Unmissable Galapagos Islands: Everything You Need to See and Do
The Galapagos Islands are a UNESCO world heritage site located in the Pacific Ocean, roughly 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. They’re known as “the Enchanted Islands” because of their unique and extraordinary biodiversity.
The Islands were also the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, making them a place of great scientific importance and fascination. All of these factors contribute to the magical and enchanting nature of the Galapagos Islands, which are one of the most awe inspiring destinations on our planet!
After spending a couple of months exploring the Islands, I’ve put together a Galapagos travel guide to help you tick off all the top highlights and really get the most out of your experience.
List of Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands actually consists of 21 islands in total. Among these, there are 13 main islands, also known as major islands, and several minor islands or islets.
Here is a list of the major islands in the Galapagos:
- Baltra (South Seymour) Island
- Española (Hood) Island
- Fernandina (Narborough) Island
- Floreana (Charles or Santa Maria) Island
- Genovesa (Tower) Island
- Isabela (Albemarle) Island
- Marchena (Bindloe) Island
- Pinta (Abingdon) Island
- Pinzón (Duncan) Island
- San Cristóbal (Chatham) Island
- Santa Cruz (Indefatigable) Island
- Santa Fe (Barrington) Island
- Santiago (San Salvador, James) Island
And here are some of the minor islands:
- Daphne Major
- South Plaza Island
- North Seymour Island
- Bartolomé Island
- Darwin Island
- Wolf Island
- Rabida Island
Each of these islands in the Galapagos archipelago has a unique landscape and hosts different species of plants and animals.
Best Way to Get to Galapagos Islands 🗺️
The best way to get to the Galapagos Islands is by air.
Flights to the Galápagos Islands depart multiple times each day from Quito or Guayaquil on mainland Ecuador.
We actually spent several nights in Ecuador (Quito) before touring the Galapagos Islands.
Compared to Guayaquil, the hotel options in Quito are great, and the city has a stunning colonial centre, which was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978.
Best Things to do in the Galapagos Islands 🏝️
When planning your visit to Floreana Island in the Galapagos, make sure to check the regulations and restrictions in place to protect the fragile ecosystems and wildlife of this unique and biodiverse destination. Also, consider taking guided tours or hiring naturalist guides to enhance your experience and gain insights into the Galapagos Islands’ history and wildlife.
1. Charles Darwin Research Station, Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is one of the best islands to visit in Galapagos because it’s the most populated and accessible, which makes this island a great place to start your trip.
This island is home to the Charles Darwin Research Station, which is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in the Galapagos Islands. Why? Because you can walk in the footsteps of Darwin and take a firsthand look at the places that helped shape our understanding of the natural world!
You can also check out some of the most iconic residents of the Galapagos Islands at the Research Station, including Giant Tortoises, which you can see up close!
2. Experience Unique Wildlife
Beyond Giant Tortoises, the Galapagos Islands is home to a wide variety of other unique wildlife, such as the blue-footed booby (a seabird with bright blue feet that are used in an elaborate mating dance!)
For me, however, the real show stealer was the Galapagos penguin, which is one of the world’s smallest penguin species and they can often be seen darting through the water in search of fish.
What’s quite amazing is the fact that the wildlife on the Galapagos islands has no fear of humans, allowing you to get up close and personal with incredible creatures in their natural habitat.
You simply have to step outside and you’ll find yourself surrounded by an abundance of rare and unique wildlife, it truly feels like another universe! So, be sure to add plenty of time for wildlife spotting in your Galapagos Islands itinerary.
Side note: The islands are teaming with less desirable creatures too. We saw more bugs here than in the Amazon Rainforest! More about this later 😱😱😱
3. Witness an Extraordinary Underwater World
The underwater world surrounding the Galapagos Islands is just as unique and awe-inspiring. But can you scuba dive in the Galapagos?
Even though the islands are protected you can still go diving here, which is one of the most epic things to do in the Galapagos Islands.
