With so much to see and do, it’s no wonder it offers explorers an abundance of things to do in the Galapagos-from swimming with Sea Turtles in Divine Bay to see all three species of resident boobies. For history buffs, there is comparing WWII images with current ones on Baltra Island, learning about the penal colony at the Wall of Tears, to finding Charles Darwin Busts on San Cristobal Island.
1. Compare WWII images with current ones on Baltra Island
Baltra Island, also called South Seymour Island, is one of the smaller Galápagos Islands. Before volcanic faulting occurred, the island was a part of Santa Cruz Island. During World War II, Ecuador permitted the United States to establish an Air Force base. With the growth of tourism, the Ecuadoran government renovated the airfield, which is now the main point of entry for visitors to the islands. If your list of things to do in Galapagos includes learning about the history of the islands, Baltra is the place for it!
2. Admire the oceanic uplift of Urbina Bay on Isabela Island
Urbina Bay is located at the base of Alcedo Volcano on the west coast of Isabela Island, between Tagus Cove and Elizabeth Bay. An oceanic uplift in 1954 caused the land to rise over 16 feet, leaving a large coral reef that appeared above sea level. Urbina Bay has a wide variety of plant life which changes depending on the season. The coast expanded half a mile out, leaving marine life stranded on the new shore. This area is one of the few places where you’ll frequently see giant tortoises in their natural habitat and Galapagos Land Iguanas.
3. See all three species of resident boobies
The blue-footed booby has bright blue feet and unique rituals. Their intricate foot-stepping mating rituals and unique 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. You can see foraging blue-footed boobies on most islands and colonies in North Seymour, Española, and San Cristobal island.
The Nazca booby is one of the largest boobies in the world. It is often seen nesting on cliffs and is easily identified by its long, bright-yellow beak and black and white feathers. You can spot foraging Nazca boobies in most Islands and their breeding colonies in Genovesa and Española Islands
Galapagos Red-footed boobies, with their bright red feet and blue beaks, are rather peculiar-looking birds. The world’s largest colony of Galapagos red-footed boobies is on Genovesa Island, making it the best location to observe this bird on land. Nevertheless, the red-footed booby is a marine bird and spends most of its time at sea. Only in Punta Pitt, you’ll see all three species of boobies. This is one of the things to do in Galapagos Islands that are not to be missed!
4. Photograph all species of resident mangroves: Red, white, black, and button
The black mangrove has the highest salt tolerance. It can be identified by its short aerial roots and small tentacle roots that grow up the side of the tree. The most common mangrove in the Galapagos is the red mangrove. They can be identified by their reddish bark and tend to grow in low tidal areas. This species of mangrove is used to make charcoal. White mangroves have stilted roots and pneumatophores. The name comes from their delicate white flowers. Buttonwood mangroves are not genetically classified as true mangroves but share many of the same characteristics. This species grows in higher-elevation mangrove habitats and has roots that grow above ground.
The gardens of Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel are made up of buttonwood mangroves. Take advantage of your visit to the Galapagos Islands to see these beautiful and unique plants. Fernandina Island, Tortuga Bay, and Northern Floreana are great places to see red, white, and black mangroves! The beach area surrounding Finch Bay is also a great place to take a peaceful walk around and see different mangrove species. They can also be seen while kayaking in the playa de los Alemanes.
5. Capture on film/photo the moment a brown noddy sits on a Galapagos brown pelican’s head
Here is another of the things to do in Galapagos Islands! Watch brown noddies swoop in and perch on pelicans’ heads to capture whatever fish has managed to escape the gular pouches bill of the feeding pelican. It resembles a pigeon, with a greyish-white cap at the top of their heads that fades into the dark brown feathers covering the rest of its body. This symbiotic behavior can be seen in most islands, anywhere where Galapagos brown pelicans hunt for fish.
6. Watch a giant tortoise perform the “stilting behavior” at the Puerto Villamil Tortoise Breeding Station
The Galapagos tortoises are endemic to the Galapagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago. The symbiosis observed between land birds (like small Darwin finches and mockingbirds) signals their interest in collecting ectoparasites off the thick skin of tortoises and Iguanas. Then the reptile responds by stretching its neck and four limbs to expose as much skin as possible to the avian partners. Visit the Puerto Villamil Tortoise Breeding Station to watch them in their natural habitat.
7. Learn about the penal colony at the Wall of Tears on Isabela Island
From 1945 to 1959, a penal colony hosted prisoners forced to build this wall, stone by stone, in isolation. This now historical site (El Muro de las Lágrimas), towering at 65 feet (25m) high, took the lives of thousands during its construction. Locals claim to hear cries emanating from the heavy energy surrounding the site.
