you're lucky, the Galapagos falcon. Big Pacific swells often come crashing ashore here – creating a powerful spectacle.
Sierra Negra Volcano, Isabela Island: 91%
The Sierra Negra volcanic caldera is the second largest in the world. A 45-minute drive from the main town, followed by a half-hour walk or a horse ride will take you to the edge of the caldera. From here, you can follow the path for another hour. It is divided in two: to the west, it heads towards an old sulphur mine; to the east, the path leads to the Chico volcano where one of the most recent eruptions took place (2019). Magnificent views of Alcedo, Fernandina and Azul volcanoes in the distance can be had on clear days.
Gardner Bay on the Spanish island: 91%
Considered the best beach in the Galapagos where you’ll find sea lions and cheeky mocking birds (they will peck at your shoelaces), this long stretch of pristine white sand is what you expect to see in travel magazines under the caption “Beautiful tropical beach.”
Tagus Cove - Isabela Island: 88%
This is a deep-water cove frequented by whalers and pirates, as evidenced by old shoreline graffiti. A short steep walk leads to Darwin Lake inside a volcanic cone. With beautiful views in all directions, you’ll be bumping into Galapagos finches, Galapagos hawks, yellow warblers, Galapagos flycatchers and more. Walk along the path to the end to enjoy a wide view north toward the Ecuador volcano, 35 km (21 miles) in the distance. A small boat ride along the cliffs can get you up close to flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins and Galapagos sea.