The islands are home to a variety of endemic fish, rays, sea turtles, and sharks, including the famous Galapagos shark and the scalloped hammerhead shark. These creatures have adapted to the unique environment of the Galapagos Islands and are truly a wonder to behold.
One of the best places to go scuba diving in the Galapagos Islands is the “Sleeping Lion” (otherwise known as Kicker Rock). This is one of the most iconic rock formations in the Galapagos and for good reason. The imposing cliff-faces thrust 500 ft vertically out of the sea and Galapagos sharks usually frequent the gap between the two huge rocks.
When we went snorkelling here, within seconds of getting into the water, I literally saw dozens of sharks beneath me, which took my breath away. This is a once in a lifetime experience you really don’t want to miss out on.
4. Discover the Sierra Negra Volcano
The best Galapagos Islands itinerary has to include a visit to Isabela island, which is famous for its stunning volcanic landscapes and diverse wildlife.
If you get the chance, I highly recommend hiking to the rim of Sierra Negra Volcano, exploring the lava tunnels, and seeing sea lions and marine iguanas up close. These activities are undoubtedly some of the most awesome things to do in the Galapagos Islands!
5. Visit Tortuga Bay
If you have the time and the energy, I highly recommend taking a hike to Tortuga Bay to enjoy the stunning white sandy beaches and have a wholesome day surrounded by nature. You might even spot marine iguanas basking in the sun!
This has to be one of the best beaches in the Galapagos Islands – just look at it! ⬇️
6. Check out Bartolome Island
Another one of the best things to do in the Galapagos Islands is a day trip to Bartolome Island.
Once you’re here you can hike to the top of the islands volcanic cone for breathtaking views of the surrounding islands and beautiful turquoise waters.
This place is perfect to get some epic Instagram content!
7. Venture to Floreana Island
If you’re looking for one of the more unique things to do in the Galapagos Islands, head to Floreana Island, known for its incredible wildlife, pristine landscapes, and intriguing history.
Fun fact: Floreana Island was known for its post office barrel, where sailors historically left and picked up mail for delivery.
One of the most quirky things to do on Floreana Island is visiting Post Office Bay. This is a historical site where an 18th-century whalers’ tradition continues. You can leave a postcard in the barrel to be picked up by another visitor and hand-delivered when they return home! You can also check if there are any postcards for your location.
If you want to check out the local wildlife, head to Cormorant Point here, which has a beautiful green olivine beach, and you can often spot flamingos, sea lions, and other wildlife.
8. Explore Bird Island
For nature lovers, one of the best things to do in the Galapagos Islands is taking a trip to Genovesa, also known as “Bird Island.”
The diverse bird species on the island include the red-footed booby, Nazca booby, Galapagos owls and frigate birds (below).
Don’t forget to bring your binoculars to this bird paradise!
9. Volunteer and Make a Difference
By visiting the Galapagos Islands, you can help play an important role in supporting conservation efforts on the islands.
Many tour operators and organisations work to protect the fragile ecosystem, and by choosing to visit, you can support these efforts and ensure that the islands remain a vibrant and healthy ecosystem for generations to come.
During my visit, I volunteered at Las Tres Marias farm (San Cristobel Island), which works to make agriculture more self-sufficient and environmentally friendly.
Overall, it was a highly rewarding experience that I thoroughly recommend – volunteering is for sure one of the best ways to see the Galapagos Islands and the unique way of life here.
10. Sample the Unique Culinary Scene
When travelling to a new country, one of the best things to do is checking out the local culinary scene. And believe it or not, the Galapagos Islands are a food lover’s paradise!
One of the most popular foods is ceviche, a dish made from raw fish marinated in lime juice and mixed with onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. The fresh, tangy flavours of ceviche are a perfect complement to the salty sea air of the islands.
Another must-try dish in the Galapagos Islands is the lobster. The islands are home to a thriving lobster population, and local restaurants offer a variety of delicious lobster dishes, from grilled lobster tail to lobster pasta.
