Galapagos Marine Iguana
The only sea lizard in the world
What you need to know about the Galapagos Marine Iguana
The Galápagos Islands are home to the only seafaring lizard in the world - the Galápagos Marine Iguana. This iconic reptile is found nowhere else on Earth, and it is made of 11 subspecies, each with a population on a different island.
On land, the Marine Iguanas seem almost clumsy as they move slowly in and around the rocky shores, but in the water, they are transformed into elegant, and strong, swimmers. Their diet are the nutrient-rich algae that grow on the volcanic rocks around the Galápagos shores. The bigger males will often swim further out to see, using powerful claws to cling tightly to undersea rocks in the surf. Smaller individuals will stick to rock pools close to the high water line, waiting for the algae to be exposed by the falling tide.
One fascinating biological mechanism the Marine Iguanas have developed is their way to get rid of the excess salt that builds up in their bodies thanks to their sea algae diet. They actually filter the salt out via the blood vessels that pass through their nose. This leads to them sneezing out the extra salt at regular intervals! It’s for this reason that your close-up photos of Galápagos Marine Iguanas will often show them with salt crystals around their nostrils.
The Galápagos Marine Iguanas are not actually social animals, but they are highly tolerant of each other, and will often cluster close together for warmth on cold nights. During the day they are very active and they can be seen basking in the morning sun prior to their first swim of the day. When these ectothermic animals dive into the water, they slow their heart rate by up to 50% to help to preserve energy and feed for as long as possible before returning to the warm rocks to warm up again.
One of the most iconic species of the islands, your Galápagos cruise will enable you to get wonderfully close to these unique creatures, with all our cruises making landfall in areas where you will be able to walk amongst these remarkable animals. Our expert naturalist guides will also inform you of the work that the Galápagos National Park are doing to protect young Marine Iguanas from introduced species like cats and dogs.
Galapagos Marine Iguana: Interesting facts
The marine iguana is the only marine lizard in the world
Male marine iguanas change color to impress the females during the mating season
When swimming in the cold ocean, the marine iguana's lose up to 18F in body heat
Galápagos Marine Iguanas are a threatened species because of their small habitat here on Galápagos
Galapagos Marine Iguana: Pictures from our travelers
Spots where the Galapagos Marine Iguana can be observed
Located on the remote northern tip of Isabela Island, Albemarle Point has the ruins of an abandoned US radar base from World War II. This infrequently visited site is only accessible by panga, but this gives you the opportunity to see the nesting sites of the critically endangered and unique Galápagos Flightless Cormorant.
Living alongside the Cormorants is a colony of the largest Marine Iguana species anywhere in the Galápagos, and you will be able to see these remarkable creatures as they feed at the water's edge or dive into the waves.
Because there are no landings allowed here, and thanks to its remoteness, this is one of the most unspoiled areas in the Galápagos, with little impact from introduced species. From the boat, you will also get a great view of a smooth undulating lava flow that made its way to the water's edge.
Arrival at Baltra airport+transfer to ship
Welcome to Galápagos! Once your flight has landed and you went through the immigration process, you'll be met in the Arrivals lounge by our English-speaking guide who will take you to your transfer vehicle for the short journey to your waiting ship.
Baltra Island, where your arrival airport is, was used as an important Air Force base in the Second World War. This is the primary airport for the Galápagos Islands and you'll be rubbing shoulders with fellow tourists, international naturalists and conservationists, researchers and academics, and Galápagos residents alike. The airport has been built as a "green" airport, and as well as using recycled materials in its construction, it's special design keeps the buildings relatively cool without the need for any air conditioning.
Once on board your ship, you will be introduced to the crew and given a welcome briefing as well as an important safety drill. After this you'll be shown to your cabin. While you're served a well-deserved and delicious lunch, the captain will cast off and your adventure truly starts.
Note: If you plan to spend a few days prior to the cruise in Puerto Ayora and want to do the cruise later this is no problem at all. The transfer from Puerto Ayora to Baltra is very easy.
Arrival at San Cristóbal airport+transfer to ship
Welcome to Galápagos! Once your flight has landed and you went through the immigration process, you'll be met in the Arrivals lounge by our English-speaking guide who will take you to your transfer vehicle for the short journey to your waiting ship.
San Cristobal is home to the official capital city of the Galápagos, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, and one of the archipelago's 2 airports. We don't know of any other airport where jet airliners land that is within walking distance of the town it serves, as is the case here on San Cristobal - you can stroll to the centre of town from the terminal in 15 minutes!
Once on board your ship, you will be introduced to the crew and given a welcome briefing as well as an important safety drill. After this you'll be shown to your cabin. While you're served a well-deserved and delicious lunch, the captain will cast off and your adventure truly starts.
Note: If you are already in San Cristóbal before the cruise and want to meet the group there, please let us know. This is no problem at all and the transfer from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and back couldn't be easier.
A walk on Bartholomew
Bartholomew (known as Bartolomé locally) is the most popular excursion for Galápagos visitors, and its iconic scenery is the most photographed in the whole archipelago.
