The Best Things to See and Do in the Galapagos Islands
We have done extensive research to bring you all of the best things to see and do in the Galapagos islands! Located in the Pacific Ocean is the Galapagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago that plays host to one of the most diverse and unique biodiversity on the planet. An Ecuadorian province, Galapagos Islands is located about 1000 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador. Its isolated location has allowed its flora and fauna to evolve some unique features you can’t find anywhere else on the planet. It was here that Charles Darwin got his theory of evolution after observing the unique species of these islands during his 1835 expedition to the archipelago, culminating in his controversial Origin of Species treatise.
The Galapagos, a breathtaking collection of volcanic landscapes, white sand beaches, pristine waters, and a mesmerizing array of alien-looking plant and animal species is the ultimate destination for the fanatic diver, unrepentant island hopper, and people with a love of nature at heart. In this piece, we present the best things to see and do in the spectacular Galapagos Islands.
Go Island Hiking
Hiking the Galapagos Islands is one of the most rewarding experiences in the world. You get to see up close the incredible biodiversity sheltering on these islands without the filter of powerful long-range TV cameras. The Galapagos Islands are designated as national parks which means they are protected, and hikers may not be able to explore every part of the islands.
However, the trails are well maintained so visitors can see the best parts of the islands without disturbing the wildlife. A popular lava rock trail takes you to the top of Sierra Negra, the second largest volcanic crater on the planet, and you get to see a lot of wildlife including lounging sea lions, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies and their captivating courtship dance, swallow-tail gulls, frigate birds, Galapagos penguins among others.
You can also hike through the many conservatories, mangrove estuaries, iconic rock formations and white sand beaches with their sparkling waters. From the Santa Cruz Island, to the two Seymours, Kicker Rock, Cerro Brujo, Isabela Island wetlands and others, the Galapagos Islands provide an endless opportunity to appreciate the wonders of nature in its purest form.
One of the main reasons why the Galapagos Islands are irresistible to thousands of tourists is that its clear waters offer some of the unique snorkeling experiences on the planet. While snorkeling requires little to no expert skills, you need a comprehensive briefing about what to do and what not to do to protect yourself and the fragile marine ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands.
Snorkeling in the Galapagos is best done with a group, and you don’t want to miss the opportunity to take enchanting pictures of vibrant reef fish, green sea turtles, sea lions, sea horses, flightless cormorants, the Galapagos penguin, the smallest of its kind in the world, and a breathtaking array of colorful fish and marine plants.
The wildlife on these islands tolerates humans because their encounters with our species haven’t been cruel like in other places. But still, they are wild animals, and it’s your responsibility to ensure that you minimize contact with them as much as possible. There are plenty of snorkeling sites in the Galapagos including the Fernandina Island’s Punta Espinosa, Tagus Cove and Los Tuneles in Isabela Island, Devil’s Crown in Floreana Island, James Bay in Santiago Island, North Seymour, Chinese Hat Islet, among others. You can also spot sharks, whales and a diverse array of other marine life here. Don’t forget to bring your waterproof camera and don’t be scared of the wildlife.
3. Explore the Islands on Horseback
If you want to take your Galapagos experience down to the roots, no better way than exploring the island on horseback. The hillsides of Santa Cruz island are the most popular horse riding spots, and you get to enjoy a breathtaking view of the beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife. Make sure to hire a Criollo horse if you are not a skilled rider to avoid getting bumped off the saddle.
4. Sea Kayaking
Without any prior experience, you can kayak through the jagged coast of the Galapagos, soaking the spectacular sights of beautiful white beaches, mangrove estuaries, and secret coves formed by millions of years of volcanic activity. While you may be alone in your kayak, you will always find companionship in sea lions and Galapagos penguins or the flightless cormorants inhabiting these enthralling islands. However, you need to have a kayaking permit from the Galapagos National Park before you can explore the Pacific shoreline of this epic destination.
5. Scuba Dive the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands live up to their reputation as one of the wonders of the underwater world with its breathtaking array of coral reefs, marine wildlife, plant species, rare algae, and awe-inspiring rock formations. Each of the islands in the Galapagos chain has a unique ecosystem supporting a diverse number of plant and animal species and exceptional submarine rock formations.
