Fun Activities to Try When Visiting the Galapagos Islands
Whether you're already booking your trip or still deciding, there are a plethora of activities and endless experiences awaiting you at the Galapagos Islands.
With postcard-worthy views, pristine white, sandy beaches, stunning flora and fauna, it's no wonder these gorgeous islands are at the top of most eco-travellers’ bucket lists.
So, if you are looking for your next travel destination or actively considering taking a trip to the Galapagos Islands, here are some of our top recommendations for the best activities offered around the islands.
See our earlier article on choosing between an expedition cruise and a land-based approach. We recommend the expedition cruise as the most effective way of maximizing your exposure to the best of what the islands have to offer.
Activities and Experiences to Enjoy While Visiting the Galapagos Islands
Snorkelling and Scuba Diving
In the brilliant turquoise blue waters surrounding the Galapagos Islands, marine life is abundant and striking, making the Galapagos one of the world’s greatest destinations for snorkelling and scuba diving.
Some impressive creatures you can expect to spot include:
- Green sea turtles
- Sharks (hammerhead, black-tipped and white-tipped)
- Schools of colourful tropical fish
- Playful sea lions (like underwater puppies)
- Galapagos fur seals
- Galapagos penguins
- Several species of rays
- Seahorses (if you have a good eye)
Kayaking in the Galapagos is a truly magical experience. Not only does this allow you to enjoy the beauty of coastal ecosystems closely, but it’s also a great way to get about without the sound of an engine propelling you about.
This is a great option for those who are not into the idea of snorkelling or scuba diving, but still want to experience the beauty of Galapagos marine life.
Experiencing the Wildlife and Biodiversity
Due to the fact that the majority of the Galapagos Islands remain uninhabited – along with major conservation efforts – Galapagos remains one of the world’s most unspoiled areas in the world, with an impressive and unique array of reptiles, amphibians, and bird species. In fact, the near-complete absence of native mammals in Galapagos, and with landscapes dominated by reptiles, this is as close as one can get to the age of the dinosaurs!
In fact, 80% of the islands’ land birds, 97% of reptiles and over 30% of plants are unique to the Galapagos islands and cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
There are over 200 recorded species of vertebrates that call Galapagos home, including:
- Marine iguanas
- Seals and sea lions
- Giant tortoises
- Galapagos penguins
- Darwin’s Finches
The unique wildlife living among the Galapagos Islands, particularly the Finches, the Giant Tortoises and the Mockingbirds helped inspire Charles Darwin’s ground-breaking theory on biological evolution and his subsequent publication "On the Origin of Species.”
Which brings us to our next point.
The Charles Darwin Research Station
When Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands for five weeks in 1835, he spent time observing and studying the flora and fauna native to Galapagos. This largely influenced the development of his theory of evolution, and later led to the creation of a foundation named in his honour, along with a research facility known as the Charles Darwin Research Station.
Run by over 200 scientists and volunteers, the station is open for visitors and is a must-see for those who are interested in learning about the Islands’ unique wildlife.
Besides its dedication to research and conservation efforts, the research station also helped establish the Giant Tortoise breeding center, which is accessible to visitors. It also has a new museum and gift shop – the only place where you can find Charles Darwin Research Station branded gifts.
For travellers who love a good adventure and enjoy being active, hiking in the Galapagos is an absolute must.
The Galapagos Islands have no shortage of regulated hiking trails with sweeping views. From trails along white, sandy beaches, to forests of cacti, and blackened volcanic rock, you are sure to have many close encounters with wildlife and experience spectacular views. Most of these are accessible by dedicated cruise ship excursion.
Lounging on The Beach
If diving and kayaking aren’t your cup of tea, the Galapagos has some beautiful beaches where you can kick back and soak in all the natural beauty that the islands have to offer.
Plus, you’ll have sea lions, iguanas, turtles, and rare, exotic birds to keep you company as you relax on the whitest sand you may ever see. Though a few are accessible from established towns, the more remote and wild beaches can be visited via dedicated expedition cruises.
Besides the untouched natural beauty, stunning wildlife, and biodiversity, a defining feature of the Galapagos is its rocky, volcanic landscapes.
The Galapagos Islands sit on a volcanic 'hotspot,' resulting in millions of years' of ongoing volcanic activity.
A product of this is the islands’ conical structures, along with stunning underground lava tunnels found across the islands.
Some of these tunnels are open to the public for exploration and are a must-see when visiting the Galapagos Islands if you aren’t afraid of the dark and don’t mind getting a little dirty.
Picking Up Some Fresh Seafood at a Fish Market
Seafood lovers are in for a real treat when visiting the Galapagos, as the islands have some of the freshest, most delectable seafood you will ever experience.
Rather than dining out at a restaurant, the freshest catch can be found at one of the many fish markets on the islands.
Shrimp ceviche in particular is a common delicacy in Galapagos, as is tuna, lobster, squid, red snapper, and sea cucumber.
