13 Must-Do Experiences in the Galápagos

The spectacular biodiversity of the Galápagos Islands comes to life in these 13 essential experiences.

Isabela Island, Ecuador
The Galapagos penguin is cute. Rediculously cute. Especially when doing its very best to teach an uncoordinated adventurer how to swim in rough waters near Isabela Island. The Galapagos is the only penguin able to survive north of (in this case, directly on) the equator, thanks in part to the chilly waters brought to the islands thanks to the Humboldt Current. They’re also spectacular, if not somewhat impatient, diving instructors, keen on showing off their sensational underwater skills for anyone brave enough to test the icy depths. Metropolitan Touring arranged all of my snorkeling expeditions, and can also arrange some of the world’s most spectacular dives.
Fernandina Island, Ecuador
Technically, the marine iguana isn’t a salt spitter, it’s a salt snorter. Adapted to sea life, the marine iguana dives for seaweed and algae, then basks in the sun to increase it’s body temperature. During this time, the excess salt is filtered through a nasal gland; it’s not uncommon to walk among a large group of iguanas and have them snort salt all over your shoes. At first it’s a bit unnerving to walk among a million tiny dinosaurs as they lay about catching rays, but it doesn’t take long for the spectacular scenery of Punta Espinoza and Fernandina to overwhelm any lingering sense of trepidation.
Fernandina Island, Ecuador
Brilliant sunsets and sunrises chased us around the Galapagos, with one of the best falling upon us on the gorgeous island of Fernandina. A great sunset on its own is one thing, but when combined with a truly stunning landscape, it becomes something else entirely. I wasn’t even sure where I should point my camera while the sun was going down. Behind me, pelicans fought over fish. To my left, sea lions danced in the surf. In front of me, visitors scampered over the lavascape. I made myself dizzy spinning in circles trying to capture everything.
Isabela Island, Ecuador
There’s nothing better than a lazy Sunday afternoon—so long as you’re able to spend it under the shade of a big tree, on a bed of soft leaves, and with a few of your favorite Galapagos tortoise neighbors nearby. Our naturalist told us not to get too excited about our visit to Urbina Bay on Isabela island—our chances for spotting tortoise were low, he said—yet a few moments after landing on the beach we spotted this fellow relaxing under the foliage. Seeing these guys in the wild is one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve ever had.
Get it? Play on words right there. Ha. This beautiful water lagoon is a playground for the awkwardly beautiful pink flamingo, a honking, goofy, loveable bird that is all legs and beak. I didn’t expect to see flamingos in the Galapagos, so this was quite a nice surprise, given the spectacular setting and all. Santa Cruz is one of the most stunning of all the islands in the Galapagos, marked by tortured volcanic terrain, pretty lagoons, and spiraling mountain peaks.
Santiago Island, Ecuador
I don’t know what these two have against each other, but they couldn’t work it out while I was on the island. Puerto Egas on Santiago Island is one of the top wildlife viewing areas of the Galapagos, home to a stunning array of endemic species including crabs, turtles, tortoises, hawks, birds, sharks, rays, and more.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: United States
Journeys: Sports + Adventure