8. Find the Southern Cross
When you observe the sky from the equator, you can discover the stars in both hemispheres. You might recognize the Big Dipper, but have you ever admired the Southern Cross? In the Galapagos Islands, we can reconnect with the universe one star at a time. Visit Santa Cruz island’s only beach-front hotel and discover it for yourself. These are just a few of the things to do in Galapagos Islands.
9. Look for the resting, white-tipped reef sharks along the trail of Tintoreras, Puerto Villamil
Puerto Villamil is a tiny town on the island of Isabela. Isabela was formed by six volcanoes merging, five of which are still active. The abundant bird, animal, and marine life are staggering, and the island is home to more wild tortoises than anywhere else. Other notable species include penguins, marine iguanas, Galapagos land iguanas, boobies, and many more. As you make your way through the rocky-looking lava along the trail of Tintoreras, look for the white-tip reef sharks. You can watch them sleeping below as you hike along part of the trail.
10. Seek the extremely rare hybrid iguana in South Plaza Island
South Plaza is the southern half of two small crescent-shaped islands, which lie just off the eastern coast of Santa Cruz Island. South Plaza is one of the smallest islands in the archipelago, but rich in flora and fauna. Further up the shore on South Plaza, a carpet of scarlet-colored sesuvium succulents serve as the ground cover for a grove of green, prickly-pear cactus. Yellow-gray land iguanas sit and crawl around under these cacti. Among the things to do in Galapagos Islands, you may even see a rare hybrid iguana as you walk along the trails. These hybrids result from intergeneric breeding between a male marine iguana and a female land iguana. They overlap in a small area on South Plaza, hence the accidental hybrids.
11. Find 3 of the 4 resident and endemic iguanas of Galapagos: Marine, land, and Santa Fe iguanas (the pink iguana on Wolf volcano is off-limits)
The land iguana is the most ubiquitous of the three species of land iguanas. They can be seen on various islands throughout the archipelago, including Fernandina, Isabela, Santa Cruz, South Plaza, Baltra, Santiago, and North Seymour Island. The Charles Darwin Research Station has a captive breeding program of land iguanas.
The Santa Fe land iguana differs from the land iguana because it is paler and has a more tapered snout. It is a member of our BIG15 group of iconic species in the Galapagos. It is endemic to the island of Santa Fe, one of the tours offered on your Sea Lion yacht.
The marine iguana is the only lizard in the world able to live and forage at sea and is endemic to the Archipelago. Marine iguanas are excellent swimmers moving quickly through the water as they feed on algae. They can be seen on every island in the Galapagos. Consider this one of the best things to do in Galapagos Islands!
12. Learn the tricks on how to identify male frigates among the two resident species
The Male’s impressive red throat pouch inflates into bright red heart-shaped balloons. It takes around a half hour for the sacks to increase. While our guides will help you pick out which is which, great frigate males inflate a slightly shorter gular sack of a warmer red color. Additionally, great male frigates have a green sheen on their feathers, while magnificent males have a purple sheen. Juveniles and females are the easiest to tell apart: magnificent frigate females have a black triangle of feathers running down from the chin to the center of their white chests. Great frigate females have white up their chins. Juvenile magnificent frigates have a white head, while great frigate juveniles have a rusty tone. All Galapagos locations have frigatebirds flying around, but the top places to see their nesting colonies include San Cristóbal, Española, and Genovesa Island.
13. Swim with the world’s smallest pinniped, the Galapagos Fur seals in North Seymour
Galapagos fur seals, the smallest of all the pinnipeds, weigh between 30 and 80 kg and are generally under 5 feet long in adulthood, making them unique. Pinnipeds mean they have finlike feet. Also, they inhabit rocky and ragged shorelines exclusively, with direct access to the ocean. Seal colonies are found on Isabela and Fernandina islands. However, we encounter these incredible seals in North Seymour, Genovesa, Rábida, Santiago, and Punta Pitt on San Cristobal Island. This is one of the most thrilling things to do in Galapagos Islands!
14. Swim with Sea Turtles and Sea Lions in Divine Bay
Located close to Academy Bay and Puerto Ayora, you’ll find the quiet and wildlife-rich Divine Bay, a beautiful cove protected from the swells by natural reefs. Both majestic and passive in their demeanor, sea turtles are a treat to swim beside while snorkeling in Galapagos. Their slow and laid-back movement makes it possible for humans to get a great picture.