To start your walk on this island you will land in the small bay opposite the famous Pinnacle Rock. You then start the climb to the 375ft peak of Bartholomew. You’ll travel along a half mile trail that includes a series of wooden steps that have been built by the National Park Service to protect the ground here from erosion caused by tourists hiking to the summit.
When you arrive at the top of island the spectacular views will have made your efforts worthwhile. Your Galapatours expert guide will point out all the landmarks you will see from here - Pinnacle Rock itself, jutting skywards. The huge black lava flows of Sullivan Bay. The islands of Daphne Major and Daphne Minor.
On the way back down, you will be able to recognise the different volcanic formations evident on the island, such as tuff cones and volcanic spatter. You'll also see some remarkable examples of the Galápagos' ability to highlight the adaptation of species. For example the bushes that all look dead are actually very much alive, with leaves covered with special grey hairs that help to reflect the harsh sun and reduce moisture loss for the plants.
Back at the beach there is excellent snorkeling, thanks to the underwater caves and rocks in the area. You will see various sharks, rays and tropical fish. You may also see Galápagos Penguins swimming with you!
A walk on North Seymour
North Seymour was formed at the same time as neighboring Baltra Island, and by the same process - an uplifting of undersea lava. This small, flat island has hiking trails throughout, allowing you to explore the arid landscape and to meet the seabirds that call North Seymour home.
North Seymour was the site of one of the earliest conservation experiments in the Galápagos. In 1934 a group of Galápagos Land Iguanas were moved there by Captain Hanckock. They have since thrivedthrived, and there are now well over 2,500 of them on the island and more than 3,000 on the neighbouring Baltra island.
The biggest attraction of North Seymour is its large colony of Blue-Footed Boobies and its Frigatebirds. These popular Galápagos species are often found together because the Frigatebirds rely on the Boobies’ fishing prowess. The Frigatebirds actively steal the Boobies catch to feed themselves!
There is also a population of Marine Iguanas and Galápagos Sea Lions are frequently spotted. The snorkeling here is also very good, with plenty of marine life to see including rays and reef sharks.
A walk on Rabida Island
Rabida is a small, steeply-sloped island with red-sand shores, and was originally called Jervis. Despite its small size, Rabida has one of the highest concentrations of volcanic features in the Galápagos, and it's thanks to the iron-rich lava deposits that its sands and soils are so red.
After a wet landing on the northern coast you will often see Galápagos Sea Lions and marine iguanas around the beach, especially near the sheltered caves in hot weather. Just behind the beach is a nesting site for brown pelicans, who use the saltbush as cover. Rabida is one of the best spots in the archipelago to observe pelicans. Sometimes flamingos can also be seen in the lagoon here.
There is a short hiking trail that leads further inland through Opuntias where there are good opportunities to see land birds like Darwin's finches, Galápagos Doves and Galápagos Mockingbirds.
After your trip inland you can then have a relaxing swim and enjoy some snorkeling, which is very good in the clear waters off the beach. While you swim, you'll be able to see Blue-Footed Boobies taking off over your head from their cliff-top roosts.
A walk on South Plaza
Whilst her twin, North Plaza, is closed to visitors, South Plaza is one of the best visitor sites in the Galápagos thanks to the large number of species present on her small area.
The Plazas were formed as the result of a geological uplift, and because this was uneven they both have cliffs on their south sides and low lying shores on their northern coasts.
The most noticeable (and noisiest) of South Plaza's residents are her Galápagos Sea Lions, who have a large colony here. Less obvious are her land iguanas (the smallest in the islands), many marine iguanas and large numbers and varieties of seabirds.
Inland is a mix of scrubby vegetation and giant opuntia cactus forest, providing food for the iguanas. As you follow the circular hiking trail you will come to the summit of the cliffs here where you'll be among countless nesting seabirds.
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.
Ballena, or Whale Bay
This is one of the quieter and least visited sites in the Galápagos. Ballena, or Whale, Bay has a beach with green sand, caused by the high percentage of olivine crystals present here. This is also one of the few visitor sites in the Galápagos which is more open, allowing visitors to wander somewhat freely and explore for themselves.
Behind the beach is a hill, and the climb from the inland side is easiest to enjoy fine views from the top. It is thought that Whale Bay is so-named because it was a popular point for the whaling vessels to weigh anchor while their crews headed inland from here in search of fresh water. It's thought that in the 1800s this beach was the head of the only trail into the highlands of Santa Cruz. The crews would return to the semi-circular beach with water and with their prize of giant tortoise, which were easy to catch and were a good source of meat to stock up with for their journey back to their home ports. In fact, the small group of tortoises that live near the beach have been found to be Pinzon tortoises, and their presence may be the result of escapees from the whalers' clutches scurrying away from the beach.
The beach is good for snorkeling, and if you keep your eyes skywards you may also spot Galápagos Hawks circling overhead.
Black Turtle Cove
The only way into Black Turtle cove is by panga (motorised dinghy). This "secret" corner of the Galápagos feels like your own personal hideout, and once the panga motor is shut off you're surrounded only with the gentle sounds of nature as you drift through the mangroves.