Scuba diving requires some level of skills, and you need to be scuba certified before you can head into the deep. Several scuba diving training centers are available on the islands at affordable rates and many cruise services also offer diving training as well. When you receive your certification, you can choose from the many dive sites across the different islands in Galapagos.
Isabela Island offers three dive sites including Punta Vincente Roca, Los Tuneles, and Tagus Cove. These dive sites offer a diverse array of marine life such as a floor of green algae, marine iguanas, sea lions, red-lipped, batfish, seahorses, Sally Lightfoot crabs, white-tipped reef sharks, Hinge Beak prawns, moonfish, sea turtles and others. At Punta Espinosa in Fernandina Island, you can encounter Orca and Humpback whales, dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, and Galapagos penguins. Manta rays, angelfish, hammerhead sharks, parrot fish, hogfish, and many other marine lives can be found at Prince Philip’s Steps in Genovesa.
Floreana Island’s Devil’s Crown is brimming with coral reefs, tropical fish, sea lions, amberjacks, manta rays, sharks, sea turtles, moray eels, pelicans, red-footed boobies, and more! North Seymour in North Seymour Islands, Isla Lobos in San Cristobal, Pinnacle Rock in Bartholomew Island, Chinese Hat Islet in Santa Cruz Island, Wolf Island, and Darwin Island are other diving hotspots to explore in the Galapagos.
It’s an unforgettable underwater experience like no other. Note that you need to be a licensed diver before you can explore all these treasures. The good news is that you can get world-class training on these islands at affordable rates. But nothing beats getting down to the action right away!
6. Mountain Biking
Mountain biking has become a popular way of experiencing island life on the Galapagos in the last decade. Bikers passionate about adventure will love the large network of paths and trails on the Islands of Santa Cruz, Isabella, and San Cristobal. Several tour companies such as the Galapagos Alternative offer cycling adventure packages ranging from intermediate to advanced cycling tours of these islands.
You can go easy with fun rides through the scenic environment, or take on endurance challenges from coast to coast, riding from the highest points of the island to the shoreline while absorbing the rich biodiversity with its bizarre collection of animals and plants. Mountain biking on the Galapagos will take you through farms, communities, coastal landscapes, up to the Galapaguera to see the giant Galapagos tortoise. If you are up for the challenge, you can sign up for a mountain bike adventure from the top of the Sierra Negra crater riding for 30 km to reach the foot of the volcano. What an epic ride that will be?
7. Take a Dinghy Ride
Dinghy, known locally as Panga is the primary mode of transportation from the small cruise boats that bring people in from town. These small vessels will take you into some of the most hidden parts of the islands including caves, coves, and secluded shores that are inaccessible to larger vessels. A dinghy ride is one of the best ways to capture the wildlife of Galapagos as they laze on the shores.
8. Go Island Hopping
The Galapagos is the island hopper’s paradise, with its beautiful chain of islands and their unique wildlife. There are tour operators that offer cruises to all the islands in the chain, including the Galapagos Natural Life that provides some of the best cruise deals at incredibly affordable rates. Several companies can take you through all the major attractions in the islands, organize walks, diving trips, and more.
9. Visit Dragon Hill
Cerro Dragon or Dragon Hill on Santa Cruz Island is an excellent place to watch the land animals of Galapagos. The beautiful spot was named after the iguana because it was the only place where you could find the land iguanas in the past. But apart from the dragon-like iguana, tourists can also see Galapagos mockingbirds, the Pacific green turtle, rays, and other migratory birds that make the rocky shoreline their temporary home. The Dragon Hill is also home to a variety of candelabra cactus and the Galapagos cotton. It also offers the opportunity to snorkel, hike, sunbathe, or beach walk.
10. Interpretation Center of San Cristobal
The Centro de Interpretacion in San Cristobal offers a history lesson educating visitors about the rich heritage of the Galapagos Islands. The center is a collaborative effort of the Galapagos National Park, the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development, and the Charles Darwin Foundation. It provides a detailed expose on the natural history of the islands including its volcanic origins, the plant and animal species, colonization, and the conservation efforts that have helped preserve flora and fauna.
