🐢 50 Best Things to Do in Galapagos (+Where to Do Them!)

Best Things to Do in the Galapagos Islands blog cover graphic.  Text overlaying an image of a red sand beach with a cruise ship anchored off the shore.

The Galapagos Islands are a world-famous destination for the truly unique and remarkably tame wildlife that inhabit them. But there is so much more to see than just the animals!

Some of the best things to do in Galapagos include attractions that speak to the archipelago’s rich human and natural history alike. Of course, there are also many pristine tropical beaches to visit while you’re there!

We spent two weeks exploring the Galapagos islands in April 2023. During our time, we visited six different islands (staying on three) and found something unique to do every single day.

We have created this guide to provide first-hand experience and insight into the top things to do in Galapagos. This includes guided tours, free stops, day trips, and more, arranged by island and activity type.

You will also find links to additional guides, recommended tours when appropriate, and advice on where, when, and how best to enjoy the archipelago’s unique wildlife.

Disclosure: In order to keep providing you with free content, this post likely contains affiliate links. If you make a booking or purchase through one of these links we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. So a HUGE thank you to you if you click one of these links 🙂

📸 Things to Do in Galapagos Overview

About the Galapagos Islands – Know Before You Go!

Before skipping ahead to the list, it is important to understand a little bit about this unique destination and why we have chosen to organize the best things to do in Galapagos by island.

Understand that there are three inhabited islands within the Galapagos archipelago that you can stay on. In order of population and popularity, they are Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela.

(Technically, Floreana is also inhabited, but it is not a viable option except for long-term backpackers).

Whether you are visiting on your own or on a tour, you will stay on at least one of these islands. Accordingly, we have organized this guide by island.


How Best to Use this Guide

The first section of this guide will discuss the best things to do on (or from) each individual island. These include attractions, beaches, day tours, and highlights.

  • Attractions are destinations of cultural, historical, or natural importance that can be visited without a guide or tour operator.
  • Day Tours can only be done with an official tour operator (self-guided visits are not possible and/or permitted).

Following this is a section on Galapagos wildlife that includes where and how to see the many endemic animals that call the archipelago home.


Map of the Galapagos Islands

Color coded map of the Galapagos Islands showing inhabited islands and those accessible by day trip or cruise, plus ferry routes.

The map of the Galapagos Islands above shows the archipelago in its entirety and will better help you understand the layout of the islands.

It has been color-coded to indicate the islands that are inhabited and can be stayed on, those accessible by day tour, and those that are accessible via cruise ship only.

In addition, ferry services and airports are indicated by the appropriate symbols.

🦎 Best Things to Do in Galapagos on
Santa Cruz Island

A night photo of the Welcome to Santa Cruz Galapagos sign lit up.

Santa Cruz is by far the most populated and developed Galapagos island, and also the most popular island to stay on.

Due to the superior infrastructure and high rate of tourism, Santa Cruz provides more attractions, tours, and visitor opportunities than any other island which also makes it the best place to stay in Galapagos for the majority of visitors.


Top Attractions in Santa Cruz

The following destinations and attractions can all be done without booking a tour or guide.

If you are visiting the Galapagos islands on a self-guided trip or just have some free time in your tour itinerary, these are the best things to do in Santa Cruz that you can experience on your own!


1. El Chato Ranch

A giant Galapagos tortoise walking across lush green grass at El Chato Ranch Santa Cruz.

El Chato Ranch is the best place to see the iconic and endangered giant Galapagos tortoises in their natural habitat.

This tortoise sanctuary can be easily reached by hiring a taxi.

For the more adventurous, you can opt to cycle or take the bus.

🐢 READ MORE:
EL CHATO RANCH GUIDE


2. Las Grietas

Snorkeling Las Grietas is one of the best things to do in Galapagos on Santa Cruz.

Las Grietas is a large fissure located near Puerto Ayora and is among the most heralded places to snorkel in Galapagos.

The fissure is comprised of towering dark volcanic rock that runs along both sides, with calm crystal clear water at its base.

🤿 READ MORE:
LAS GRIETAS GUIDE


3. Charles Darwin Research Station

Baby Galapagos tortoises at Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz island.

Aside from the wildlife, Charles Darwin Research Station is perhaps the most famous attraction in Galapagos.

Visitors not only get to learn about the fascinating history that the islands played in the life of the great scientist Charles Darwin, but they also get to hang out with baby tortoises!


