The Best Things to Do and See in the Galapagos

The Galapagos Islands are filled with unique flora and fauna and are a bucket list for many travelers
The Galapagos Islands are filled with unique flora and fauna and are a bucket list for many travelers | © Bill Gozansky / Alamy Stock Photo
Gabby Shacknai

Nature rules on the Ecuadorian archipelago of the Galapagos, located 1,000km (621mi) from the mainland in the Pacific Ocean – it’s widely regarded as one of the best places wildlife-spotting destinations in the world. Snorkel alongside sea lions, spy frigatebirds swooping past the rocky cliffs and witness giant tortoises plodding through the ancient forests. Follow in Charles Darwin’s footsteps with these top things to do in the Galapagos Islands.

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Go kayaking along the Itabaca Channel

Grab a paddle and hit the water on a guided kayaking tour along the Itabaca Channel, which divides Baltra from Santa Cruz Island. Flanked by mangrove forests and lava rock cliffs, this tranquil waterway is home to sea lions, blue-footed boobies, brown pelicans, herons and more. Watch out for white-tipped reef sharks that also inhabit these waters – you can also choose to hire a stand-up paddleboard for the ultimate adventure.

A welcome sign to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos

Explore the uninhabited islands just off Santa Cruz Island

The best way to explore the Galapagos islands is by boat. Set sail for North Seymour, a volcanic isle primed for budding ornithologists. Spot great and magnificent frigatebirds, plus marvel at the mating dance of the blue-footed boobies. To the south, Sante Fe is one of the oldest islands in the archipelago. Here, you’ll see iguanas catching shade underneath the Opuntia Echios – a large unusually-shaped cactus. Alternatively, head to Sullivan Bay to explore the 150-year-old lunar landscape, formed from bubbling lava.

Hike Cerro Tijeretas

For one of the best views in the Galapagos, make sure you hike Cerro Tijeretas, located on Isla San Cristobal. It’s just a 45-minute walk from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno – while it’s a great place to spot its namesake birds, you’ll also be rewarded with panoramic vistas of Wreck Bay and Kicker Rock. Continue on to Carola Beach – when conditions are calm, it’s a great spot for swimming. And you might even spot a green turtle. Remember to bring sunscreen and water along with you as the weather can get pretty hot.

Hiking path to the viewpoint of Cerro Tijereta in the Galapagos

Join a snorkeling tour around Kicker Rock

You can’t miss Kicker Rock – a volcanic code protruding out of the sea, carved by the crashing Pacific waves. Above water, the rock is home to a smattering of tropicbirds and blue-footed boobies, but it is really the underwater inhabitants that are worth seeing. The natural erosion of the cone has created a channel between the rocks that serve as the ideal place to view myriad sharks and rays. Arrive at the right time and you’ll spot hundreds of Galapagos sharks, schools of spotted eagle rays, turtles, jellyfish and even the occasional sea lion. Head out on a boat from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and you’ll reach the site within 90 minutes.

Marvel at giant tortoises in Reserva El Chato

You can’t go to the Galapagos without encountering a giant tortoise. See them in their natural habitat at El Chato, a 12-ha (29-acre) nature reserve nestled in the Santa Cruz highlands. These creatures really are huge – they can grow to 4ft (1.2m) in length and can weigh over 550lbs (250kg). On arrival, make sure you ask the staff where the tortoise sightings of the day are – you’ll likely find them wallowing in mud pools or foraging in the Scalesia Forest. Make sure you wear hiking boots and keep an eye out for short-eared owls and vermillion flycatchers flitting between the trees.

Spot baby giant tortoises at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado

Another top place to see giant tortoises is Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve. This rehabilitation center is one of the main semi-natural breeding grounds, allowing young tortoises to hatch without using an incubator. San Cristobal had two endemic giant tortoise species – sadly, one became extinct after being hunted for meat and oil. The center aims to protect the baby hatchlings into adulthood. After four months, they are free to roam around the 6ha (14-acre) site before getting released into the wild.

Visit the sea lions on Las Loberias

Whether you choose to snorkel in the sapphire-blue sea while spotting baby sea lions or hike around the beautiful scenery above water, Las Loberias – located on San Cristobal – is sure to wow any visitor. Often praised as the best free thing to do in the Galapagos, this beach has sea lions, iguanas, Hermit crabs and turtles, all of whom will happily put on a show for their visitors. The trail above the beach offers an incredible view, but be sure to wear some sturdy shoes if you choose to hike.

See marine iguanas at Las Tintoreras

Another hotspot for aquatic life, Las Tintoreras – located on Puerto Villamil – is home to hundreds, if not thousands of marine iguanas. You’ll also spot sharks and on occasion, stingrays, seals, seahorses and even penguins. This beautifully pristine environment gives the illusion that man never existed. It’s a quick and easy stop, just a 10-minute boat ride from the Island of Isabella – and an absolute must-do.

An indigenous marine iguana found in the Galapagos Islands

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