Rich with wildlife, you'll often see Galápagos green turtles feeding, or even mating, in the calm water, as well as different shark species and Galápagos rays.
This is a very different visitor site, showing another side to the Galápagos away from the noise of surf on the beaches and barking sea lions.
Sited on the northwest coast of Santiago Island, Buccaneer Cove wasn't named as a romantic fancy, but because it actually was used extensively by pirates, privateers, buccaneers and whalers to set anchor and head ashore.
Of all the Galápagos Islands, Santiago was most frequently used as a stop over as it provided easy access to fresh water, wood, and meat. Used since the 1600s as a staging point, the easy-to-catch Giant Tortoises that lived here became a useful source of protein for the sailors. There was a more strenuous journey required up to the highlands in search of water, but the sheltered cove made this a better location than some of the more open coast elsewhere.
Today the steep cliffs above the cove are filled with nesting seabirds, wheeling in the air above the deep red sands of the beach. This is a good site for snorkeling or to stroll along the beach drinking in the sights and sounds of the Galápagos, and you will often find yourself sharing the sand and rocks with sea lions or Galápagos Fur Seals.
A dive in Cape Douglas off the west coast of Isabela Island is a fantastic opportunity to see a wide array of marine life, both above and below the surface of the water.
As you prepare for your dive you can see Galápagos Flightless Cormorants, Galápagos Penguins and Galápagos Marine Iguanas - all species you cannot see anywhere else in the world except this archipelago.
As you enter the water, you may have the opportunity to admire the powerful swimming ability of the marine iguanas as the bigger males feed on the rocks deeper under the surface.
Other species you may see in the water include Red-lipped Batfish, Horn Sharks and Mola Mola, and sometimes Baleen Whales are seen here gliding through the water.
If you have particular species that you are keen to see, contact one of our Galápagos experts today who can help you choose an itinerary that will best meet your requirements.
Carrion Point on the eastern coast of Santa Cruz protrudes into the ocean, creating a sheltered cove which is a superb place to snorkel.
There's no landing here, you can simply dive into the water from your boat. The sheltered waters are crystal clear and you will see a wide range of marine wildlife, including Galápagos rays, sharks, and innumerable tropical fish.
A panga ride along the coast here will also allow your Galapatours guide to tell you more about the bird species and about the ecology of this part of Santa Cruz in general.
Carrion Point Dive Site
Carrion Point is often used as a dive site before the long trip north to Wolf and Darwin Islands, so you may have your first "proper" Galápagos dive here.
The site is typical of the Galápagos, with rocky slopes and a boulder-strewn reef with only ocasional patches of sand. The habitat is very rich here, and you are likely to encounter a wide range of tropical fish, as well as hammerhead sharks, reef sharks, manta rays, as well as the ever-curious Galápagos Sea Lions.
Champion Islet is considered one of the best snorkeling sites in the entire archipelago. This small island was originally named after a famous whaler, Andrew Champion, and in its beautiful waters you can see Galápagos Sea Lions, Green Turtles, Hammerheads, Rays, and many colorful reef fish.
Champion Islet isn't only for those who seek out marine life. On shore you can find Galápagos Penguins, Blue-Footed Boobies and Frigatebirds to name but a few. One very special resident is the Floreana Mockingbird. This species is extremely rare, with only an estimated 100 individuals left - of which only 30-40 of them are left on this island. It is unknown how much longer this fragile species can survive.
Chinese Hat ("Sombrero Chino" to locals) is an islet set just a short distance off the southeastern coast of Santiago. The small channel between Chinese Hat and mainland Santiago is fairly deep yet sheltered, and the water here is a glistening turquoise.
The islet gets its name because if you approach from the north, you will see that this small volcanic cone does indeed look like the traditional bamboo or rice hat. Viewed from above on a satellite image, however, you will see that this islet is actually more of an oval shape.
There is a short hiking trail on Chinese Hat that runs along the western coast of the islet. This is a harsh landscape of volcanic rubble and lava formations, a very atmospheric reminder of the fiery origins of the Galápagos.
Along the cost of both Chinese Hat and the opposite Santiago shore you are likely to see Galápagos Sea Lions and Galápagos Penguins, either basking in the sun or seeking shade to avoid the hottest parts of the day. Overhead, you might catch a glimpse of the magnificent Galápagos Hawk.
The stand-out reason for a visit to Chinese Hat however is to snorkel in that turquoise channel. Here you can see various species of sharks, rays, and a variety of tropical fish. Not all Galápagos boats can visit, and permits are only given to a select few boats and guides. Here at Galapatours we offer itineraries on all of these specially selected boats, so if a visit to Chinese Hat is important to you, speak to one of our Galápagos experts today to help choose the perfect itinerary.
Concha de Perla
Pearl Beach, Concha de Perla, is a small beach in walking distance from Puerto Villamil. Simply walk down the main road (Antonio Gil) direction East and follow the signs to "Concha de Perla". A short beautiful walk through the mangroves on a boardwalk will lead you to the spot with turquoise waters and wildlife galore! You can expecto to see plenty of other tourists alongisde colorful fish, sea lions, sea turtles, pelicans, mockingbirds and maybe even marine iguanas!
