The Main Galapagos Islands and Visitor Sites

About 560 miles west of continental Ecuador lies an archipelago with an instantly recognizable name: the Galapagos Islands. The chain of volcanic islands straddles the equator, and is famously home to a range of fascinating creatures, many of which are endemic to the islands and are found nowhere else in the world.

And, as Charles Darwin soon discovered when he spent time on the main Galapagos Islands, the animals of the archipelago are often surprisingly unconcerned by the presence of humans. Whether you’re walking near land iguanas on Isabela Island or strolling among penguins and sea lions on Fernandina, you’ll be surprised and delighted by how close you can get to them, an unforgettable experience that makes the Galapagos one of the world’s greatest wildlife spotting destinations.

It’s not only the close-proximity to the animals that makes the Galapagos so special. A wide range of visitor sites are spread across the archipelago, many of them home to vital breeding grounds that are quite literally sustaining the very existence of some species.

The Galapagos National Park and Galapagos Marine Reserve (the second largest park of its type in the world) are vital for protecting the islands and the marine environment surrounding them, and have created a haven for many of the vulnerable and endangered species that call the Galapagos home. Thanks to these protective measures, visitors can now snorkel with whales, hammerhead sharks, rays, swordfish, sea turtles and seals. They can walk among iguanas, giant tortoises and sea lions, and venture out to spot hawks, flamingos and the iconic blue-footed boobies.

Beyond the wildlife, there are also the stunning volcanic landscapes that can be explored across the main Galapagos Islands. Otherworldly rock formations, beautiful bays, mangrove forests and wetlands teeming with life are just some of the features of the Galapagos, one of the world’s truly unique destinations.

Below is our guide to the Main Galapagos Islands and Visitor Sites.

Jump To: Baltra Island | Bartolomé Island | Española Island | Fernandina Island | Floreana Island | Genovesa Island | Isabela Island | Mosquera Islet | North Seymour Island | Rábida Island | San Cristóbal Island | Santa Cruz Island | Santa Fe Island | Santiago Island | South Plaza Island

Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island is the main tourism hub in the whole of the Galapagos Islands. It’s the second largest in area and sits at the center of the archipelago. Thanks to its close proximity to the main airport on Baltra Island just to the north, many tourists pass through Santa Cruz and its principal city, Puerto Ayora, located on the island’s southern coast. Puerto Ayora is the largest settlement in the Galapagos…

San Cristóbal Island

San Cristóbal Island is the fifth largest, most easterly and most historic of all the Galapagos Islands. Geologically, it is the oldest island, formed more than one million years ago by the fusion of three or four volcanoes. San Cristóbal is also home to the oldest permanent settlement in the Galapagos: the farming community of El Progreso, where some 500 people still live. It is also famous for being the place where Charles Darwin…

Sierra Negra Volcano Crater, Isabela Island, Galapagos
Sierra Negra Volcano Crater, Isabela Island

Isabela Island

Isabela Island is the largest of all the islands in the Galapagos. Formed by the merger of six shield volcanoes, five of which are still active, the island is one of the most volcanically active places on Earth. And that, you might think, would make it a barren landscape. Far from it, however, as Isabela possesses a fascinating mix of geological features, varied natural environments and abundant wildlife…

Fernandina Island

Fernandina Island is the westernmost of all the islands in the Galapagos. It’s also the third largest and, geologically speaking, the youngest. Fernandina is famous for its volcanic activity, which continues to this day. The last major burst of volcanic activity took place in April 2009, when the southern flank of La Cumbre — a shield volcano near the center of the island — had a fissure eruption…

Male Great Frigatebird, Genovesa Island, Galapagos
Male Great Frigatebird, Genovesa Island

Genovesa Island

Genovesa Island is a striking horseshoe-shaped island in the northeast of the Galapagos. It was initially formed by the eruption of a shield volcano. Later, when one side of the caldera collapsed, the sea flooded in, forming Great Darwin Bay and its surrounding cliffs. Another body of water, a salt-water lake called Lake Arcturus, lies at the center of the island. The peculiar geography of Genovesa Island has made it a bird-watching…

