The stunning scarlet bird of the Galápagos
Information about Vermilion Flycatcher
A highlight for bird spotters from around the world, the Galápagos Vermilion Flycatcher is a stunning bird that is instantly recognisable. There are actually two species resident in Galápagos, Darwin’s Vermilion Flycatcher, which can be found on several islands, and the San Cristobal Flycatcher, which only lives on the Galápagos Island that gives its name.
The Vermilion Flycatchers on Galápagos have been the subject of some controversy, as there have been scientific arguments as to whether they are actually separate species or merely subspecies of other Vermilion Flycatchers found in South America. Currently, the argument is being won by scientists who think the Galápagos Vermilion Flycatchers are their own distinct species.
These quick and agile little birds are very appropriately named - the males have a brilliant red breast and head, with a distinctive black “mask” and black upper body feathers. The females are rather more subtle, with brown upper body and yellow underparts.
Vermilion Flycatchers tend to perch and wait for their prey to come by before a quick darting flight to catch them. They eat flying insects and beetles and usually prefer to catch them in flight rather than on the ground. In the Galápagos, the bright red flash of the males catching prey is a wonderful sight, and photographing a Vermilion Flycatcher is one of the “must have” shots for a bird watching trip.
The best time to spot the Vermilion Flycatcher in the Galápagos is during the breeding season, which runs from December to May when insect populations are at their peak. Populations have been declining recently, mainly due to changes of land use by human activity on the inhabited islands, but also because of some introduced species, including a parasitic fly. Here at Galapatours our expert naturalist guides will ensure that you visit a wide variety of habitats on your land excursions, including the Scalesia forests favored by these stunning little birds.
Interesting facts about Vermilion Flycatcher
Female Vermilion Flycatchers are completely different, with grey-brown heads, backs and wings, a blackish tail, and a white throat
You can often see Vermilion Flycatchers perching and bobbing their tails up and down
Male Vermilion Flycatchers sing a musical song to impress potential mates
Both male and female Vermilion Flycatchers help to feed their young
Pictures of Vermilion Flycatcher
Highlights where the Vermilion Flycatcher can be seen
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.
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 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.
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.
El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve
The inland areas of Santa Cruz provide fantastic opportunities to get close to wild Galápagos giant tortoises. These wonderful creatures can be seen roaming around in the agricultural fields, and also in the famous El Chato Tortoise Reserve, where the native vegetation is preserved.
The trail to the Reserve begins at Santa Rosa, about an hour's drive from Puerto Ayora, and during the dry season this is a haven for Giant Tortoises as they migrate from coastal to highland areas, and you can observe the natural behaviours of these truly wild animals.
There is a pond at El Chato that is often surrounded by tortoises, and sometimes even filled with them as they enjoy wallowing in the cool water. Surrounding the ponds are hundreds of acres of natural highland pasture and native Scalesia forest where you may encounter owls, Darwin’s finches, Vermilion Flycatchers, and Galápagos Rails.
For many Galapatours guests the highlight of their trip is following our expert guide into the ancient forest and then hearing heavy footsteps and crunching noises ahead, finally rounding a corner to see a truly wild Galápagos Giant tortoise doing what they have done for millennia before humans came to Galápagos.
Sierra Negra Volcano
Sierra Negra is renowned as the most impressive volcano in the Galápagos. The crater is over 6 miles across and is the second largest in the world.
However, to visit the volcano is quite a logistical effort. The only way to get there is to start with a 45 minute drive from Villamil to a trailhead from where you can follow another 2 hours of trails up to and along part of the rim.
There's also the option to walk on quite recent lava flows, as the so-called parasitic cone of Volcan Chico last erupted in 1979 leaving large flows to cool to rock.
Your expert Galapatours guide will explain in detail about the geological processes that shaped not only this part of Isabela, but of the whole Galápagos.
Los Gemelos (or the Twin Craters) are not, in fact, craters - although no less impressive for it! These two large pits were actually caused by the collapse of empty magma chambers after a volcanic uprising. They are easy to access from the Puerto Ayora to Baltra road.