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.
This islet off the coast of Isabela is a popular diving site thanks to the variety of species that you can see in the waters here. In or on the water you are likely to encounter a range of shark species, Galápagos sea lions, stingrays, green sea turtles, cormorants, penguins, manta rays, and many more.
Also visible in these habitats are sponges and corals, and if you are lucky even sea horses, shaped just like the island of Isabela herself!
If you have any particular species that you are keen to see on your dive, contact one of our Galápagos experts today and we can advise on the best dive itinerary to suit your requirements.
Daphne Major (or Mayor) is a barren, tree-less island that is the remains of an extinct tuff cone whose rim rises some 400ft above sea level.
A trip around this island by boat offers the opportunity for some excellent snorkeling as well as observing the many seabirds that hunt in the area.
While snorkeling near Daphne Major you will be able to see many species of tropical fish, as well as rays, green turtles, shark species and more.
Like her big sister Daphne Major, Daphne Minor is a barren, treeless extinct remains of a tuff cone. There are no visitor sites on Daphne Minor, but a panga ride along her shores will give the opportunity for some snorkeling.
Here is where Daphne Minor shows her true colors - literally. An unusually large amount of smaller underwater organisms live on the rocky undersea walls of the island, creating a real multi-colored environment amongst the black and grey rocks.
Other creatures often seen here include seahorses, Galápagos sharks, rays and green turtles.
Darwin Bay is a must-visit site for birdwatchers. Starting with a landing on a beautiful white coral beach you are able to follow an easy half-mile trail that will take you through bird-filled mangroves. Species that can be seen on this part of the trail include Nazca Boobies, Galápagos red-footed Boobies, and Swallow-Tailed gulls.
As the path continues you will find tidal pools - favourite spots for Galápagos Sea Lions to lazily swim and play. At the path's end you will come to the top of a cliff which will reward you with a spectacular view.
Huge schools of hammers and Galápagos sharks, whale sharks, Mantas: Darwin's Towers (formerly: Darwin's Arch) is arguably one of the world's best diving sites.
Located just off the southeast tip of Darwin Island, the islet of Darwin's Towers (formerly known as Darwin's Arch, but the arch collapsed in 2021) is a fantastic marine wonderland. The main attractions are the whale sharks and hammerhead sharks that often gather here. But there are many other species you can find - green turtles, majestic manta rays, dolphins, large schools of fish, and other species of sharks are all frequent encounters.
We have met divers with over 1000 logged dives that still called it the single best diving site of their life! If you have any particular species that you are keen to see on your dive, contact one of our Galápagos experts today, and we can advise on the best dive itinerary to suit your requirements.
Once a volcanic crater, the Devil's Crown is now what remains of the eroded crater. The wind and waves have breached the east and west walls, leaving just the northern and southern crater edges showing above the water. Over thousands of years a coral reef has grown in the submerged center, creating one of the best snorkeling sites on the entire Galápagos.
Exposed to currents, snorkeling in the Devil's Crown isn't a sedentary experience, and the surges can be quite thrilling! The marine life you will see is unparalleled, with colorful reef fish, sharks, rays and more. If your itinerary includes a stop here, you really must get into the water as it's an experience not to be missed.
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.
The islet of Eden is the remains of a volcanic "tuff cone" - a type of volcanic feature formed when molten lava comes into contact with cold sea water with explosive results. Eden is just off the northwestern coast of Santa Cruz and is usually circumnavigated by panga.
There is an abundance of wildlife here, on land, in the air and in the water. Among other seabirds, you'll see Blue-Footed Boobies diving to catch their prey. Snorkeling from your boat, you're likely to see Galápagos green turtles, rays, and sharks in the clear, shallow waters, particularly if you are close to the mangroves on the shoreline.
There's no landing site here, but your Galapatours guide will sail you around the island, pointing out sites of interest, and letting you know the very best places to go into the water.
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.
On the eastern coast of Isabela, the wide and sheltered Elizabeth Bay is a haven for wildlife. With areas of mangrove on the shore that contrast with the surrounding lava fields, and a myriad of small islets and rocky reefs, this is a particularly rich area for wildlife.
Accessible only by panga (small motorised dinghy), exploring Elizabeth Bay will provide you with an opportunity to get up close and personal with many of Isabela's species. During your 2 hour boat ride around Elizabeth Bay you can see rays, sharks, green sea turtles, Galápagos penguins, pelicans, and plenty of Galápagos Sea Lions. Nearer to the shores and mangroves you'll see Galápagos Flightless Cormorants and marine iguanas.
Galapatours guests regularly tell us that Elizabeth Bay is one of their favourite Galápagos excursions and visitor sites.
Fernandina Island has never been colonised by any non-native species, and this makes it ones of the world's most pristine island ecosystems. Coupled with its young age (Fernandina was only formed a few hundred thousand years ago) this makes a visit to this Galápagos island very special indeed.
