The Best Galapagos Islands to Visit!

Looking to discover and explore the Galapagos, but having trouble figuring out which islands to visit in particular? First things first: the Galapagos archipelago is pretty big, consisting of 7,880 square kilometers (3,040 square miles) of land (similar to the state of Mississippi or the country of Greece) spread out over 45,000 square kilometres (17,000 square miles) of ocean. In total, the archipelago is made up of 21 islands, 14 islands of which are visitable. It makes perfect sense that one might find it daunting at first to have so much land to cover, but that’s what we’re to help you out with in this blog.

It’s worth remembering that the islands and, consequently, Galapagos itineraries, are divided by region (Northern, Southern, Western, and Eastern Galapagos, depending on your vessel). Each region and itinerary is arranged into a specific number of days/nights (none which falls under the recommended minimum number of 5 days for properly experiencing the Galapagos). The only recurring island you’ll find on each itinerary is the island of Santa Cruz – home to the largest population of inhabitants (known as galapaguenos) in the archipelago. Otherwise, each itinerary offers its own distinct set of beautiful islands, all of which are definitely worth a visit. In order to help better plan your trip, we invite you to have a look at this blog that details the spectacular highlights offered by each Galapagos Island, allowing you to choose your itinerary accordingly.

Top 3* Must-see Galapagos Islands: Highlights

*As consistently rated by our Galapagos Experts, Expedition Leaders, Guests and Guides.

#1: Española

Española Island

Española Island

Size: 60 km2 (23 mi2)
Altitude: 206 m (676 ft)
Coordinates: -1.355524, -89.663035
Estimated Age: 4 million years old. Española is the oldest island still in existence.
British Name: Hood
Visitor Sites: Punta Suarez and Gardner Bay

Highlights:

  • Overwhelming diversity of wildlife
  • Amazing coastline consisting of dramatic cliffs
  • Largest nesting colony of blue-footed boobies
  • Only island with a colony of Galapagos albatrosses
  • Ocean “blowhole” geological formation
  • 7 out of 15 Galapagos BIG15 wildlife: Galapagos albatross (Española is the only island where you can see them!), Galapagos sea lion, Nazca booby, blue-footed booby, frigatebird (great and magnificent), Galapagos Hawk, marine iguana
Consider this the Grand Central Station of wildlife in the Galapagos. Located in the southern region of the archipelago, Española is an immensely popular destination due to the sheer variety and number of creatures that it is home to. Atop its pretty flat and dry terrain, you’ll find the island teeming with a wide amount of iconic species.

Fun Fact: Española was the first island observed by Charles Darwin during his epic voyage on board the HMS Beagle in 1835, although he never landed on it.

Española Island is exclusive to our Eastern Galapagos itinerary  (Santa Cruz II Galapagos Cruise), Southern Galapagos itinerary (Yacht Isabela II), and Eastern Galapagos itinerary  (Yacht La Pinta).

#2: Fernandina

Fernandina Island

Fernandina Island

Size: 642 km2 (248 mi2)
Altitude: 1,476 metres (4,842 feet)
Coordinates: -0.280570, -91.438135
Estimated Age: Geologists estimate between 80,000 – 800,000 years old. Fernandina is the youngest of all the islands.
British Name: Narborough
Visitor Site: Punta Espinosa

Highlights:

  • Youngest island (in geological terms)
  • Surreal, volcanic landscape
  • Occasional volcanic activity
  • 7 out of 15 Galapagos BIG15 wildlife: Flightless cormorant, marine iguana, Galapagos penguin, sea lion, blue-footed booby, Galapagos sea lion, Galapagos fur seal, (great and magnificent), and Galapagos land iguanas (seldom seen in lower elevations)
This relatively fresh piece of Earth is a volcanic canvas of recent lava flows that have painted its terrain with abstract strokes and swirls of black, igneous rock. Sprinkled across this surreal landscape are clusters of semi-colourful lava cacti surrounded by what appear to be pieces of rock… with tails and feet.

Step closer, and you’ll find that tens, maybe hundreds, of marine iguanas are present.

