The elegant pink birds of the Galápagos
What you need to know about the Greater Flamingo
The Greater Flamingo is the only flamingo species resident on the Galápagos. The current population is estimated to be between 400 and 500 individuals. These beautiful and elegant birds breed in small colonies at any time from June to March, and you will often see them building their mud nests in the salt-water lagoons where they live, breed and feed.
All our Galápagos cruises will feature excursions to the flamingos’ lagoon homes, and our expert naturalist guides will explain the feeding and mating behaviors of the birds as they feeding on the tiny krill, mollusks, and crabs that thrive in the brackish water.
It is the carotenoid pigments contained in these tiny creatures that give the Galápagos Greater Flamingos their beautiful pink coloring. During the breeding season, the birds also preen using a secretion from a special gland that also contains these carotenoids which enhances their pink color even more. It might be said that the Galápagos Greater Flamingo like to wear a little makeup!
The Galápagos Flamingo population is holding steady, but the Galápagos National Park service hold regular population censuses to monitor their breeding success. The main threat to flamingos would be from any damage to their salt-lagoon habitat or the effects of serious weather events such as El Nino. The largest colonies of Galápagos Flamingos can be found on Floreana Island, Isabela Island, Santiago, and Santa Cruz.
Greater Flamingo: Interesting facts
Flamingos flock together both for protection and to maximise the feeding in any one location
Galápagos flamingos enjoy brine shrimps and blue-green algae, which they filter from the mud and silt with their remarkable bills
Galápagos flamingos form strong pair bonds and male and the female flamingos build and defend their nest together
Scientist have experimented on flamingo skeletons and they have found the reason these birds often stand on one leg is because they require no muscle effort to do so!
Greater Flamingo: Pictures from our travelers
Spots where the Greater Flamingo can be observed
Arnaldo Tupiza Tortoise Breeding Center
A short walk from Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island will bring you to the Arnaldo Tupiza Tortoise Breeding Center. The short trail from town is lovely in itself - you follow a boardwalk that takes you across the wetlands and Opuntia cactus fields.
At the breeding centre you can see 5 different subspecies of Galápagos Giant Tortoise that are all native to Isabela, but currently threatened by habitat damage caused by introduced animals and volcanic eruptions. Here, the Giant Tortoise eggs are carefully incubated in a special hatchery, whilst the adults are cared for in large supervised corrals. This careful breeding program is aiming to increase the populations of these remarkable animals to ensure their survival as a wild species that's unique to the Galápagos.
The name "Bachas Beach" (or "Las Bachas" in Spanish) actually comes from a mispronunciation! After the second world war, American forces stationed on Santa Cruz abandoned some of their barges there - "bachas" was the nearest some of the locals could get to pronouncing the English word, and the name has stuck. You can still see the remains of one of the floating docks the soldiers set up on one of the two beaches that make up Las Bachas Beach.
This beach is covered in white coral sand, and it's a major nesting site for Galápagos green turtles. There's also a lagoon just behind the sand which often hosts flamingos, ducks and migratory birds. You can also often find marine iguanas feeding on the rocky outcrops near the tide line.
The main beach is perfect for swimming, being very sheltered from the ocean swells, and is a very pleasant spot to cool off and to indulge in some snorkeling.
Cormorant Point is on the northern tip of Floreana, and you'll land on a beach that sits between two volcanic cones. The sand on one of the beaches here has a noticeably olive-green color. This is due to a much higher than usual concentration of olivine crystals in the sand. Another beach is made up mainly of coral sand and is almost a brilliant white in comparison.
This Galápagos site has a large lagoon which is favored by flamingos, their pink coloring contrasting with the green sand. There is some good snorkeling here, and you can often spot rays in the shallows. There is a one mile hike available that takes you to higher ground and provides great views over the lagoon, and to both beaches on either side of the Point.
Dragon Hill is the site of a success story in the history of Galápagos conservation. In 1975 almost the entire population of land iguanas in this part of northeast Santa Cruz was wiped out by packs of feral dogs. The Charles Darwin Research Center swung into action with an emergency breeding and rearing program for land iguanas. The program was extremely successful, and the last captive-bred land iguana was released from the breeding center onto Dragon Hill in 1991. Iguanas continue to be released here every 3 or 4 years from other breeding centers in the Galápagos to ensure the continued success of the Dragon Hill Iguanas.
As well as being the landing site to visit the Hill, the rocky shoreline here is a great snorkeling site where you can swim with green turtles, sharks and rays. A trail leads inland past two saltwater lagoons which often play host to flamingos. As you continue to circle Dragon Hill on the trail you'll be able to see land iguanas in the wild, and you can find their burrows all along the path.
As well as the land iguanas, the area around Dragon Hill is full of other species including Darwin's Finches, Galápagos Mockingbirds, and the native Opuntia cactus. This is one of the longer walking trails, and your Galapatours guide will recommend you use good footwear, especially as the trail can be uneven in places and gets slippery and muddy after wet weather.
Puerto Egas (Port Egas) is a sheltered landing site at the southern end of James Bay on the northwestern coast of Santiago. This landing site is the trailhead for two hiking paths.
The first trail runs along the coast to visit the so-called "Fur Seal Grottos". The Galápagos Fur Seals like to seek shade from the equatorial sun, and they prefer rocky shores with caves or other nooks and crannies in which they can keep cool. The grottos here are perfect for them, and the tidal pools are also popular with Galápagos Marine Iguanas who can be seen feeding in and around them.
