The world's most northerly penguin species
What you need to know about the Galapagos Penguin
One of the most famous inhabitants of the archipelago, the Galápagos Penguins are also record-holders. Not only are they one of the world’s smallest penguin species, they are also the most northerly penguin species. In fact the colony on the northern tip of Isabela Island are technically in the northern hemisphere!
The Galápagos penguin is most closely related to the African and Humboldt penguins which are burrowers. Because there’s no soft peat soil to dig on the archipelago shores, the Galápagos Penguins nest in crevices and caves found among the coastal lava fields.
Penguins are of course unmistakable on land with their stout little bodies and purposeful, waddling walk. However under the water they are superb swimmers, their streamlined torpedo shape enabling them to swim at speeds over 20mph on their hunt for anchovies, sardines and mullet that thrive in the rich, cold waters that surround the Galápagos.
Galapatours cruises that take in Bartolome, Fernandina and Isabela Islands will allow you to see these charming creatures as they are most concentrated in these areas, but they are not common elsewhere in the Galápagos. If you go snorkelling close to Pinnacle Rock you will often be joined by penguins curious to see what you are doing! If this is an experience you would love to have, talk to one of our Galápagos experts who will recommend the right cruise for you.
The restricted population and isolation of the Galápagos Penguin means that they are vulnerable to habitat and climate changes, and in particular the weather events known as El Niño can devastate their populations. Because of this the species is officially listed as “endangered”.
In recent years the National Park authorities have been working hard to monitor the Penguin populations and to preserve their nesting and feeding grounds.
Galapagos Penguin: Interesting facts
The Galápagos Penguins on the northern tip of Isabela technically live in the Northern Hemisphere!
The Galápagos Penguin has the smallest population of any penguin species
Galápagos penguins mate for life, and have strong pair bonds
Galápagos Penguins can overheat quickly, so they seek out shade and stand and pant to keep cool
Galapagos Penguin: Pictures from our travelers
Spots where the Galapagos Penguin can be observed
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Located on the eastern tip of Marchena Island, Punta Espejo is known for pelagics and dolphin encounters. Other common species that you'll be able to encounter on a dive session in Espejo point are hammerheads, turtles, rays and moray eels.
THe maximum depth is 24 meters with visibility ranging from 9 – 18 meters (30 – 60 feet). Current comes from the Southeast and are moderate to strong. Heavy surge with large swells can be encountered and diving near the coast is to be avoided.
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.
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.
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 Diving Point
Mosquera, like may similar islets in the Galápagos, was formed by a volcanic uprising. The islet Mosquera that emerges from the sea between Seymour and Baltra island. A sandy bottom at 15-18 meters is scattered with curious garden eels and pelagic species as well as an underwater wall flowing downwards from the shallows into the deep. Keep an eye out for hammer head sharks and the garden eels that pop their heads out of the ground and disappear down their burrow as you approach! Also found in the area are black tip and white tip reef sharks, sea lions, turtles, barracudas, sting rays, eagle rays, mobula rays, Galápagos eels and a variety of reef fish and invertebrates.
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.
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 Islet has a depth range between 6 – 27 meters (20 – 90 feet). Visibility averages 12 – 15 meters (40 – 50 feet). Surge and current is usually moderate to strong.
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.
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.
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.
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.