Pinning almost the exact centre of the island is La Cumbre – a shield volcano made almost entirely out of fluid lava flows. This active behemoth stands at about 1,475 meters (4,842 feet) and dominates all other nearby volcanoes by being the most active volcano in the whole archipelago

Fernandina Island is exclusive to our Western Galapagos (Santa Cruz II Galapagos Cruise), Northern Galapagos (Yacht Isabela II), and Western Galapagos (Yacht La Pinta) itineraries.

#3: Genovesa

Genovesa Island

Genovesa Island

Size: 14 km2 (8.5 mi2)
Altitude: 64 m (209 ft)
Coordinates: 0.316142, -89.962869
Estimated Age: 2 million years old
British Name: Tower
Visitor Sites: Darwin Bay, Prince Philip’s Steps

Highlights:

  • Relatively young lava flows on the flanks of the volcano
  • Reputation as “Bird Island” for the large and varied bird colonies that nest here
  • 6 out of 15 Galapagos BIG15 wildlife: Galapagos sea lions, Galapagos fur seals, Nazca boobies, frigatebirds (great), red-footed booby, marine iguana
“A world a million miles away from our own.” Genovesa is one of the few islands in the northern region of the archipelago that can be visited, and not all boats in the Galapagos usually go here. The boats that do go (such as ours!) offer their guests an outstanding experience when it comes to the vast array of birds present as well as the otherwordly scenery at hand. Genovesa is the only sunken crater in the whole archipelago that ships can sail into and anchor in.

Genovesa Island is exclusive to our: Northern Galapagos itinerary (for the Santa Cruz II Galapagos Cruise), Northern Galapagos itinerary (for Yacht Isabela II), and Northern Galapagos itinerary (for Yacht La Pinta).

Best Galapagos Islands Runner-ups
(in no particular order)

North Seymour

North Seymour Island

North Seymour Island

Size: 1.9km2 (0.73 mi2)
Altitude: 28 metres (92 ft)
Coordinates: -0.397352, -90.285394
Estimated Age: 1.3 million years old
British Name: North Seymour Island
Visitor Sites: Trail through colonies of frigatebirds and blue-footed boobies

Highlights:

  • Large colonies of frigatebirds and blue-footed boobies
  • Nesting rituals depending on the time of the year
  • 7 out of 15 Galapagos BIG15 wildlife: land iguanas, marine iguanas, frigatebirds (great and magnificent), Galapagos sea lions, Galapagos fur seals, blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies
Small but packed with surprises! This is how North Seymour is best described. On this island, you’ll follow the trail through the nesting areas of frigatebirds (great and magnificent). Additionally, you’ll get a glimpse of the comings and goings of blue-footed boobies at one of the largest colonies you’ll get a chance to see during your trip. Everywhere you look, wildlife will be roaming around you. Talk about feeling the energy of the archipelago! North Seymour was formed by an underwater uplift, and not from volcanic activity.

You can visit this island on our: Eastern Galapagos itinerary aboard the Santa Cruz II, Western Galapagos itinerary aboard Yacht La Pinta, Central Galapagos itinerary aboard Yacht Isabela II.

South Plaza

South Plaza Island

South Plaza Island

Size: 130 m2 (.08 mi2)
Altitude: 23 m (75 ft)
Coordinates: -0.584264, -90.160794
Estimated Age: 1-2 million years
British Name: N/A

Highlights:

  • Much of the island is the result of pillow lava (lava flowing and cooling under the surface of the sea)
  • Despite its size, it is home to many species and an extraordinary array of fauna
  • Home to one of the largest colonies of Galapagos sea lions in the entire archipelago
  • Large colony of land iguanas
  • 6 out of 15 Galapagos BIG15 wildlife: Galapagos sea lion, land iguana, marine iguana, frigatebird (great and magnificent), blue-footed booby, Nazca booby
Resting next to Santa Cruz like two discarded fangs of earth, North and South Plaza might be rather small islets but they still pack several treats. The northern half isn’t open to visitors, but the southern island offers a great little trail. You’ll arrive at the northern shore of South Plaza, which mainly consists of white rocks that have been polished by oily sea lions that have travelled up and down this portion of the island.

The trail on South Plaza will take you through a majestic array of fauna (that includes a decent number of opuntia cacti) up towards the biggest highlight – the bachelor sea lion colony. South Plaza was formed by an uplift of the sea floor.