For those looking to try something a little more adventurous, the Galapagos Islands also offers the opportunity to try unique local delicacies such as iguana soup or roasted guinea pig. While these dishes may not be for everyone, they offer a glimpse into the local culture and traditions of the islands.
In addition to the local cuisine, the Galapagos Islands also offer a variety of restaurants and cafes that cater to different tastes and preferences. From casual beachside cafes to upscale restaurants with stunning ocean views, there is something for everyone!
Best Restaurants in the Galapagos Islands
When it comes to the best restaurants in the Galapagos Islands, below are my top 3 picks (I did have even more recommendations to share, but since my last trip here they have sadly shut down):
El Faro: Located in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island, El Faro is a seafood restaurant that serves a variety of dishes including ceviche, grilled fish, and octopus. They also have a great selection of Ecuadorian wines, making this one of the best restaurants in the Galapagos Islands for anyone that appreciates fine wine and fresh fish.
Midori Sushi Pub: This sustainable eco-restaurant serves the best sushi in the Galapagos Islands, as well as lots of tasty fresh fish dishes. The restaurant has been open for nearly a decade and is known for its high quality staff and facilities (Santa Cruz / San Cristóbal 📍).
Isla Grill: Located in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, Isla Grill is known for its fresh seafood, especially the lobster and shrimp dishes. This is one of the best restaurants in the Galapagos Islands due to its seriously relaxing vibe and great views of the harbour.
Where to Stay in the Galapagos Islands
Fortunately, there are tons of amazing Galapagos Island hotels and accommodations to choose from, ranging from budget-friendly to luxurious resorts.
Here are some of the best places to stay in the Galapagos Islands:
Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel: Located in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, this is one of the best hotels in the Galapagos Islands, as it’s an eco-friendly hotel situated right on the beach. It also offers an amazing range of outdoor activities, so you can really experience the best of the island when you stay here.
Royal Palm Hotel Galapagos: This luxury Galapagos resort is my personal favourite! Why is this one of the best places to stay in the Galapagos Islands? Simply because it’s located in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape -it’s a seriously Instagram worthy place to stay! The rooms are absolutely beautiful too and there’s loads of amazing activities to do here.
Hotel La Casa de Marita: Located on Isabela Island, this boutique Galapagos hotel is just steps away from the beach and has a charming, relaxed atmosphere. The rooms are gorgeous and the restaurant serves delicious local cuisine.
Hotel Solymar: This waterfront hotel is located in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island and has suites with lovely sea views. However, for me, this is one of the best places to stay in the Galapagos Islands due to the fact that friendly sea lions are regular guests here (see below)!
Another incredible way to experience the Galapagos islands is to sail around the islands – this G Adventures boat tour looks incredible. Most of the trips I do are with G Adventures and I can attest that their tours are out of this world!
How Long Should you Spend in the Galapagos Islands?
I spent over 6 weeks travelling around the Islands and taking part in Conservation Projects, which enabled me to get a deep understanding and appreciation for this incredible destination.
If you have the time to spare, it’s well worth spending at least a few weeks here as there really are so many unique and incredible things to do in the Galapagos Islands.
However, if your schedule is tighter, 10 – 14 days should be just about enough time to see the main highlights.
When to Visit the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands can be visited year-round, as each season offers its own unique experiences. The best time to visit the Galapagos Islands depends on what you’re hoping to see and do during your trip.
If you’re interested in wildlife, particularly the famous Galapagos tortoises, birdwatching, and marine life, visit between December and June. This is the warmer and wetter season, where you can witness various species nesting, breeding, and raising their young.
On the other hand, if you prefer calmer seas for snorkeling, diving, and other water activities, consider visiting between June and November. This is the “cooler season” or the “dry season.” The waters are cooler and more nutrient-rich, attracting larger marine species and providing excellent visibility for underwater exploration.