At Espinosa Point on the northeastern shore of Fernandina the vista is dominated by "La Cumbre", the volcano whose lava fields formed the island. A visit to Espinosa Point is high on many people's list thanks to the number of iconic unique Galápagos species you will see here. As well as the noisy and fun-loving Galápagos Sea Lions, Espinosa Point is a great place to see Marine Iguanas, the wonderful Galápagos Penguins and the unique and endangered Galápagos Flightless Cormorant. If you are very lucky and keep your eyes skyward you may also catch sight of a Galápagos Hawk circling overhead looking for its next meal.
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.
Gardner Bay is a wonderfully sheltered area on the eastern shore of Espanola Island. It boasts one of the best beaches in the Galápagos, with superb white sand. There is nowhere better on the archipelago to simply sit back, relax, and take in the marvels of the wildlife around you.
The beach here is home to a large colony of Galápagos Sea Lions, who seem to love sunbathing on the beach as much as we humans do! As well as the fun-loving Sea Lions you can also find Galápagos Mockingbirds here. These birds are full of curiosity, and have been known to come and investigate bootlaces, camera straps and other equipment!
The wonderful Galápagos Green Sea Turtle can also often be seen in the shallows here, and along with a large variety of colorful reef fish, this makes Gardner Bay a great place to swim and snorkel.
Interpretation Center Gianny Arismendi
The Gianny Arismendi Galápagos Interpretation center in San Cristóbal, Galápagos, aims to provide a complete history of the Galápagos and give visitors a more holistic understanding of these islands' unique habitats and wildlife.
There are also interesting exhibits covering the Galápagos' human history, and the conservation efforts in place to preserve the archipelago, and undo some of damage human occupation has brought.
For those who are interested in the geology of the archipelago there is a complete exhibit on the volcanic birth of the Galápagos and how this impacted on the habitats present here.
Your Galapatours expert guide will be able to answer any further questions raised by your visit to the Center and can help you to link what you will learn here to what you will see as your Galápagos journey continues.
Where does the name Gianny Arismendi come from? The Directorate of the Galápagos National Park recognized park ranger Gianni Arismendi Guerrero, one of the park rangers of San Cristóbal, for his 27 years of work dedicated to environmental education.
Isla Lobos Dive Site
One of the best spots in Galápagos to observe sea lion pups, trumpet fish and blue footed boobies.
Lobos Island is named after the colony of Galápagos Sea Lions that live here, but they aren't the only native Galápagos species that calls this narrow island home. In the water, you will find Fur Seals fishing Blue-Footed Boobies, Trumpet Fish, Green Turtles, Rays and white-tip reef sharks. With a bit of luck, you might also spot marine iguanas, although they are not hugely common here!
James Bay (named after King James of England) is a large and sheltered bay on the northwestern coast of Santiago (previously known as James Island). Charles Darwin writes about his visit to James Bay as he made landfall on Santiago here during his famous voyage on the Beagle.
This wide bay has three visitor sites, one at Espumilla Beach on the northern side of the bay, and two that are accessed from Puerto Egas on the southern side.
A popular destination for most cruises, the waters of the beaches here are good for snorkeling, and the inland sites have a good variety of bird life to explore.
Kicker Rock (or Leon Dormido, "sleeping lion", locally) is an iconic feature of Galápagos geology, and is one of the most popular photograph opportunities in the archipelago.
Kicker Rock is the remains of a volcanic "tuff cone". Tuff cones are formed when hot magma meets cold seawater, and the resulting explosion forms the rocky structure seen today. Over countless years erosion has caused a split, opening a narrow channel that small boats can sail completely through, and offering an amazing view as you sail around this 490ft tall monolith!
As you navigate around the rock you will see Galápagos Blue-Footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies, and Frigatebirds as they launch themselves from their roosts in the cliffs high above.
Marine life here is plentiful, and you may spot hammerhead sharks, green turtles and a whole variety of tropical fish, particularly if your boat includes a snorkeling stop here as some do.
La Galapaguera: "David Rodriguez Breeding Center"
Also known as Cerro Colorado, this is one of the newer visitor sites in Galápagos and was opened in 2003. Previously accessible only from the coast via a long hike, it's now possible to travel by road from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, where the trip takes about an hour.
This breeding station has an informative visitor center that allows you to learn about the origins and evolution of the Galápagos Giant Tortoises, and about the steps being taken to preserve the species from threats such as habitat destruction and introduced species.
In the center you will see baby hatchlings and young tortoises. After they reach 4 months old they are taken out to be released into the natural habitat in the area. There is a short hiking trail where you may be able to spot giant tortoises in the wild.
On the western coast of Floreana, La Loberia is a delightful beach that locals and visitors alike come to for it's lovely ambiance. Along the shore are over half a mile of paths through the National Park, some over the rocks and some on the sandy beaches.