Santiago Island

For what is now an uninhabited island, Santiago Island has an interesting human history. It was the second of the Galapagos Islands visited by Charles Darwin in 1835, and buccaneers and whalers had come here long before his arrival in search of water, tortoises and wood. Salt was another precious commodity on the island, and companies set up salt extraction operations here in the 1900s. Human activities…

Waved Albatross Pair, Española Island, Galapagos
Waved Albatross Pair, Española Island

Española Island

The uninhabited Española Island lies in the extreme southeast of the Galapagos archipelago. It’s one of the flattest, driest and oldest of all the Galapagos Islands, formed some four million years ago by an erupting shield volcano. Despite its isolated location (it’s a 10- to 12-hour boat trip from Santa Cruz Island) and barren, rocky nature, Española is nonetheless one of the most popular islands in the archipelago. It has some of the best bird-watching…

Floreana Island

If you like the idea of mixing some human history into your Galapagos wildlife experience, then don’t miss Floreana Island. It has one of the most interesting human histories of all the islands, and some quirkily interesting historic sites. Floreana has seen a steady flow of visitors since the early 1800s. Its flat surface and fairly reliable supply of fresh water made it a popular stop for whalers, pirates and other sailors…

Pinnacle Rock, Bartolomé Island, Galapagos
Pinnacle Rock, Bartolomé Island

Bartolomé Island

Bartolomé Island is a small volcanic island just off the east coast of the far larger Santiago Island. The uninhabited island covers just half a square mile, but is nonetheless a hugely popular tourist destination in the Galapagos thanks to its spectacular volcanic landscapes, easy to climb volcanic cone, and excellent swimming and snorkeling. Bartolomé was also the island to feature most prominently in the movie Master and Commander

North Seymour Island

North Seymour Island is a small island just to the north of Baltra. Like Baltra, it was formed by uplifts of submarine lava, resulting in the flat, arid plateau that we see today. The island has no human population and can only be visited with a certified Galapagos guide. But it’s well worth it, as North Seymour is home to many seabird colonies, including some of the archipelago’s largest populations of blue-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls…

Galapagos Sea Lions, Rabida Island, Galapagos
Galapagos Sea Lions, Rabida Island (Photo Credit: Annie Baggett)

Rábida Island

Rábida Island is one of the smaller islands of the Galapagos archipelago. It’s unpopulated (by humans, at least) and is located just south of the far larger island of Santiago. Fairly arid and steep sided, Rábida has a distinct red color thanks to its highly porous and iron-rich lava rock. The island is home to a number of small volcanic craters. Having recovered from some conservation challenges in the form of introduced goats and rats…

South Plaza Island

South Plaza Island is a small island just to the east of the far larger Santa Cruz Island. Despite its tiny size, the island is famous for its flora, which at the right time of year turns South Plaza into one of the most colorful locations in the archipelago. The island was formed from an uplifted seabed, creating a sloping sheet of land with beautiful views from the upper banks. Unlike its crescent-shaped twin, the nearby North Plaza Island…

Santa Fe Land Iguana, Santa Fe Island, Galapagos
Santa Fe Land Iguana, Santa Fe Island

Santa Fe Island

Santa Fe Island is one of the oldest islands in the Galapagos, its initial formation beginning about four million years ago. With an area of 9.3 square miles, it’s also one of the smaller islands. The island is relatively flat and is characterized by its vegetation, which includes palo santo trees and a forest of the giant prickly pear cactus Opuntia echios. Santa Fe is home to the endemic Santa Fe land iguana…

Mosquera Islet

Mosquera Islet is one of the smallest islands in the Galapagos archipelago, tucked between the larger islands of North Seymour and Baltra. It was formed by an uplift of sand and is surrounded by coral reefs and black lava rocks. Its small size, however, doesn’t stop it from being a popular destination for wildlife spotters and snorkelers…

Baltra Island

Baltra could have been a forgotten island in the Galapagos were it not for some unique characteristics. Firstly, it sits near the center of the Galapagos. Secondly, it is unusually flat thanks to its original formation by a series of geological uplifts. Being flat and centrally located, the U.S. government chose Baltra as the site for a new strategic air base in the Pacific during World War II. Construction began in 1942 and the mile-long…

Read More About The Galapagos Islands

Have Questions? Call 1-888-268-9753 to Speak to An Expert.