4. Gus Angermeyer Pier (Puerto Ayora Main Pier)

Baby sharks seen in the water from the main pier in Puerto Ayora at night.

Taking a night stroll along the main pier in Puerto Ayora is one of the best things to do in Galapagos, but also one of the most overlooked!

At no cost and a minimal time commitment, visitors can stroll the docks at night and see an assortment of marine life including reef sharks, sea turtles, and rays.


5. Santa Cruz Fish Market

Pelicans and sea lions wait for scraps as a local woman cleans freshly caught fish at the Puerto Ayora Fish Market on Santa Cruz island, Galapagos

Whilst exploring Puerto Ayora, be sure to stop by the Fish Market, a unique place to see wildlife so seamlessly integrated with the local human population.

You are almost guaranteed to find sea lions lounging here and waiting for scraps, as well as pelicans, lava herons, great blue herons, and marine iguanas.


Best Beaches on Santa Cruz

Surprisingly, the Galapagos islands are actually quite limited when it comes to accessible beaches. This is more to do with infrastructure than availability.

Of the many beaches scattered across Santa Cruz, very few are easily accessible and fewer still are walking distance. The rest can only be seen via tour or some serious dedication.

This section highlights the three beaches you can easily walk to and visit without a guide or tour.

🏖 READ MORE
TOP 25 BEST GALAPAGOS BEACHES


6. Tortuga Bay

A large expanse of white sand with aqua water at Tortuga Bay Santa Cruz Galapagos.

Without a doubt, Tortuga Bay is the premier destination for a beach day on Santa Cruz Island.

This white sand beach is fairly easy to get to and provides visitors with an expansive stretch of beautiful coastline with plenty of wildlife.


7. Playa de La Estación

Photo of an empty beach at Playa de La Estacion on a perfect sunny day, featuring some swimmers enjoying the water.

Playa de La Estación is a favorite destination for locals and tourists alike, mostly because it is the closest beach to town!

While it may not feature the softest sand nor swaying palm trees, it is easily the best place to go for a refreshing swim on a hot day.

🤿 READ MORE:
PLAYA DE LA ESTACION COMPLETE GUIDE


8. Playa Ratonera

Lava rock and golden sand are fringed by green vegetation during golden hour on Playa Ratonera Beach, Santa Cruz

Playa Ratonera is just a few minutes walk from Playa de la Estación, directly adjacent to Charles Darwin Research Station.

Accordingly, you will discover a similar quality of sand, swimming conditions, and wildlife.


Best Day Tours on/from Santa Cruz

The destinations featured in this section are only accessible via day tour.

Most require a boat, an official Galapagos National Park guide, or both, meaning you cannot visit them on your own!

⛵️ YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY:
BEST GALAPAGOS DAY TOURS


9. Santa Cruz Highlands Tour

A close up image of the face of a giant Galapagos tortoise at El Chato Ranch one a Santa Cruz highlands tour - one of the best things to do in Galapagos.

A Santa Cruz Highlands tour will typically include a visit to one of the highland farms, such as El Chato Ranch, to see the tortoises and lava tunnels.

It will also often include a stop at Los Gemelos (Twin Craters), which are large sinkholes formed following volcanic activity.

🐢 READ MORE:
EL CHATO RANCH GUIDE


10. Gordon Rocks (Scuba Diving)

Sophie scuba diving while posing behind a turtle during a Gordon Rocks  dive in the Galapagos.

For those who are SCUBA certified, Gordon Rocks is one of the best dive sites in the Galapagos to spot hammerhead sharks.

You will also likely encounter sea turtles, reef sharks, and a plethora of vibrant fish.

We went with Academy Bay Diving and had a great experience.


11. Santa Fe Island

Santa Fe Island in Galapagos as seen from the water.

Isla Santa Fe is home to the largest variety of endemic wildlife in the Galapagos, including a unique species of land iguana.

The landscape of the island itself is also impressive, with giant prickly pear cactus staged against a backdrop of picturesque turquoise water.


12. Bartolome Island & Sullivan Bay

View of Pinnacle Rock and surrounding bays from the viewpoint at Bartolome Island.

The colorful landscape of Isla Bartolome makes it the most beautiful and photogenic of all the Galapagos islands.

Beyond the natural beauty, Bartolome is also perhaps the best place to see Galapagos Penguins.

This was our favorite day trip, largely because we got to swim with penguins and saw blue-footed boobies for the first time.