The main attraction at La Loberia is the bustling colony of Galápagos Sea Lions who live here. As well as these noisy and fun creatures you will often see Galápagos Marine Iguanas on the rocky water line, and from height you'll probably spot Galápagos Green Turtles swimming in the rocky bays that are all along this coast.
Las Tintoreras are a group of small islets just a few hundred metres from the shores at Villamil, only accessible by kayak or panga. The network of Tintoreras forms a patchwork over the stunning turquoise waters of the bay, and this natural shelter is a haven for wildlife.
At low tides, one shallow lagoon is famous for offering amazing views of sharks swimming near the surface - the water clarity is such that they often look like they are floating in air! Other species that call Las Tintoreras home include Galápagos marine iguanas and friendly (and noisy) Galápagos Sea Lions.
Depending on tide conditions and time of year, it may be possible to snorkel here. If this is important to you, speak to one of our Galápagos experts who can advise you on the best itineraries to choose to meet your requirements.
Lobos Island is named after the colony of Galápagos Sea Lions that live here, but they aren't the only native Galápagos species that calls this narrow island home. You can see Galápagos Fur Seals basking here, and there is a nesting colony of Blue-Footed Boobies that come to Lobos each year to raise their chicks.
There are one or two short hiking trails that lead into the center of the island, and this is always a peaceful place to visit. Galapatours visitors tell us it's one of their favorite visitor sites to just sit and soak up the Galápagos atmosphere.
Back on the beach, the swimming and snorkeling is wonderful, and thanks to the island's position close to the main shore of San Cristobal, the channel between them is sheltered and the turquoise water is crystal clear. This is a Galapatours favorite spot, so speak to one of our Galápagos specialists if you want help choosing an itinerary that includes a visit to this special place.
Main Darwin Island
Darwin Island (originally named Culpepper Island) was renamed in honor of the famous naturalist. It is considered by many to be one of the best underwater habitats anywhere on earth.
Darwin is the most northerly island in the Galápagos, and is over 100 miles northwest of Isabela. Together with its neighbour Wolf Island, it is the most remote part of the archipelago.
Renowned for the large schools of hammerhead sharks that gather here (for reasons scientists still don't fully understand), Darwin and Wolf are tips of huge long-extinct undersea volcanoes that grew up over half a mile from the seafloor below.
You will enjoy spectacular diving here, and among the species you are likely to encounter are hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, rays, green turtles, and a myriad of tropical reef fish. If you have any particular species that you are keen to see on your dive, contact one of our Galápagos experts today and we can advise on the best dive itinerary to suit your requirements.
Mangle Point (known as Punta Mangle locally) is one of the newer visitor sites that have been authorized by the Galápagos National Park, and this one is excellent for snorkeling.
Mangle Point is on the eastern side of Fernandina and is a natural inlet which forms a sheltered area that's filled with wildlife, both under the water and on the coast. There's no landing here, and you will be snorkeling direct from your boat.
Among the species that you are likely to see are Galápagos rays, sea lions, green turtles, and sharks. As you drift along by the mangroves you can also see flightless cormorants, pelicans, Darwin's Finches, and many more species that your Galapatours expert guide will identify to you.
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.
Mosquera Islet, like may similar islets in the Galápagos, was formed by a volcanic uprising. Over the centuries it also attracted corals, and along with the rocks that form the islet this helped to capture the sand from the currents that flow between Baltra Island and North Seymour Island.
Mosquera is home to one of the largest populations of Galápagos Sea Lions on the archipelago, and you will be able to watch their playful antics and admire their sense of relaxation as they sunbathe on the beach.
There have been occasional sightings of Orca (Killer Whales) in the waters off Mosquera Island, probably attracted by the large number of Galápagos Sea Lions on which they prey.
Pitt Point, or Punta Pitt, is at the far eastern edge of San Cristobal. Following a wet landing directly onto the beach you'll be welcomed by the friendly and noisy barking of the local colony of Galápagos Sea Lions! This is actually a bachelor colony of males who haven't held a breeding territory, and they can sometimes be the worse for wear if they have been fighting on one of the breeding beaches elsewhere.
After the noise of the beach, a quieter path takes us up the cliffs to a breeding site used by all 3 resident species of booby - the Blue-Footed, Red-Footed and Nazca Boobies. Nowhere else in the Galápagos do all three species nest side-by-side like this.
As well as this unique booby colony you can also see Galápagos Frigatebirds and petrels. In addition to the wonderful bird life, the view down to the beach and across the island from this high vantage point make the climb worth it.
The hiking trail lets you get a close look at the Saltbush and other tough shrubs that manage to survive in this sometimes eerie volcanic landscape. Your Galapatours guide will be able to explain in detail how hardy plants such as these colonise the lava fields all over the Galápagos.
Post Office Bay
Floreana, like several of the Galápagos Islands, has a history of whaling. During voyages of many months, whaling ships would call here to replenish stocks of food and water, and the sailors were often keen to send news to loved ones that they were still safe. A tradition grew up here where sailors would leave a letter addressed home, hopeful that a ship heading back to port would pick it up and deliver it for them. This tradition of leaving letters and cards, and picking up others addressed to your home port meant that the location of this letter drop became known as "Post Office Bay".
