Galapagos Lava Heron
Perfectly camouflaged to hunt among the lava rocks
What you need to know about the Galapagos Lava Heron
The delightful Lava Heron is a close relative of the Great Blue Heron and is found exclusively in the Galápagos. It was initially thought that the Lava Heron was a completely different species and further study is still underway to find out more about this native bird.
These birds may be difficult to spot as the adult herons have uniform grey feathers. Although giving them a drab appearance to our eyes this coloring means they become camouflaged against the lava rocks where they live and hunt. These beautiful but small birds have a prominent short crest on their heads, a distinctive black beak, and grey legs which change to an intense orange color during the breeding season.
The Lava Heron feeds mainly on small fish, crabs, lizards, and insects. They can be seen feeding along the islands’ protected shorelines. On one of our Galápagos cruises, you will watch in amazement at the quick speed these birds use to catch crabs and fish - spearing them first before devouring them.
The Lava Heron is seen as a solitary bird, and they can become very territorial over their nests. These are often found on lava rocks or branches of mangrove trees. They generally breed between September and March and can lay eggs up to three times a year. However, your Galapatours naturalist guide should be able to point out these enchanting birds during your Galápagos cruise as they nest all year round.
Galapagos Lava Heron: Interesting facts
When fishing, Lava Herons may jump or dive to ensure a catch
Often seen fishing in mangrove lagoons during panga rides
The sometimes prey on Sally Lighfoot crabs
Their grey feathers give them good camouflage
Galapagos Lava Heron: Pictures from our travelers
Spots where the Galapagos Lava Heron 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.
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 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 Santa Fe
Santa Fe is a small, flat island right in the center of the Galápagos archipelago, and is thought to be one of the oldest volcanoes here. Dating of the rocks below the water estimates they were formed almost 4 million years ago.
Santa Fe had it's own breed of Giant Tortoise that became extinct at some point in the 1800s due to being hunted for meat. There are two species that are unique to the island still present here - the Santa Fe Land Iguana, and the Santa Fe Rice Rat.
There is one visitor site on Santa Fe, and you will have a panga ride to a wet landing on the beach at Barrington Bay on the island's north coast. From here there are two hiking trails. One is a short loop close to the beach that takes you into an Opuntia forest filled with these massive cactus. This is the best opportunity to see the Santa Fe land iguanas and also other species such as Galápagos Hawks.
The second trail is a tougher proposition as it climbs quite steeply to the top of a cliff from where you will enjoy stunning views over the island's unspoilt interior.
Back on the beach you can join the Galápagos Sea Lions who often play in the waves and you can enjoy some wonderful snorkeling in the clear blue-green waters here.
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.
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.
Cape (or Cabo) Marshall is a good wall dive on the northeastern coast of Isabela. Depths here can be as much as 130ft and the visibility is anywhere from 20 to 70ft depending on the time of year.
Because of the geography of the site the current here is always moderate to heavy, and this is always done as a drift dive following the coast. There's little surge here, though and you'll have a mix of wall and reef diving.
Cape Marshall is a great location for giant manta rays and a wide variety of pelagic fish, and hammerhead sharks are a common sight. Galapatours visitors have also reported encounters with large schools of barracuda and sea lions who come along to join in with your dive!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.