Because of the surprising vastness of the Galapagos Islands, deciding where to go and what to observe in the archipelago can be quite a challenge. To tailor our itineraries and enable guests to absorb the best balance of Galapagos wildlife, we sought consensus among scholars, our Naturalist Guides and island connoisseurs to choose the archipelago’s most unique and fascinating wildlife. Their choices led to our Galapagos BIG15, a concept which captures the most iconic Galapagos wildlife. This is how explorers choose the ultimate voyage.
From your base at the Finch Bay, you can see 12 of these amazing creatures, while the remaining 3 are always discoverable aboard an expedition cruise.
“The archipelago is a little world within itself.” Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the ‘Beagle’.
Charles Darwin might have brought world recognition to the Galapagos Archipelago, but he was by no means the first human to set foot on it. Before the naturalist arrived in the islands in 1835 on the return leg of an expedition around South America, they had been inhabited by merchants, pirates and the odd marooned drunkard.
But what Darwin found here in the Pacific Ocean surprised and amazed him: myriad species left alone by man that had developed in extraordinary ways. They showed no fear of humans – in the same way that thrills visitors today.
“Extreme tameness…is common to all the terrestrial species…A gun is here superfluous; for with the muzzle I pushed a hawk off the branch of a tree,” he wrote in his seafaring account, The Voyage of the ‘Beagle.’
He was fascinated by several species around the islands, species that would inspire his most important principles. These included black marine iguanas,who he called “imps of darkness” and were the subjects of some questionable experiments, giant tortoises who he professed he had tried to ride but he “found it very difficult to keep [his] balance”, and the Galapagos finches, who would later be key for his theory of natural selection.
You too can witness the same magic from the comfort of the Finch Bay…
Enchanting memories flourish on the Galapagos Islands, the land that inspired Charles Darwin: of exotic and prehistoric-looking creatures within touching distance; of white beaches and extraterrestrial landscapes; of stirring voyages by land and by sea.
North Seymour was lifted from the ocean floor by a seismic event, and its origins as a seabed give the island its low, flat profile. Cliffs only a few meters high form the shoreline, where swallow-tailed gulls sit among the ledges and rocks. A tiny forest of silver-grey Palo Santo trees stands just above the landing, usually without leaves, waiting for the rains to burst into bloom. This island is teaming with life!
Bartolome is famous for Pinnacle Rock, a towering spearheaded obelisk that rises from the ocean’s edge and is the best-known landmark in the islands. Galapagos penguins—the only species of penguin found north of the equator—walk precariously along narrow volcanic ledges at its base. Sea lions snooze on rocky platforms, ready to slide into the water to play with passing snorkelers.
South Plaza is a small island full of fascinating wildlife, both along its shore and along its dramatic, wind-swept cliffs: sea lions, land iguanas, swallow-tailed gulls, Opuntia cacti and vegetation that changes colours according to the season. South Plaza is one of Galapagos’ most impressive visiting sites.
Santa Fe offers one of the more beautiful and sheltered coves in the islands. Its turquoise lagoon is protected by a peninsula of tiny islets forming an ideal anchorage. The island lies to the southeast of Santa Cruz within sight of Puerto Ayora. Like North Seymour, Santa Fe has been uplifted seismically, and you can see underwater lava formations.
The second-largest island of the Galapagos group with all seven vegetation zones included across its expanse. The largest human population lives on this island, mainly in Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the archipelago. Many urban features are found here: banks, ATM machines, souvenirs, art, restaurants and bars.
One of the archipelago’s most western islands and the largest of all – it even looks like a seahorse! It is comprised of six large shield volcanoes fused into one island (Ecuador, Wolf, Darwin, Alcedo, Sierra Negra (active!) and Cerro Azul). The highest point in Galapagos is found at Wolf Volcano (1,707 m; 5,600 ft.).