You can visit this island on our: Eastern Galapagos itinerary aboard the Santa Cruz II, Eastern Galapagos itinerary aboard Yacht La Pinta, and Central Galapagos itinerary aboard Yacht Isabela II.

Isabela

Isabela Island

Isabela Island

Size: 4,588 km2 (2,850 mi2)
Altitude: 1,707 m (5,600 ft)
Percent of island populated: 0.78%
Population: 3,568
Coordinates: -0.944888, -90.966880
Estimated Age: Approximately 1 million years old
British Name: Albemarle
Visitor Sites: Punta Vicente Roca, Urbina Bay, Tagus Cove, Punta Moreno, Elizabeth Bay, Sierra Negra*, Wall of Tears*, Tintoreras*, Puerto Villamil*

*Only available on island-to-island hopping programs

Highlights:

  • Largest island in the archipelago
  • Occasional volcanic activity
  • 11 out of 15 Galapagos BIG15 wildlife: Blue-footed booby, marine iguana, Galapagos fur seal, Galapagos sea lion, Nazca booby, Galapagos penguin, flightless cormorant, land iguana, Galapagos hawk, frigatebirds (great and magnificent), Galapagos giant tortoise
Isabela Island is the biggest island in the whole archipelago and is home to one of the smallest towns in the Galapagos and one of the biggest craters in the whole world. Whether it’s this peculiar pattern of superlatives that adds to its enigmatic charm or the melancholic bit of history that emanates from the Wall of Tears, Isabela Island captivates visitors in ways that go beyond all things tangible. The island itself is the culmination of 6 shield volcanoes that have merged into one another, these are: Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra and Wolf. Four of these still show signs of sporadic activity (Wolf, Cerro Azul, Alcedo and Sierra Negra).

You can visit this island on our: Western Galapagos itinerary aboard the Santa Cruz II.  Western Galapagos itinerary aboard Yacht La Pinta, and  Southern Galapagos, Northern Galapagos itinerary aboard Yacht Isabela II.

Santiago

Santiago Island

Santiago Island

Size: 226 km2 (558 mi2)
Altitude: 906 m (2975 ft)
Coordinates: -0.259206, -90.840487
Estimated Age: Approximately 1 million years old, with lava flows that are around 100 years old and still forming on the southern part of the island
British Name: James
Visitor Sites: Puerto Egas, Sullivan Bay, Buccaneer Cove

Highlights:

  • Contrasting, volcanic layers of age. Special point of interest for people interested in geology, volcanology or succession. Part of the island is very young (Sullivan Bay), part of it is very old.
  • Diverse display of shorebirds
  • High chance of seeing the rare Galapagos fur seal
  • 6 out of 15 Galapagos BIG15 wildlife: Galapagos sea lion, Galapagos fur seal, marine iguana, blue-footed booby, Nazca booby, frigatebirds (great and magnificent)
This former large shield volcano looks more like a mountain range complete with hills, valleys and plenty of parasitic cones. A rugged and well-eroded coastline made of tuff stone lies above a black strip of lava flow. Serving as an archaeological site of sorts, Santiago Island still has remnants of its recent past strewn about. The majority of these remnants were left behind by the former salt miners that inhabited the islands for a while (back in the 1960’s), up until their whole operation went bankrupt.

Charles Darwin spent most of his (brief) time in the archipelago at Buccaneer Cove.

You can visit this island on our: Northern Galapagos itinerary aboard the Santa Cruz II, Northern Galapagos itinerary aboard Yacht La Pinta, and Central Galapagos itinerary aboard Yacht Isabela II.

Bartolome

Bartolome Island

Bartolome Island

Size: 1.2 km2 (0.5 mi2)
Altitude: 114 m (374 ft)
Coordinates: -0.284136, -90.549907
Estimated Age: Approximately 2 million years old
British Name: Bartholomew
Visitor Sites: Beach, Hillside Viewpoint

Highlights:

  • “Postcard Island” – Incredible views and scenery
  • Famous Pinnacle Rock
  • 5 out of 15 Galapagos BIG15 wildlife: Galapagos penguin, Galapagos sea lion, Galapagos hawk, marine iguana, frigatebird (great and magnificent)
This island is famous for several reasons, one of which is the monumental and iconic tower of raw earth that pokes out into the sky known as “Pinnacle Rock.” Leading up to this pinnacle is a relatively long stretch of sandy beach that offers visitors some great water to snorkel in (as does the beach on the other side of the peninsula).

