The Galapagos Islands offer the perfect place to enjoy naturalist-led cruises among pristine wildlife, with perhaps the very best wildlife photography opportunities anywhere on earth.

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These are just a few of the delights that await you in the Galapagos. They are a collection of volcanic islands, rocks and islets in the eastern Pacific, 14 of which are especially worth exploring.

The islands are famed for the high number of endemic species that were studied by Charles Darwin, which led to the formation of his theory of evolution by natural selection. They are a year round destination with a diverse range of wildlife, from birds and mammals to reptiles, fish and plants – all in a beautiful and unspoilt tropical environment.

All the Islands are rich in wildlife but some have particular strengths. Isabela is great for snorkelling with sealions, giant tortoises are especially prolific on Santa Cruz, Española hosts the biggest blue-footed booby colony, and Genovesa has a wonderful variety of birds.

14 recommended wildlife locations. The species listed below are just a selection of those you may see.

Bartolomé

Home of the iconic Pinnacle Rock, Bartolomé consists of an extinct volcano (114 metres altitude) with a variety of red, orange, black and even green volcanic formations. The trail that leads to the summit offers one of the finest views in the islands, including the black lava flows on nearby James Island.

  • Ideal for viewing: Galapagos penguin, Lava lizard, Brown pelican, Blue-footed booby, Galapagos green turtle
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching, Penguin watching

Daphne Islands

The islands of Daphne Major and Daphne Minor lie between Santa Cruz and Santiago. Although tourist visits are restricted by the National Park authorities, these islands are a popular stop for scientists conducting research into Galapagos finches. You can also find Galapagos martins and short-eared owls here.

  • Ideal for viewing: Small ground finch, Medium ground finch, Large ground finch, Cactus finch, Swallow-tailed gull
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Española

Española is the southernmost island, its remote location means that it has a large number of endemic species – the marine iguanas here are the only ones to change colour during the breeding season. It has large colonies of blue-footed boobies and is also the only breeding site of the magnificent waved albatross.

  • Ideal for viewing: Blue-footed booby, Masked booby, Swallow-tailed gull, Waved albatross, Lava lizard
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Fernandina

Fernandina is an active volcano with rugged slopes and unusual lava formations, which create some surreal landscapes. Its constant change of volcanic state and lack of plant life mean it is probably the least visited island.It is home to a huge population of marine iguanas, and penguins are commonly spotted.

  • Ideal for viewing: Flightless cormorant, Galapagos penguin, Land iguana, Marine iguana, Sally Lightfoot crab
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching, Penguin watching

Floreana

Studded with volcanic cones, Floreana is one of the oldest islands in the Galapagos – its volcano has long been extinct. It has a luxuriant vegetation, and nutrient rich soil, with diverse native and introduced flora. The submerged crater of Devil’s Crown is one of the best snorkelling sites in the Galapagos.

  • Ideal for viewing: Red-tailed tropicbird, South American sealion, Sally Lightfoot crab, Green turtle, Lava lizard
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Genovesa

Isla Genovesa is one of the best places for birdwatching – here you can find the lava gull, the rarest gull in the world. A lava field on the north shore provides the ideal nesting place for storm petrels in its cracks and tunnels. The marine iguana is the only reptile on the island, and are the smallest in the archipelago.

  • Ideal for viewing: Lava gull, Red-billed tropicbird, South American fur seal, South American sealion, Galapagos mockingbird
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Isabela

The volcanic slopes of the largest island in the archipelago are home to some 6,000 Galapagos tortoises. On the west coast the coldwater currents produces an abundance of marine life and it is possible to snorkel with sealions. An uplifted coral reef provides brackish lagoons which are home to a variety of seabirds.

  • Ideal for viewing: Galapagos penguin, South American fur seal, White-cheeked pintail, Galapagos hawk, Land iguana
  • Excellent for: Penguin watching

North Seymour

Magnificent frigatebirds, Galapagos sealions, blue-footed boobies and are all numerous on North Seymour. The island was formed by a series of submarine lava flows containing layers of sediment that were uplifted by tectonic activity. It has a good walking trail crossing the island.

  • Ideal for viewing: Land iguana, Marine iguana, Galapagos sealion, Magnificent frigatebird, Blue-footed booby
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Rábida

This island – also known as Jervis – is one of the most colourful and varied islands in the archipelago, with several different types of lava. It is famed for its beach of maroon sand and stunning viewpoint. The island is a delight for birdwatchers, with some of the rarest bird species in abundance.