One of the most playful creatures when it comes to snorkeling in Galapagos, sea lions are a spectacle. These adept swimmers won’t hesitate to get close to you to check you out! They’re quick and skillful with their movement and will swim at you full speed before doing an underwater “somersault” of sorts and swimming away reluctantly. As one of the fun things to do in Galapagos Islands, you can enjoy swimming with sea turtles and sea lions.
15. Snorkel with the northern-most penguin in the world on Bartolomé island
The Galápagos penguin is the world’s northernmost penguin species and the only one that spends all its life on the equator. Given that penguins favor cold waters, they are mostly found on the westernmost islands, between the islands of Isabela and Fernandina.
They are often spotted on Bartolomé Island, where you will have the opportunity to snorkel at a site where you can find penguins on one of the nearby rocks or alongside you underwater. The main snorkeling site is around Pinnacle Rock. Here explorers share the ocean with penguins, playful sea lions, handsome reef sharks, rays, and tropical fish species. Snorkeling here ought to be at the top of your list of things to do in Galapagos Islands.
16. Find the diurnal Galapagos short-eared owl on Genovesa Island
This is one of the three resident birds of prey in the Galapagos. In islands where the Galapagos hawk is absent, the endemic subspecies of the short-eared owl has become diurnal. The best place to spot them is at Prince Philip Steps on Genovesa Island. The Genovesa short-eared owl lives among lava rock up on the clifftop, and the visitor trail takes you close to their habitat. Genovesa also has a large resident storm-petrel colony, popular prey for owls.
17. Open an account on e-bird and submit your daily bird lists
EBird is an online database of bird observations providing scientists, researchers, and amateur naturalists with real-time data about bird distribution and abundance. It is ideal for recording bird observations and learning more about the birds you summit daily. Like the Magnificent Frigatebird, Flightless Cormorant, Red-footed booby, Galapagos Flamingo, Darwin’s Finches, and more.
18. Find two Charles Darwin Busts on San Cristobal Island
Of all the things to do in Galapagos Islands, look for the two Charles Darwin busts on San Cristobal Island. In 1935, Victor Von Hagen requested a plaster copy of the bust for a monument he erected on San Cristóbal in the Galapagos Islands to celebrate Darwin’s arrival. The Darwin Statue is located on San Cristóbal Island in remembrance of one of the world’s greatest naturalists.
19. Count the “red balloons” at the breeding colony of Frigates in North Seymour
North Seymour Island is packed with wildlife surrounding visitors as they walk along the island’s trails. Prepare to be greeted by the lounging Galapagos sea lions and some of the most iconic Galapagos birds displaying their feathers and colors. North Seymour is home to some of the archipelago’s largest colonies of frigate birds and blue-footed boobies! The Galapagos frigatebird is part of our BIG15 Group of Iconic Species. This is one of the best things to do in Galapagos!
The male is all black with a purple or green sheen on their shoulder feathers, depending on the species, and a large red throat pouch inflated during the breeding season. The female is slightly larger and has a white chest and a black head.
20. Try to capture the image of a leaping Mobula Ray when sailing between islands
Here is another of the fun things to do in Galapagos Islands! Look out for a leaping Mobula Ray when sailing between islands. There are two types of Mobula Rays in Galápagos, commonly encountered swimming in the waters around the Galápagos Islands. The Mobula Birostris (Giant Oceanic Manta Ray) and the Mobula Japanica (Spinetail Devil Ray). They can often be located very close up and in large schools. Galápagos Manta Rays can sometimes be seen leaping out of the water and landing with a surprisingly loud slap. Manta rays are constantly moving around the Galapagos islands. You will likely spot them when sailing between islands en route to or from South Plaza, Bartolome, and Santa Fe islands.
21. Take a selfie on the Lava fields of Sullivan Bay
Sullivan Bay has an impressive enormous field of young pahoehoe lava (the last eruption was only 130 years ago). The remarkable flow connected old scoria mounts with Santiago Island and would have almost engulfed Bartolomé if the eruption had continued only a few more days. Let your imagination go wild for selfies over lava swirls, patched ropy lava, or empty pockets of thin lava crust.
22. Count and submit the number of Flamingos in Humedales by Puerto Villamil
The Wetlands are located on the outskirts of Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island. This area includes lagoons, marshes, and mangroves and is home to a unique variety of bird species, such as curlews, ducklings, and flamingos. Eruptions and lava subsidence caused the formation of several lagoons, giving rise to the most representative wetlands of the Galapagos Islands. Various salt and brackish lagoons house an impressive variety of coastal and sea birds to the west of Puerto Villamil. Here visitors can also find the largest concentration of flamingos in the Galapagos. This is one of the best things to do in Galapagos Islands! We recommend going to the lagoon early in the morning because you will observe the most flamingos roaming over the shallow waters.