The second trail from Egas Port heads inland to the "Salt Mine Volcano". This hike is just under 2 miles long and takes you to the rim of a salt mine crater. This "mine" is actually a small volcanic cone that is filled with a salt water lagoon that dries up in the dry season. At several points in the 20th century individuals or companies attempted to mine salt from it, but without commercial success. The name of your landing site is after the owner of the last company to try salt mining here, Hector Egas.
The lagoon is often home to Galápagos flamingos and other birds, and the wonderful Galápagos Hawk can often be seen circling above this area.
Espumilla Beach is located at the northern end of James Bay, a large bay on the northwestern coast of Santiago. This is a pretty beach that is fringed with lush green forests.
The beach itself is home to marine iguanas who feed among the rocks at either end of the beach, and it is a good place to snorkel, with visitors often reporting sightings of sharks, rays and octopus. This is also a nesting site for Galápagos green turtles.
There is an inland hiking trail here that takes visitors past a seasonal lagoon that's often bright green thanks to the algae in the water. Here you can find Galápagos flamingos and pin-tail ducks. The trail then loops through the arid zone, where you can see further bird species including Galápagos Hawks that often circle overhead.
Moreno Point (known locally as Punta Moreno) is a short journey from Elizabeth Bay on the west coast of Isabela Island. You will take a panga ride which will give you great views of the striking rocky shoreline before you make your landing.
Here you will see the eerie site of a huge lava field leading up to the distant Cero Azul volcano. Hiking through this alien landscape you will come across several tidal lagoons, pools and mangroves - all of which provide an oasis for a range of wildlife, particularly bird species. In the larger tidal pools you may see green turtles or sharks, the clear waters giving you a unique opportunity to view them from on land!
On your journey back to the boats from your 1.2 mile hike you're likely to see Galápagos Penguins on the rocky shores as well a range of birds including herons and Galápagos Flamingos. This is a favorite excursion as it combines the opportunity to see coastal species with a hike through stunning landscapes.
The vast majority of Isabela's human population live in Puerto Villamil, which still holds onto its traditional fishing port charm. Indeed many of Galapatours visitors tell us they think it's the prettiest village in the whole archipelago.
The main reason for this is that Villamil had little impact from tourism until the 1990s, the residents quietly making their living from fishing and farming. Then in 1996 a small runway was opened for flights for light aircraft operating inter-island flights. There are now 13 hotels and 18 bars and restaurants in town, compared to only 1 and 2 respectively in 1980! Despite this, the town still enjoys a relaxed and authentic atmosphere.
Villamil enjoys a beautiful long beach, which is picture-book tropics - palm trees line it's bright white coral sand. Behind the beach are several saltwater lagoons which are home to pink flamingos, pintail ducks and several other species. There are several visitor sites that can be the subject of excursions from town on foot, by minibus or panga.
Salt Mine Volcano
After a landing at Egas Port at the southern end of James Bay, a trail heads inland to the "Salt Mine Volcano".
This hike is just under 2 miles long and takes you to the rim of a salt mine crater. This "mine" is actually a small volcanic cone that is filled with a salt water lagoon that dries up in the dry season. At several points in the 20th century individuals or companies attempted to mine salt from it, but without commercial success. The name of the landing site here is given after the owner of the last company to try salt mining in the 1960s, Hector Egas.
The lagoon is often home to Galápagos flamingos and other birds, and the wonderful Galápagos Hawk can usually be seen circling above this area.
The Wetlands is the name given to the area of lagoons and mangrove swamps just along the coast from Villamil on Isabela Island. This is a popular excursion as it is just a short walk from town on good paths and boardwalks.
This is an important habitat, and is one of the only places where you can see all 4 of the native Galápagos Mangrove species. These mangroves are hugely important, not only for the wildlife they contain, but also for their help in preserving the coastline and resisting the eroding action of waves.
There are a large number of bird species that make their home in the Wetlands, and if you are a birdwatcher this is an excursion you will want to make sure is on your schedule. Speak to one of our Galápagos experts to help select the best itinerary for a visit to the Isabela Wetlands.
Tortuga Bay Beach
Tortuga Bay Beach is a delightful 1 mile walk from Puerto Ayora and is one of the prettiest beaches on the Galápagos.
As you walk the trail to the beach you cross through an area of arid vegetation which is filled with bird life, and your Galapatours expert naturalist guide will help you to identify many species here, which include the famous Darwin's Finches.
Once you reach the beach you will see a glorious tropical scene - white coral sands and breaking turquoise waves. You can often see surfers here, and they are a clue that those waves hide strong currents and tides, and you need to be careful if you choose to swim. A better option might be to continue along to the second part of Tortuga Bay Beach which is the other side of the headland. This beach opens onto a small bay that's almost completely sheltered from the swell and makes a wonderfully calm place for swimming or snorkeling.
This little bay is fringed with Galápagos mangroves which are a haven for bird and marine life. In the waters you may see rays and small sharks, and marine iguanas on the rocky headland.
Tortuga Beach and Tortuga Bay make a wonderful place that's not only great for relaxing and soaking up the sun, but also for exploring more of the Galápagos' unique wildlife and habitats.