  • Ideal for viewing: Galapagos hawk, Brown pelican, White-cheeked pintail, Galapagos penguin, Galapagos sealion
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

San Cristóbal

Home to frigatebirds, red and blue-footed boobies, Galapagos tortoises and sealions, this was the first island on which Charles Darwin set foot in 1835. A crater in the highlands holds the largest freshwater lake in the Galapagos, which is home to a lot of birdlife. It has one of the two commercial airports in the Galapagos.

  • Ideal for viewing: Blue-footed booby, Magnificent frigatebird, South American sealion, Great blue heron, Swallow-tailed gull
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Santa Cruz

he island is home to the Charles Darwin Research Station and Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre. The island’s rocky coastline and mangrove-lined inlets are good for marine life. The lush greenery of the highlands offers a welcome contrast, with its huge craters, lava tunnels and giant tortoises roaming freely.

  • Ideal for viewing: Giant tortoise, Green turtle, Marine iguana, Vermilion flycatcher, Galapagos rail
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Santa Fe

Santa Fe (Barrington) is home to a picturesque small bay which provides a sheltered anchorage on the island’s northeast coast. The bay has two visitor trails: one leads to a scenic viewpoint at the top of a cliff, and the other crosses a small beach before leading into a forest of tall prickly pear (opuntia) cactus.

  • Ideal for viewing: Land iguana, Galapagos mockingbird, Galapagos dove, Lava lizard, Galapagos sealion
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Santiago

Santiago Island has a narrow, steep-sided point of land, which provides an extraordinarily beautiful landscape with cliffs and rocky pinnacles that create a nesting site for hundreds of marine birds. In the 17th and 18th centuries, pirates used this place to maintain their vessels and replenish their supplies.

  • Ideal for viewing: Galapagos penguin, South American fur seal, Galapagos hawk, Lava lizard, American flamingo
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

South Plaza

This small island with its steep cliffs was formed by rising lava and is now covered with opuntia cactus. Despite its small size, it is home to one of the largest sealion colonies in the archipelago, as well as colourful yellow and red land iguanas. Birds to be found here included red-billed tropicbird and swallow-tailed gull.

  • Ideal for viewing: Land iguana, Galapagos sealion, Swallow-tailed gull, Nazca booby, Audubon’s shearwater
  • Excellent for: Birdwatching

Wildlife of the Galapagos Islands

Our top 10 animals native to Galapagos Islands…

Blue-footed booby
Brown pelican
Magnificent frigatebird
Galapagos falcon
Galapagos penguin
Giant tortoise
Green turtle
Land iguana
Lava gull
Galapagos sealion

Wildlife up close…

The major attraction of the Galapagos Islands is the wildlife. You can expect close encounters with species such as giant tortoises, iguanas, penguins and sealions, as well as 60 bird species, 28 of which are endemic.

What makes Galapagos wildlife so special is its complete lack of fear due to the absence of natural predators. This means you can witness astonishing natural displays, such as…

Blue-footed boobies in their mating dance.

Male magnificent frigatebird with red neck pouch inflated to attract a female.

Waved albatrosses courting in their colony.

…and personal

Small groups are less invasive and offer a more personal experience, so to maximise your enjoyment of the islands and their wildlife we generaly recommend travelling with one of the smaller vessels. These offer greater protection to the fragile habitat of the Galapagos and its wildlife by adhering to sound ecological practices.

The best naturalist guides

We only work with vessels that have high calibre naturalist guides. All guides are licensed by the Galapagos National Park, and classified in three levels, Level 3 being the highest.

Depending on the number of passengers on board, each boat carries one or more naturalist guides in a ratio of roughly 1 guide per 16 passengers.

The naturalist guide generally delivers a briefing each evening about the landing sites to be visited the following day, covering the wildlife found there. This gives you an opportunity to prepare. There will usually be a short recap over breakfast, or before you board the panga (dinghy) to go ashore.

Year round wildlife

Certain times of year are optimal for different species, but unless you wish to see a particular natural event, you can travel at virtually any time of year and will not be disappointed.

View trips

When to go

The Galapagos Islands are a year round destination. In April and May the skies are warm and clear, the sea is calm, and the flowers are in bloom. November to December is also good.

Seasons

  • Green season

    Jan to May: Warm with mainly afternoon rain that leaves everything fresh; calm seas
  • Dry season

    Jun to Dec: Cool with often overcast skies and some sea mist. Choppy seas Aug-Sep.

Wildlife events

  • Jan to May: Green turtles arrive on the beaches to lay eggs
  • Mar to Dec: The first waved albatrosses arrive on Española
  • Jun to Aug: Giant tortoises migrate from the highlands of Santa Cruz
  • Jun to Aug: Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) seen in the ocean
  • Aug to Nov: Sealion pupping season

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