The Galapagos Islands offer endless opportunities to see incredible things and visit fascinating places, which is why we often want to make the most of our visit to these Enchanted Isles. The vast Marine Reserve is very alluring to any explorer, but land-based tours can provide an experience just as exquisite, and are more accessible to everyone. How to sort through all the options and get only the best? Opt for the one place that combines all land exploration alternatives into carefully curated-programs: an Expedition Hotel.
If the hotel you’re staying at can arrange all the best land activities for you and put them together in an itinerary tailored to your preferences, you can just wake up every day and go straight to exploring, confident that you’ll truly experience this singular archipelago. This way, you won’t have to spend precious vacation time looking for deals in town, which not only will cover only so much, but do not bear the quality seal of a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World.
A land-based holiday at the luxurious Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel offers both unparalleled accommodation with the best service on the islands, and the best Galapagos day tours to the most fauna-populated visitor points on our very own private yacht -the Sea Lion. It comes complete with our five-star crew, all of the amenities (including snorkeling gear), a full buffet lunch, and comfortable sofa chairs everywhere. You can wake up at the Finch Bay, have an exceptional breakfast, and then meet up with your personal bilingual guide to go on your daily adventure. The Sea Lion Yacht day tours take you to Bartolome Island, North Seymour Island, South Plaza Island, and Santa Fe Island. Each one offers different Galapagos wildlife and an otherworldly experience.
Bartolome Island is depicted in every iconic photo of the Galapagos Islands, showing the rising barren peak of Pinnacle Rock and a magnificent overview of the islands. Rising spectacularly from the depths of the crystalline waters right off the edge of Bartolome, Pinnacle Rock is a majestic host to the endemic Galapagos penguins, which huddle along the jagged volcanic rocks at its base. If you decide to go snorkeling, the marine life is breathtaking and, if you’re lucky, the penguins will put on a show for you as they duck in and out of the volcanic reef chasing enormous schools of fish. Overhead, you may see a Galapagos hawk, magnificent and great frigatebirds, or a blue-footed booby, as they search for food.
North Seymour Island is, quite literally, every bird watchers’ dream. The magnificent and great frigatebirds, along with blue-footed and Nazca boobies, instantly greet you as you step off the panga (dinghy) onto the island, screaming overhead. The walking trail takes you over the rocky terrain, where, around every corner, a different Galapagos endemic animal will surprise you; maybe a bird nesting in the shrubby trees or relaxing in the shade under towering cactuses. You’ll be surprised by coquettish Galapagos land iguanas munching on a prickly pear or the male magnificent frigatebirds showing off their bulging red throat pouches to the females flying overhead. The coastal hike ends at a sandy beach complimented by turquoise waters, where Galapagos sea lions gather alongside the occasional sunbathing marine iguana.
South Plaza Island is a small wind-swept island that seems like it was placed on Earth specifically for the Galapagos land iguanas. The sights mainly include Prickly Pear Cactuses and small lava lizards bounding between lava rocks. But the real bosses are the land iguanas, who defend their territory fiercely. The island gently rises and eventually reveals a sudden drop into the roaring sea below, where countless seabirds, including Nazca and blue-footed boobies, hang out. They are carried through the sky by the strong winds as they duck and dive for food. Lazy Galapagos sea lions sun themselves along the edges of plunging cliffs -how on earth did they get there? South Plaza Island is also a great place to see the conservation efforts that involve cactus planting, reminding us that we are in a national park paradise.
Santa Fe Island is the only one where you can see the unique and endemic Santa Fe land iguana, so it’s not an island to miss. The wet landing on the sandy beach is instantly notable for the Galapagos sea lions who sun themselves on the beach. This is the perfect island to get a close-up photo of the sea lions or go snorkeling off the pearly white beach. And, like most of the islands in Galapagos, endemic birds such as frigatebirds, the Galapagos hawk, and blue-footed boobies are permanent fixtures.
Remember that staying in Santa Cruz Island at the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel also offers you the chance to see many fascinating visitor sites on Santa Cruz: The highlands, where you can see the incredible Galapagos giant tortoises; the pristine Tortuga Bay, where you can kayak with turtles and sunbathe on the stunning beach; and the Darwin Foundation. You can do this all while returning to an exquisite location to rest and feast in the afternoons and evenings.
Each Galapagos Day Tour has been specifically designed to give you the opportunity to see the 11 land-based animals on the Galapagos BIG15 List and a few more.
The blue-footed booby looks like an oversized duck with bright blue feet. Their intricate foot-stepping mating rituals and amazing coloring make them the center of attention on any island. They are usually seen in pairs with their bills down and tails up, facing each other and prancing meticulously with their blue feet. In contrast, their fuzzy white chicks, who often look too big to still be at home, are usually seen huddling in their parents’ mounded nests that are characteristically identified by the ring of white guano around them.
You can find blue-footed boobies on our North Seymour, Bartolome, South Plaza, and Santa Fe Island tours.
The Nazca booby is one of the largest boobies in the world and has naturally selected to be rid of the comical colored feet of its cousins. It is often seen nesting on cliffs and is easily identified by its long, bright-yellow beak together with its black and white feathers.
You can spot the Nazca booby on our North Seymour and South Plaza Island tours.