11. Visit a Pirate Cave in Asilo de la Paz
Located on the Island of Floreana is the 450-meter-high Asilo de la Paz hill. The hill’s major attractions include a freshwater spring and a historical pirate cave. The surrounding woodlands feature a variety of tortoise species that frequent the Galapagos as well as endemic plum orchards, citrus trees, and tamarind trees.
12. Visit the Tortoise Conservatory at the Charles Darwin Research Station
This conservatory runs a breeding program to preserve the giant Galapagos tortoise, one of the largest species of tortoise in the world. Here you can see the giant tortoises and their young ones frolicking about the expansive compound. The staff are knowledgeable and welcoming and will tell you all you need to know about the breeding program, how the animals are released back into the wild, and you can even get a tour of the facilities. The conservatory is part of the Charles Darwin Research Station and is run by the Charles Darwin Foundation. Adults and children are welcome here, and the station also offers an in-depth history lesson into the natural history of the islands.
13. Spend Time on the Beach
Galapagos beaches are popular for their white sand and carefree sea lions that lounge at the edge of the crystal clear blue waters of the Pacific. Irrespective of the island you are, you can snorkel on the beach, sunbath, or enjoy some quality time lounging onboard a small cruise boat with snacks and fruit juice flowing endlessly. It’s a wonderful experience, soaking in the sun in the tranquility of these spectacular beaches or making new friends aboard your Galapagos cruise. There’s nothing like it!
14. Surfing and Swimming
There’s plenty of beaches to swim on the many islands of the Galapagos. It gets even better as you get to share the sand with the friendly wildlife that loves spending time on the beach. From a safe distance, you can watch sea lions, Galapagos penguins, eagle rays, sea turtles, and flightless cormorants basking in the cool breeze on the white sands. You can also surf at the Galapagos Beach, although the beach has strict rules for surfing.
15. Deep Sea Fishing
The deep waters of Galapagos offer an out-of-the-world fishing experience. You can go out with one of the many fishing boats or follow a commercial fishing company like the Ecuagringo which has been actively fishing these waters for more than two decades. Ecuagringo offers island fishing tours in Santa Cruz and San Cristobal where you can catch big game fishes. Marlin is the most popular fish that attracts lovers of the sport, but you can also catch large tuna, wahoo and other big game fish. Fishing in the Galapagos is strictly regulated by the Galapagos National Park. You need permits to fish and also have to release the fish after catching it.
16. Get Married on the Island
Galapagos is one of the most iconic places to have your island-themed wedding. From Santa Cruz, Isabela, to Puerto Ayora, the Galapagos Islands offer several scenic beaches and iconic hotels that will make your wedding and honeymoon the time of your lives. It is a fair priced market for destination wedding compared to many of the more popular location. The Galapagos will give you some very unique and beautiful backdrops and memories!
17. Santa Cruz Fish Market
This is one of the best places to experience the life of the locals. Boats bring in loads of fish, and the fishermen set up makeshift stalls to sell the fish fresh. You can buy fresh fish, seafood, and local ingredients here. There is a pier nearby where you can watch birds and sea lions as the boats come and go. The market is one big open-air restaurant at night, providing the chance to sample some of the local cuisines.
18. Try the Local Food
Galapagos food tends to be simple. The diet is mostly made up of fish, seafood, potatoes, and yucca. Breakfasts usually consist of fried dumplings of green plantains, fresh fruit, and the most popular dish is ceviche. Ceviche is made from different fish or seafood covered with thin slices of onions, tomatoes and lime juice. Pizza Eat, Cafeteria Proinsular, Tropic Brid Cafe, and the Galapagonia Sushi Bar are some of the best restaurants in town.
19. Buy Souvenirs at the Galleria Aymara
Before leaving these enchanting islands, find time to visit the Aymara Gallery to buy authentic art pieces on the islands. From handwoven baskets, textiles, jewelry, to Mola tapestries, there is some valuable piece here for everyone. You can also order online if you can’t make it to the gallery
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