23. Find the “Godzilla” subspecies of marine iguana in Punta Pitt, San Cristobal Island
Punta Pitt is located at the eastern end of San Cristobal Island, with a beach of approximately 90 meters and several natural viewpoints overlooking an eroded hill of volcanic tuff. The marine iguanas are classified into 11 different types of sub-species. Among the species discovered is the Amblyrhynchus cristatus godzila. This subspecies is over one meter in length, and was named Godzilla Marine Iguana. Galapagos marine iguanas can be spotted all year round in the Galapagos archipelago. During December and January, see marine iguanas turn bright red and green.
24. Listen and enjoy the chants of the Galapagos shearwaters as they swirl on the cliffs of South Plaza
The South Plaza cliffs provide the perfect habitat for nesting seabird colonies. Try to spot Blue-footed boobies, Shearwaters, Swallow-tailed gulls, Nazca Boobies, and the beautiful, Red-billed Tropicbird. The walk along the sea cliffs is a wonderful experience, with Galapagos Shearwaters and Red-billed Tropicbirds gliding by while chanting their territorial melodies.
25. Watch sea lions surf the radiating waves of Punta Suarez, Española Island
Punta Suarez is located at the western end of Española Island and is considered the oldest island in the Galapagos archipelago, approximately 5 million years old. This is one of the best things to do in Galapagos! Passengers will observe sea lions, marine iguanas, lava lizards, and the beautiful scenery where water shoots 75 ft (23 m) up into the air. The dramatic setting among the black cliffs, the never-ending rolling and crashing of the waves below, and the elaborate courtship rituals of the albatross. After a short walk to a sandy beach, you’ll see frolicking sea lions, lounging, or riding the waves.
26. See the Green Flash at sunset
A cloudless night and a clear horizon in Galapagos might surprise you. Just as the sun sets below the horizon, a flash of green light might appear. It is magical to look at the sunset and suddenly see a momentary flash of green.
27. Find the tiny pioneer plant “mollugo” on the young lava fields of Sullivan Bay, Santiago Island
As for fun things to do in Galapagos Islands, Sullivan Bay is a fascinating volcanic site located on Santiago Island. There are easy-to-spot tuff cones, miniature spatter cones, and the imprints of tree branches in the once-molten rock all over the island. Pioneer plants such as Brachycereus cactus and the endemic herb Mollugo have started to colonize the dark grey rocks and lava, preparing the way for other plant species. Mollugo, this endemic plant grows on many lava fields, looks more like a weed and is the most widely-distributed colonizer in the Galapagos.
28. Find the islet shaped like a turtle on Gardner Bay, Española Island
The beach at Gardner Bay offers one of the best beaches to experience a “relaxing time” in Galapagos. Visitors can swim or snorkel along the rocks in the shallow water near the beach until they find the islet shaped like a turtle. If you’re looking for things to do in Galapagos, make sure Española Island is at the top of your list.
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29. Take a photo of 0° 0′ 0.0000” on the ship’s GPS when crossing the equator line
Of all the things to do in Galapagos Islands, this is a great option. When going on an exploration cruise, remember to ask if you’re going to cross the equator line. So, you can take a photo of the ship’s GPS, and you’ll always remember it.
30. Take a selfie on these colored beaches: red sand in Rabida; green sand in Floreana; white sand in Tortuga Bay; black sand in Puerto Egas; golden sand in Bartolomé.
Rábida’s red sands come from the scoria created by molten lava meeting colder seawater. The scoria’s high iron content results in the island’s red hues. The green sand beach at Cormorant Point on Floreana Island is a known nesting area for sea turtles. The green tinge in the sand is due to the large number of olivine crystals expelled from nearby tuff cones by the wind.
Tortuga Bay on Santa Cruz Island is a long, fantastic stretch of white sand. This lovely beach is named for its black sea turtles that nest here. Beach Puerto Egas is located on the island of Santiago and is rich in deposits of volcanic tuff, which promotes the formation of black sand. For a good reason, Bartolome is the most photographed island in Galapagos. The vivid black & red lava, green vegetation, deep blue sea, and golden sand contrast beautifully.
31. Find whale bones on Mosquera Islet
Mosquera Islet is a small Galapagos Island with a white sand beach, black lava rocks, and crystal-clear waters. It is ideally located between North Seymour and Baltra. It features multiple coral reefs, making it ideal for snorkeling and seeing marine life. You might find the bleached bones of a pilot whale making for a haunting photo.