There is a lovely walking trail here that leads up to and then around the rim of both craters. The hike takes you through the wonderful Scalesia Forest, which is full of bird life. It's likely you will see Galápagos Doves, Darwin's Finches, the stunning Vermilion Flycatcher, as well as short-eared owls and many other species.
As you climb up to the rim of the craters you are rewarded with a breathtaking view over the Scalesia canopy, it's lush green a real contrast to the arid vegetation on much of the other Galápagos Islands you can visit.
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.
Hacienda Primicias Tortoise Reserve
After lunch, you continue your hike to another nearby reserve at Rancho Primicias. There is a visitor centre at Hacienda Primicias, and from here you can walk through the reserve and see Galápagos giant tortoises in a natural habitat showing their natural behaviours.
The tortoises often congregate in this area on their permanent migrations between coast and highlands, and they seem to particularly enjoy wallowing in the shallow ponds in the area - one of the reasons they come here again and again.
During your hike through the reserve you will also encounter many other species, include those found nowhere else but Galápagos. It's common to spot Darwin's Finches and Galápagos Mockingbirds as well as the stunning Vermilion Flycatcher.
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 1km 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 undewater.
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.
Puerto Velasco Ibarra
Floreana was the first Galápagos Island to be colonized by Ecuadorians in 1832, and was used initially as a penal colony. Today, the tiny hamlet of Puerto Velasco Ibarra is home to two thirds of the island’s approximately 100 permanent residents.
This little village houses the island's only hotel, the Pension Wittmer, still run by the members of the first family to live in Galápagos, which is also where Floreana’s only telephone can be found!
There is a recently built church, and one small school here. There are no restaurants or bars or other trappings of tourist life, but you have the opportunity to be driven into the highlands through the Scalesia forest in an open-sided bus the locals call a chiva. This ride takes you through various smallholdings to a freshwater spring at Asilo de la Paz where you can visit a tortoise sanctuary.
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.
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.
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.
Santa Cruz Highlands
Santa Cruz is the only island on the Galápagos that allows you to travel through every habitat type that exists in the archipelago. This makes the journey north from the coast up into the highlands a fantastic opportunity to experience the breadth of life that exists on these islands.
Your bus journey starts from Puerto Ayora on the coast and you slowly start to climb through the agricultural zone where open fields begin to give way to lush, green, mist-covered forests. This is a marked contrast to many of the islands which are at much lower elevation and much more arid. This rich verdant landscape is predominantly made up of dense Scalesia forest.
Your expert Galapatours guide will stop several times along the route to allow you to explore various different sites. Among the stops will be a Giant Tortoise reserve, and also a visit to the famous lava tubes. Over half a mile long, a walk through these natural volcanic features is eerie and unforgettable.
Also along the way you will stop for refreshments, and you'll be able to try locally-grown Galápagos coffee - we think it's among the best we've ever tasted!
El Junco Lagoon
El Junco Lagoon is one of the very few permanent sources of fresh water in the whole Galápagos. It avoids evaporation thanks to its elevation - some 2,300ft above sea level in the moist highlands of San Cristobal. The journey to visit is via a 45 minute bus ride from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The name comes from the many sage or "junco" plants that can be found around the lagoon. El Junco covers some 72,000 square yards and holds over 7 1/2 million gallons of fresh water.
The lagoon formed because this is the site of a collapsed cone of a long-extinct volcano. The source of water here is purely rain, and so the depth of the lake varies throughout the year, but it has never dried out in living memory. In fact scientists think the lagoon may have stayed filled since the end of the last ice age.
On your way to the lagoon itself you'll climb up through several different vegetation zones before you reach this wonderful viewpoint. As well as a superb place to drink in the wonderful landscape, it's also a great place to observe a wide variety of bird species, including rare mockingbirds, pintail ducks and even frigatebirds, who come here to bathe their feathers in the fresh water. Surrounding the lagoon are tree ferns and Miconia bushes.
Our trips to spot the Vermilion Flycatcher