Galapagos is an archipelago of 18 main volcanic islands and several other ‘minor’ islands, many of which are uninhabited. The most popular of the major islands include:
Santa Cruz Island (inhabited)
Santa Cruz Island is considered a central base for exploration, as it is home to the archipelago’s largest town, Puerto Ayora, and is the economic centre of the Galapagos.
Here are some of the top attractions on Santa Cruz:
- Charles Darwin Research Station
- Tortuga Bay beach
- Dragon Hill
- Reserva El Chato Tortoise Reserve
- Los Gemelos
- Lava Tunnels
- Rancho Primicias Tortoise Reserve
- Puerto Ayora fish market
- Punta Estrada Beach
- Cliff jumping at Las Grietas
- Playa De Los Perros
*Located beside the main town and nearby visitors sites, most of it is accessible by expedition cruise only.
Isabela is the largest island in the Galapagos and was formed around 1 million years ago due to the merging of 6 volcanoes, the majority of which are still active.
The island is mainly known for its stunning beauty along with white sand beaches, blue lagoons, and of course, volcanoes.
Top attractions on Isabela Island include:
- Sierra Negra volcano caldera
- Flamingo Lagoon
- Giant Tortoise Breeding Center
- The historic Wall of Tears
- Los Tuneles
- Las Tintoreras Islet
- Elizabeth Bay
- Tagus Cove
- Urbina Bay
Floreana Island (inhabited)
Officially known as Santa Maria, this island is located at the far south of the Galapagos archipelago and is best known for its unique animal inhabitants like flamingos, sea lions, and sea turtles.
Floreana is perhaps the best destination in the Galapagos for those who are interested in snorkelling and scuba diving.
When visiting Floreana, some top destinations and activities include:
- Snorkelling with sea lions at La Loberia
- Snorkelling or scuba diving at Devil’s Crown
- Snorkelling at Champion Islet
- Visiting the Baroness Viewing Point
- Checking out the flamingo lagoon at Cormorant Point
- Hiking to the historic caves at Asilo de la Paz
One of the smallest islands in the Galapagos, Espanola is unpopulated, but filled with natural wonder and an abundance of wildlife.
It’s also home to sea lion colonies, iguanas, countless birds, and around 1,500 tortoises, and is the only nesting site for the Galapagos Waved Albatross.
Things you can do while visiting Espanola include:
- Snorkelling, kayaking, and wildlife watching at Gardner Bay beach
- Birdwatching at Punta Suarez
- Diving at Islote Gardner
- Diving at Bajo Gardner
Santa Fe Island
Santa Fe is the oldest Galapagos island and is often characterized by its vegetation and thick forest, along with its flat surface compared to other islands.
Visitor points on Santa Fe include:
- Barrington Bay
- El Fondeador, La Encanada and Costa Este marine sites
San Cristobal Island (inhabited)
San Cristobal is the closest island to the South American mainland and is known as the most humid Galapagos Island due to underground aquifers and freshwater flows.
The island is also notable for being the first Island visited by Charles Darwin and is where he discovered the first species to form the basis for his Theory of Evolution.
Top attractions and visitor points on San Cristobal Island include:
- Tongo Reef
- Carola Point
- Las Loberias beach (Ideal for sea lion watching)
- El Junco
- Punta Pitt visitor site – to see the Red Footed Booby nesting site
- Cerro Brujo visitor site
- Tijeretas visitor site – the very first point that Charles Darwin visited on his journey
- Cerro Colorado visitor site – home of the Tortoise breeding centre
- Tijeretas Hill
*Accessible by expedition cruise only.
Also known as Tower Island, Genovesa is a rocky volcanic caldera north of Santa Cruz that is most known for its abundance of spectacular bird species, making it ideal for bird watchers.
Top points of interest for visitors include:
- Darwin Bay
- Prince Phillip’s Steps
- El Barranco
*Accessible by expedition cruise only.
This is the island where Charles Darwin stayed the longest and consists of two overlapping volcanoes.
Top things to do include:
- Seeing the lava flow at Sullivan Bay
- Snorkelling and swimming at Sombrero Chino
- Explore deep pools and caves in Puerto Egas
- Diving at Cousin’s Rock
*Accessible by expedition cruise only.
The youngest of the Galapagos, Fernandina is the only island in the world without introduced species and is famous for its volcanic landscapes, and for having the largest colony of marine iguanas.
Top sights to see include:
- Lava fields of Puna Espinoz
- Espinosa Point
Known as one of the most scenic islands in the archipelago, Bartolomé Island is famous for the Pinnacle Rock, along with its black volcanic formations.
Here are a few things to do when visiting the island:
- Climb the volcanic spatter cone
- Take in the view of Pinnacle Rock from the overlook
- Go snorkelling at the Bartolome diving site
- Hike the trail leading to the island’s southern beach
Whether you’re an adventure junkie, beach dweller, or an animal lover, the Galapagos Islands truly do have something for everyone. So when planning your next big vacation, be sure to consider a trip to the Galapagos to witness yourself all the spectacular beauty and amazing fun that can be had.