🐧 READ MORE:
COMPLETE GUIDE TO BARTOLOME ISLAND


13. Pinzon Island

A sea lion swims upside down towards the camera on a day trip to Pinzon Island - one of the best things to do in Galapagos Islands.

For those interested in snorkeling, a day tour to Isla Pinzon should be near the top of your list of things to do in Galapagos.

The water here is the clearest we snorkeled anywhere in Galapagos and was one of the few places we got to see Galapagos sharks.

🦈 READ MORE:
COMPLETE GUIDE TO PINZON ISLAND


14. North Seymour Island

Two magnificent frigate birds sat in a tree with inflated red throat pouches and wings spread out.

North Seymour Island is perhaps the best island for bird-watching in the Galapagos.

It is home to the largest colony of magnificent and great frigate birds, famed for the males’ bright red throat pouches, as well as blue-footed boobies and an array of other sea birds.


15. South Plaza

A vibrant land iguana seen on South Plaza island in Galapagos.

South Plaza is home to the largest colony of land iguanas, as well as a unique hybrid iguana and a host of sea birds.

In addition to impressive wildlife and great snorkeling, you’ll also find a dazzling array of vegetation. This creates a unique landscape unlike any other in the Galapagos.


16. Floreana Island

Flamingoes feeding in a lagoon on Floreana Island Galapagos

Of all the Galapagos islands, Floreana has the richest and most fascinating human history.

As well as being the site of the first “post office”, it was home to the first Galapagos resident from 1807-1809 and was subsequently the first island to be colonized by Ecuador in 1832.

In addition to its human history, Floreana is also home to both a black sand and green sand beach, as well as a colony of flamingos.


17. Academy Bay Snorkeling Tour

View of Academy Bay from La Grietas viewpoint.

Academy Bay is the natural bay that Puerto Ayora inhabits.

A half-day tour will take you on a boat ride to a number of different locations throughout the bay and give you time for both snorkeling and on-land excursions.

🦭 Best Things to Do in Galapagos on
San Cristobal Island

Beautiful sunset photo of the Welcome to San Cristobal Galapagos sign in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

Main Town: Puerto Baquerizo Moreno

San Cristobal is the second-most populated island in the Galapagos and the second-largest tourist hub.

Surprisingly, the two islands are actually quite different in terms of feeling and experience. San Cristobal feels more authentically Ecuadorian, with English being spoken only by servers in higher-end restaurants and at local tour operators.


Top Attractions on San Cristobal

The following attractions are some of the best things to do in Galapagos without a tour.

All of the featured destinations below can be visited without arranging a tour or guide, and many of them are free!


18. Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado

A giant Galapagos Tortoises wades in muddy water at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado, voted one of the best things to do in Galapagos.

Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado is the best place to see Galapagos giant tortoises on the island of San Cristobal.

This tortoise sanctuary provides a semi-natural environment that protects new and old generations of the island’s oldest residents.

🐢 READ MORE:
COMPLETE GUIDE TO GALAPAGUERA DE CERRO COLORADO


19. Laguna el Junco

Panorama photo of Laguna El Junco lake on the San Cristobal highlands tour.

Laguna El Junco is the largest freshwater source in all of Galapagos. It is also a beautiful landscape to behold.

In addition to the human residents, the lake is also important to aviary wildlife. Expect to see flocks of Magnificent Frigatebirds swooping the water to clean themselves.

You can visit Laguna El Junco by yourself or as a stop on the Highlands tour.


20. Cerro Tijeretas

A view of Kicker Rock from the Mirador Cerro Tijeretas viewpoint on a hike in San Cristobal.

Mirador Cerro Tijeretas is aptly named, translating to Frigate Bird Hill viewpoint in English.

As well as providing sweeping views back over Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and out to Kicker Rock, it is also a great place to spot frigate birds as they nest in the nearby cliffside and soar overhead.


21. San Cristobal Interpretation Center

A view of the interior of the San Cristobal Interpretation Center; one of the best free thing to do in the Galapagos islands.

Located near Playa Mann, the San Cristobal Interpretation Center has various exhibits with displays in Spanish and English about the natural and human history of the islands.

The Interpretation Center also serves as the starting point for the trails that take you to Cerro Tijeretas (above) and Darwin’s Cove (below).


22. Darwin’s Cove (Muelle Tijeretas)

Top-down view of the crystal clear waters of Darwin's Cove, one of the most popular snorkel spots on San Cristobal island.