Heading up the side of the hill that is Bartolome’s large volcanic cone, visitors can take a wooden staircase almost all the way to the top to get sweeping views of the gorgeous, surrounding scenery.  

You can visit this island on our: Northern Galapagos itinerary aboard the Santa Cruz II, Northern Galapagos itinerary aboard Yacht La Pinta, and Central Galapagos itinerary aboard Yacht Isabela II.

Sombrero Chino (Chinese Hat)

Sombrero Chino Islet

Sombrero Chino Islet

Size: 0,208 km² (0,0803 mi2 )
Altitude: 50 m (5.3 ft)
Coordinates: -0.370495, -90.583278
Estimated Age: Approximately 1 million years old

Highlights:

  • 400m trail along amazing landscapes
  • Beautiful white sandy beach
  • Opportunities to snorkel with white-tip reef sharks and tropical fishes, sea lions and penguins
  • 4 out of 15 Galapagos BIG15 wildlife: Marine iguana, Galapagos sea lion, Galapagos penguin, Galapagos hawk
This cute little cinder cone is home to a beautiful moon-shaped white sand beach, perfect for swimming and snorkelling after an invigorating hike along its 400 metre long trail.  Enjoy some amazing views and get a first-hand understanding of how volcanic activity shaped this amazing archipelago.

You can visit this island on our: Northern Galapagos itinerary aboard Yacht La Pinta.

Santa Fe

Santa Fe Island

Santa Fe Island

Size: 24 km2 (9.3 mi2)
Altitude: 260 m (850 ft)
Coordinates: -0.806916, -90.062273
Estimated Age: Approximately 4 million years
British Name: Barrington Island

Highlights:

  • Endemic species of land iguana known as the Santa Fe iguana
  • Large forest of giant prickly pear cactus in the whole archipelago
  • Beautiful bay with turquoise waters
  • 7 out of 15 Galapagos BIG15 wildlife: Santa Fe iguana, Galapagos hawk, blue-footed booby, Galapagos sea lion, frigatebird (great and magnificent), marine iguana, Nazca booby
In search of something rather unique and special? Santa Fe Island is sure to please visitors with its colony of pale-coloured Santa Fe land iguanas. Guests hoping to take a load off can relax beside sea lions along the sandy shores of the turquoise bay. Studies suggest that Santa Fe Island might be the oldest Galapagos volcano, as there are sub-aerial rocks present that date back approximately 4 million years.

You can visit this island on our: Eastern Galapagos itinerary aboard the Santa Cruz II, Eastern Galapagos itinerary aboard Yacht La Pinta, and Central Galapagos itinerary aboard Yacht Isabela II.

Floreana

Floreana Island

Floreana Island

Size: 174 km2 (67 mi2)
Altitude: 2099 m (640 ft)
Percent of island populated: 1.79%
Population: 310
Coordinates: -1.279436, -90.486362
Estimated Age: Approximately 3.5 million years old
British Name: Charles
Visitor Sites: Punta Cormorant, Post Office Bay, Champion Islet, Baroness Cove, Asilo de la Paz, Pat´s Landing

Highlights:

  • Human history of the island
  • Endemic flora and fauna (Floreana lava lizard, medium tree finch, Floreana Mockingbird)
  • 6 out of 15 Galapagos BIG15 wildlife: American flamingo, Galapagos sea lion, frigatebird (great and magnificent), marine iguana, blue-footed booby, Galapagos penguin
Teeming with human history and a handful of visitor sites, Floreana is known for its eccentric past. The presence of colonists and visitors on the island were just the beginning of a long series of events that would colour the island with history so dramatic that one might even think it came straight out a Hollywood script

You can visit this island on our: Western Galapagos itinerary aboard the Santa Cruz II,  Western Galapagos itinerary aboard Yacht La Pinta, and Southern Galapagos itinerary aboard Yacht Isabela II.