Decades later, the unofficial Floreana post office is still very active - why not leave a card of your own, or see if you could take one back to your home town for someone else?! As well as this charming tradition, Post Office Bay boasts a pleasant beach, and there is a short hiking trail down to a cave, which is actually a lava tube that runs down to the sea.
You will also have the opportunity to take a Panga through some of the nearby coves and mangroves from which you could see sharks, rays, and sea lions swimming around you.
Prince Philip's Steps
Named after Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, who visited the Galápagos Islands twice, the Prince Philip's Steps pier uses natural rock formations to allow you to land and admire the variety of seabirds that inhabit Genovesa. With careful steps on the wet and slippery lower rocks, you begin your hike near a small colony of Galápagos sea bears before reaching the beautiful vantage point further up with views of the lava plains.
The birdlife will surround you from all sides and you will enjoy the sight and sounds of many wonderful species, including blue-footed boobies, red-footed boobies and Nazca boobies, but also small Galápagos owls and Galápagos pigeons.
The bustling town in Puerto Ayora is central to almost everything in Galápagos. Although it is the biggest town on the Galápagos Islands it not its capital (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno in San Crístobal is). Here, you will find local merchants loading and unloading their ship, you can catch a water-taxi ride to Playa Alemanes / Las Grietas and the beautiful hotels Angermeyer Waterfront Inn and Finch Bay! Also, it is the meeting point for a few cruises that start from here.
You be almost certain that you find a few sea lions relaxing on the benches of the pier, which are actually though for tourists to sit on. But, as you will learn in Galápagos, sea lions don't give much about these rules.
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno
The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno was founded in the mid-1800s and is the oldest settlement in the Galápagos, as well as being the capital city of the Province. It's the second-largest population centre in the islands.
This pleasant town is home to over 6,000 residents and has two main streets, including Malecón Charles Darwin along the waterfront where there are restaurants, souvenir shops, and hotels. Its main sources of revenue are from fishing and from tourism.
The small town beach is reserved just for the local population of Galápagos Sea Lions, which the locals seem to treat almost as equal citizens! You can often see them lounging on benches by the waterfront or lying on the decks of boats.
Further along the coast to the north are public beaches for the human residents and visitors, and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is gaining a reputation as a South American "surfing hotspot", with Tongo Reef to the west of town being a particularly popular surf location.
This small, pretty beach is across the other side of the island from the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, and it can be accessed by a walking trail from the road that runs past La Galapaguera at Cerro Colorado.
With its white sand and turquoise water, Puerto Chino is a wonderful place to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Pacific Ocean. It's good to swim and snorkel here, and if you do, you may see Galápagos green turtles and stingrays. Sea Lions also sometimes bask on the rocks beside the beach, and you can often see Blue-Footed Boobies.
Here at Galapatours, this is one of our favorite spots as it's out of the way and takes a little effort to get to - but that effort is rewarded with a wonderful location, perfect for a relaxing sunbathe or snorkeling adventure.
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.
Marchena is the largest of the northern Galápagos Islands, but with no land-based visitor sites it is rarely seen by anyone - even scientists and National Park Wardens are very infrequent visitors.
The main attraction here is the snorkeling off Marchena's coast. The deep, clear waters and calmer seas here make exploring this undersea world a magical experience.
There is a huge variety of tropical fish at Punta Mejia, and when you go into the water accompanied by your Galapatours expert guide you are also likely to see rays, a variety of sharks, and green sea turtles to name but a few.
Suarez Point is on the western tip of Espanola and is one of the most wildlife-packed of all the visitor sites in the Galápagos. After a wet landing on a beach that's frequented by Galápagos Sea Lions you can enjoy a 2 mile hike along a trail that will take you up around the cliffs.
The range of wildlife on show here is simply stunning. This is a great place to view the remarkable Galápagos Blue-Footed Booby as well as their cousins the Nazca Booby. You can also see the rare Waved Albatross at Suarez Point, where they use the cliff tops to launch themselves into the air over the ocean.
Another famous natural feature here is the blowhole. This geological formation funnels the incoming waves into a chamber where it gets compressed and then the air and seawater are forced out at great speed, making a spectacular plume of water shoot high into the air.
Sullivan Bay is on the eastern coast of Santiago Island. This visitor site is all about the geology and volcanic origins of the Galápagos, and although there is little wildlife here, the eerie landscape that was formed only 150 years ago has a real beauty all of its own.
On the hiking trail you will walk along lava that bubbled up from the ground, flowed and solidified in the second half of the 18th century. We recommend good sturdy shoes for walking in these lava fields. The landscape here is eerie and apparently barren - some of our Galapatours guests liken it to a "lunar landscape".
As the trail moves inland, the textures and colors change as you encounter much older lava fields. Here you can start to see signs of nature beginning to colonize this "new land". The small green plants that have started to grow in the cracks and crevices are called Mollugo.
Your Galapatours expert guide will be able to explain more about the volcanic processes that formed Santiago and all the Galápagos Islands, as well as how species begin to colonize the bare landscape.