It’s worth noting that during the cooler season, you might encounter more overcast days and occasional light drizzles. However, the wildlife sightings and underwater experiences usually make up for the less predictable weather.
Whatever time of year you choose to visit the Galapagos Islands, be prepared to have the adventure of a lifetime!
What to Pack for the Galapagos Islands
When packing for the Galapagos Islands, besides from the obvious things to pack (like pants, socks, clothes etc.) I suggest bringing:
- Lightweight, breathable clothing;
- Comfortable walking shoes;
- A hat;
- Reef safe sunscreen;
- A waterproof bag;
- Insect repellent;
- A camera; and
- A reusable water bottle, as plastic bottles are not allowed on many of the islands.
What *not* to bring to the Galápagos Islands: The threat of invasive plant species on the Islands is so great that upon arrival you’ll need to sign an affidavit swearing that you’re not bringing in any food, animals, seeds, or dirty camping gear with you.
Are the Galapagos Islands Expensive?
After spending quite a bit of time here, I often get asked how much is a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
In short, the Galapagos Islands are expensive compared to other parts of South America like Ecuador (mainland) due to their remote location and limited infrastructure.
The cost of travel and accommodation on the islands can vary depending on the time of year, type of accommodation, and activities chosen.
If budget is a concern, I recommend:
- Planning your trip well in advance;
- Visiting during the cool-dry season (June to November) when prices for accommodations and cruises are often lower;
- Using local tour operators to save money;
- Choosing land based tours instead of sailing around the islands as this can be expensive;
- Visit Free Attractions: Some of the best experiences in the Galapagos are free. Hike the trails, visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, or explore the beaches on your own.
Ultimately, the Galapagos Islands are an extraordinary destination, and while it may require a bit more financial investment, the experience is truly worth it for nature enthusiasts and adventurers alike!
The Galapagos Islands undoubtedly offer a unique and unforgettable travel experience. From the pristine natural environment to the rich history of scientific discovery, there’s something epic for everyone to enjoy here!
Despite travelling far and wide, for me, nowhere has been more mesmerising than the enchanted Galapagos Islands. So why not start planning your trip today and discover the magic of the Galapagos for yourself?
Got any questions about my Galapagos Islands Travel Guide? Feel free to post a comment below!
⚠️ Warning True Galapagos Horror Story ⚠️
When you’re in the Galapagos Islands I HIGHLY recommend checking your room before you go to sleep.
On Isabella Island we experienced something right out of a horror movie 😱😱😱
I’d spent the day exploring with my bestie and we returned to our room to hit the hay. As I went to switch off the overhead light, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a shadow move across the ceiling.
I literally gasped in horror – It was a spider the size of a dinner plate! (and it gets MUCH worse!…)
Even though I was reassured that there was definitely ‘’no tarantulas’’ in the Galapagos, this spider was bigger than any tarantula I have ever seen.
Predictably a lot of panic and chaos ensued!
Once we’d calmed down slightly, we went outside in search of the hotel owner.
After finding him and explaining what happened, he agreed to help us remove the spider.
Gingerly, once in our room, he climbed onto a step ladder and reached up to try to catch the spider, but unfortunately none of us realised it was pregnant!!
In attempting to capture the spider, the egg sack SPLIT OPEN releasing dozens of mini tarantulas that rained down on us, literally landing in our hair, on our bags and all over our beds.
We screamed in shock and disgust, swatting at ourselves frantically to get the spiders off. It was every arachnophobe’s worst nightmare.
Safe to say we didn’t sleep in our room that night (it had to be exterminated.)
Anyway we lived to tell the tale!
And so, the moral of the story has to be, if you see a massive pregnant spider, just burn the place down!
Despite all this, I would still go back to the Galapagos Islands in a heartbeat! Just with a lot more bug repellent!
Galapagos Islands Travel Map
Galapagos Islands Map pinning all of my travel recommendations ⬇️
Top Galapagos Island Tours
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