San Cristobal

San Cristobal Island

San Cristobal Island

Size: 557 km2 (215 sq mi2)
Altitude: 730 metres (2,395 ft)
Percent of island populated: 15.04%
Population: approximately 8,393
Coordinates: 0.83°S 89.43°W
Estimated Age: 2.35 million years
British Name: Chatham Island
Visitor Sites: La Galapaguera, Cerro Brujo, Punta Pitt

Highlights:

  • Easternmost island in the archipelago
  • Capital of the Galapagos province
  • One of the two airports that connect to the mainland
  • 7 out of 15 Galapagos BIG15 wildlife: Galapagos sea lion, frigatebird (great and magnificent), marine iguana, red-footed booby, blue-footed booby, Nazca booby, Galapagos giant tortoise
The easternmost island of the archipelago, also home to the administrative capital, holds some of the islands’ most iconic scenic highlights. Combine this with the possibility of enjoying local hospitality in the picturesque town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, and you’ve got quite a town to check out. San Cristobal is the site of the first human settlement in the whole archipelago and is the island where Charles Darwin first disembarked in 1835.

You can visit this island on our: Eastern Galapagos itinerary aboard the Santa Cruz II, Eastern Galapagos itinerary aboard Yacht La Pinta, and Northern Galapagos itinerary aboard Yacht Isabela II.

Rabida

Rabida Island

Rabida Island

Size: 5 km2 (3 mi2)
Altitude: 364 m (1204 ft)
Coordinates: -0.418461, -90.710215
Estimated Age: Approximately 2.5 million years old
British Name: Jervis
Visitor Sites: Red Beach

Highlights:

  • Distinctly coloured beach
  • Excellent snorkelling site
  • 6 out of 15 Galapagos BIG15 wildlife: Marine iguana, Galapagos hawk, blue-footed booby, Galapagos sea lion, Galapagos fur seal, frigatebird (great and magnificent)
Like stepping off the boat and walking on the surface of Mars, Rabida’s strikingly coloured beach serves as a refresher for the eyes. Rabida is made up of an interesting palate of colours that are split between turquoise waters, its maroon sandy beach, white trees and lush green highlands.

You can visit this island on our: Northern Galapagos itinerary aboard the Santa Cruz II, Western Galapagos  itinerary aboard Yacht La Pinta, and Northern Galapagos itinerary aboard Yacht Isabela II.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island

Size: 986 km2 (mi2)
Altitude: 864 m (2,835 ft)
Percent of island populated: 11.55%
Population: 11,385
Coordinates: -0.661289, -90.365731
Estimated Age: Approximately 2 million years old
British Name: Indefatigable
Visitor Sites: Charles Darwin Research Station, The Highlands and the Giant tortoise reserve, Los Gemelos (Pit Craters)*, Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill), Las Bachas, Tortuga Bay*

*Will depend on time/itinerary

Highlights:

  • Charles Darwin Research Station
  • Giant tortoises in the wild
  • Vegetation in the highlands
  • 6 out of 15 Galapagos BIG15 wildlife: Galapagos giant tortoise, frigatebird (great and magnificent), land iguana, blue-footed booby, American flamingo, Galapagos sea lion
Santa Cruz is the second largest island of the Galapagos archipelago and has all seven vegetation zones. In addition to this, Santa Cruz is home to the largest human population throughout archipelago and, consequently, has the biggest town. From restaurants to bars all the way to banks and souvenir shops, Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz is the closest thing you’ll get to a lively piece of civilization this far away from the mainland.

You can visit this island on our: Eastern Galapagos, Western Galapagos and Northern Galapagos itineraries aboard Santa Cruz II. Eastern Galapagos, Western Galapagos and Northern Galapagos itineraries aboard Yacht La Pinta. Southern Galapagos, Northern Galapagos and Central Galapagos itineraries aboard Yacht Isabela II.

With parents that worked for the U.S. Foreign Service up until he graduated from high school, Chris was raised to have the heart of a nomad throughout his life. He has resided in Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador throughout his years, and just recently spent the past four up in Canada finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy & English at the University of British Columbia.