Tagus Cove is a sheltered deep-water bay on the western coast of Isabela Island, overlooking Fernandina Island. This natural anchorage has been a popular destination for ships since the 1800s, and when you come ashore you can see ancient graffiti left by whalers and buccaneers.
A steep (but thankfully short) hiking trail then takes you up to the salt water Darwin Lake, formed inside a volcanic cone. How did salt water get all the way up here? Scientists think tsunamis caused by eruptions or landslides on Fernandina may have deposited seawater originally, and then evaporation has made it even more salty over time.
From Darwin Lake, a series of 160 steps takes you to a stunning viewpoint where you will not only enjoy amazing views over the Galápagos, but may also see some unique wildlife, such as Galápagos Hawks, Vermilion Flycatchers, and species of Darwin's Finches.
Your panga ride along the shoreline back to your ship gives a great opportunity to see Galápagos Flightless Cormorants, Galápagos Penguins, Galápagos Martins, and the friendly Galápagos Sea Lions.
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.
Translated, this is "Frigatebird Hill", and it's well named! This is a place where both endemic species of frigatebird, the Great Frigatebird and the Magnificent Frigatebird, share a colony.
The hill itself offers a wonderful view of Wreck Bay to the south and to Kicker Rock to the west, but it also provides the perfect opportunity for your Galapatours guide to tell you more about the two species of frigatebird to be found in Galápagos, and how you can tell them apart. There's also a range of native plant species here.
The beach at the bottom of the hill is a nice place to relax, and the waters here are safe for swimming and snorkeling - perfect for cooling off after your climb!
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.
Transfer to Baltra airport
Your Galápagos adventure ends with the arrival of your ship back at Baltra Island. After what many guests describe as an emotional goodbye to your ship and its crew, you'll board the transfer vehicle that will take you on the short journey to the airport in plenty of time for your flight back to the mainland.
Baltra airport serves both Guayaquil or Quito, and we can arrange flights that fit best with your onward plans - particularly if you are continuing a South America tour. Speak to one of our travel experts as we are often able to beat even internet pricing on flights to and from Galápagos.
Note: If you plan to spend a few days in Galápagos after your cruise this is no problem at all. Just let us know and we will arrange for the logistics. The transfer from Baltra to Puerto Ayora, for example, is very easy.
Urbina Bay is one of the youngest features in the Galápagos. It was mainly formed in 1954, when a sudden uplift of the land raised the seabed by over 5 metres, and pushed the coastline over 1 km further away. This has resulted in the astonishing site of heads of coral stranded far from the water. Exposed to the air and elements, the coral heads are rapidly deteriorating and are one of the sights of the Galápagos that won't be around for much longer.
Once ashore, a long hiking trail will take you away from the beach and into the island's arid zone. In this habitat, you are likely to see wild Galápagos Giant Tortoises and Galápagos Land Iguanas. As the trail circles back towards the shore line you'll come across colonies of the unique Galápagos Flightless Cormorant.
This is a pleasant area for snorkeling, and as you enter and leave the water you might do so watched by some Galápagos Penguins, who have a colony nearby. This is also one of the best sites to see Galápagos Marine Iguanas feeding underwater.
Vicente Rock Point
Galapatours clients regularly rate Vicente Rock Point as one of the best snorkeling and SCUBA diving sites in Galápagos, or perhaps even in the world! There is no landing here, and snorkeling is done directly from the boats. The scenery around the Point is stunning - the remains of two ancient volcanoes made this formation, and the cliffs and caves around the bay provide an amazing backdrop.
The bay is well sheltered from ocean swells, making it ideal for snorkelers of any experience. The cold-water currents bring a rich stock of food to these waters, and the bay around Vicente Rock Point is often home to feeding frenzies, with groups of whales, dolphins, Galápagos Sea Lions, tuna, Blue-footed Boobies and other marine birds all feeding together, making for spectacular sights.
Many boats also take visitors on a panga ride along the shore, offering the chance to explore some of the caves and to encounter some of the other species such as Galápagos Flightless Cormorants and a small colony of Galápagos Fur Seals.
The brilliant white coral sand beach at Witch Hill ("Brujo Hill") is, in our opinion, one of the very best in the Galápagos. The hill itself is the remains of a volcanic "tuff cone" - one made up of compacted volcanic ash and debris. This was one of the first sites where Charles Darwin made landfall on his famous journey here on HMS Beagle.
This is a wonderful place to see many Galápagos species, both in the sea and on the land and in the air. Among the creatures you are likely to see on a visit to Brujo Hill are Galápagos Sea Lions, marine iguanas, pelicans, and Galápagos Blue-Footed Boobies. It's possible to walk right along the beach at a leisurely pace, taking in everything around you.
We really recommend you snorkel here, and if you do you'll be rewarded with likely sightings of Galápagos rays, green sea turtles, sponge coral and a wide range of beautiful fish. If you aren't a swimmer, then a panga ride will still let you see plenty of wildlife thanks to the crystal clear waters off this stunning beach.