Make sure you look carefully at the jet-black volcanic rocks lining the beaches. With a bit of luck, you’ll see a statuesque, dark, oversized crested lizard staring back at you. As they can only handle 30-40 minutes in the cool waters, they spend most of their time sunbathing in the hot equatorial sun. And although they look unperturbed, these non-vocalizing reptiles have learned to recognize the mockingbirds’ alarm cry to signal a hawk approaching and always scuttle to safety.
Some have learned to coexist with their terrestrial cousins and have even bred hybrid iguanas that are characterized by their lightly striped skin.
You will see the marine iguana on our North Seymour, Bartolome, South Plaza, and Santa Fe Island tours.
Under the shade of the Prickly Pear cacti, the yellowish, bulbous land iguanas wait for the drop of a prickly pear. Its spines are no competition for their tough skin, and its juicy flesh is essential for their hydration and survival. Although these creatures appear to be unlikely ornamental decorations, if you approach them, they’ll step out as if to defend their territory when necessary.
The Galapagos land iguana can be seen on our North Seymour and South Plaza Island tours.
Galapagos Sea Lion
Sea lions have become the mischievous puppies of the islands, and are always ready to entertain at every boat dock, beach and fish market. They can be found relaxing on park benches or blocking ramps leading to docks. They have no qualms about mixing with the human population and competing for attention. These grey, smooth-skinned mammals enjoy sardines, but as committed piscivores, they enjoy other water-living creatures such as crustaceans and octopus.
Galapagos sea lions can be seen on our North Seymour, Bartolome, South Plaza, and Santa Fe Island tours.
Great and Magnificent Frigatebirds
The most impressive feature of the frigatebirds is the enlarged red throat pouches that the males have to contend with during mating season. Sitting in the shrubbery with their beaks pointed straight up, they look like they have been stuffed into an uncomfortable Christmas turtleneck and are just itching to take it off, but only a suitable female partner can do this. Their young ones are raised in stick nests built along rocky ledges and trees. They are incubated and cared for by both parents.
You can observe the Great and Magnificent Frigatebirds on our North Seymour, Bartolome, South Plaza, and Santa Fe Island tours.
These little guys are both cautious and curious about the humans that come and visit them every day. As one of the smallest penguins in the world, their presence can be hard to detect as they are normally found huddled among the islands’ volcanic rocks to protect themselves from the strong sun rays. However, they can usually be seen relaxing in pairs at the shaded water’s edge. The best way to interact with them is to snorkel as they duck and dive among the enormous schools of fish found in the Galapagos’ crystalline waters.
You can see the Galapagos penguin on our Bartolome Island tour.
The hawk lords over the Galapagos Islands from the sky. Surprisingly, this carnivorous bird differs in size and coloring from island to island but is generally quite stocky and dark brown. It loves to feed on invertebrates such as locusts but won’t pass up the opportunity to snatch a turtle hatchling or baby iguana. They are the only diurnal raptor in Galapagos Islands (the only daytime hunter), so they don’t have a lot of competition. Even so, the Galapagos Hawk population remains small, and scientists are still trying to figure out why.
You will find the Galapagos hawk on our Bartolome and Santa Fe Island tours.
Santa Fe Land Iguana
The Santa Fe land iguana can only be found on Santa Fe Island and is easily recognizable by its pale-yellow hide. Its dorsal spines are larger, and its long-tapered snout is more pronounced. They can be up to 3 feet long and, interestingly enough, they contribute to the general wellbeing of enormous Opuntia Cacti found on the island –as the iguanas feed on their lowest hanging fruit, it forces the cacti to grow taller!
You can find the Santa Fe land iguana on our Santa Fe Island tour.
Galapagos Fur Seal
At first glance, the fur seal can be hard to distinguish from its larger cousin, the sea lion. However, if you look close enough, you’ll see that it has a small bear-like face with close-set eyes and wingnut ears that stick out from its head –dead giveaways of the fur seal! Their thick coat means they don’t have to sunbathe as much as their sea lion cousins, and while their enlarged front flippers may look somewhat comical, they pay them in good stead for catching fish. They prefer the few shady beaches in the archipelago and more private coastlines.
The Galapagos fur seal can be found on our North Seymour Island tour.
The gorgeous bright color of the flamingos in the Galapagos strongly contrasts against the briny marshlands that they frequent. Their stalk-like legs protect them from any danger as their powerful beak constantly forages and stirs up their favorite invertebrates and algae. They can often be seen marching up and down the edges of saltwater ponds, but they aren’t practicing for band camp. Instead, this is their mating ritual: if successful, a female will simply follow her chosen male. The only inelegant thing about them is their loud goose-like honk.
You can find the American flamingo on our North Seymour Island tour.
Each Galapagos Day Tour offers unique and astonishing sights that simply never disappoint. Whether it’s the scenery, underwater world, or close interactions with the many endemic species that make the Galapagos Islands their home, each of our packages and day tours is designed to ensure you experience the archipelago to its fullest. We invite you to explore our day tour options to find out which ones suit you.
Remember: The Galapagos Islands aren’t a zoo but rather a National Park. We recommend you book more than one day tour to ensure you enjoy every Galapagos species that you want to tick off your must-see list!