Darwin’s Cove has the clearest and calmest water on San Cristobal for snorkeling.

In its impossibly turquoise waters, you may encounter some of the most iconic Galapagos residents including sea lions, turtles, sharks, and an array of tropical colorful fish.

This is one of the best snorkeling spots in the Galapagos islands that can be discovered without a guide or boat tour!


Best Beaches on San Cristobal

The beaches of San Cristobal are limited but truly magical. They are undeniably some of the best things to do in Galapagos for free!

Expect to share pretty much every featured beach with plenty of resident sea lions.


23. Playa Mann

A young boy is taken by the hand by his mother as he watches a sea lion lounging in the sun and sand at Playa Mann beach on San Cristobal island in the Galapagos.

Playa Mann is the best beach on San Cristobal and one of the best beaches in all of Galapagos.

While mornings are quiet, this small spot of sand will always be crawling with locals and tourists alike, as well as plenty of sea lions!

🦭 READ MORE:
PLAYA MANN GUIDE


24. Playa Punta Carola

A marine iguana sits down beside Sophie on the white sand beach at Playa Punta Carola in the Galapagos.

Playa Punta Carola is a pristine white sand beach with all the beauty and wildlife of Playa Mann, but without the crowds (and services).

You will find this quieter alternative just around the bend from Playa Mann. It is walking distance from town and makes a great option for sunset.


25. Playa Puerto Chino

A view of the turquoise water at Playa Puerto Chino, considered one of the best beaches and things to do in Galapagos from San Cristobal island.

Playa Puerto Chino is the last stop on the San Cristobal Highlands Tour. However, it is also possible to arrange a taxi or bike to the beach.

The sheltered bay, powdery soft sand, and absence of lava rock make for safe conditions for swimming and relaxing.


26. Playa de Oro

Crystal clear water runs into a white sand beach with swaying palm trees at Playa de Oro on San Cristobal island.

Playa de Oro is a small but pretty patch of sand located directly in the main town Puerto Baquerizo Moreno).

This is a popular place to take the kids and swim right off the shore with no effort required.

It offers calm water and plenty of sea lions that will undoubtedly be putting on a show!


27. Playa Baquerizo

Lush greenery surrounds the lava rock-lined white sand beach of Playa Baquerizo on San Cristobal island.

Reaching Playa Baquerizo requires a grueling walk, but the reward is absolutely worth it.

Upon arrival, you can expect an absolute paradise that will be shared almost exclusively with the wildlife.


28. Playa Lobería

Three sea lions swim underwater at the popular beach of Playa Loberia on San Cristobal island in the Galapagos.

Playa Loberia is one of the most famous beaches for snorkeling with sea lions.

It used to be the absolute best beach on San Cristobal to see them and is still a wonderful place to hang out and snorkel with smaller crowds

However, you no longer have to go that far for this experience as they are all over Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.


29. Playa de los Marinos

Travel blogger Sophie Clapton relaxes in the sun surrounded by Galapagos sea lions on Playa de Los Marinos on San Cristobal island.

Playa de los Marinos is a very small beach located directly adjacent to the main pier right in town.

While this beach is not at all popular for humans, it is literally crawling with sea lions.


Best Day Tours on/from San Cristobal

The day tours listed below can only be done by hiring a local tour operator. Most require a boat, Galapagos National Park guide, or both.

Of note, the day tours on San Cristobal are at the top of the list of the best things to do in Galapagos of ANY island, with the 360° Tour & Kicker Rock being the best tours of all.


30. San Cristobal 360° Tour

Sophie Marland wades into incredibly clear aqua water from the beach at Bahia Sardina during a 360 Tour of San Cristobal island in the Galapagos.

The 360° Tour is one of the best day tours available in all of Galapagos.

On this voyage, visitors will be taken by boat around the entirety of San Cristobal island, making stops at some of the island’s most beautiful beaches and the famous Kicker Rock.

We consider it THE best thing to do in Galapagos for self-guided travelers!


31. Kicker Rock

An over/under photo showing the crack at Kicker Rock both above and below water, captured during a 360º day tour of San Cristobal island.

With its crystal clear waters, Kicker Rock is widely considered the best location for diving and snorkeling in Galapagos.

It is one of the best places to see Galapagos hammerhead sharks. But you can also expect to see plenty of tropical fish, bait balls, sea turtles, and sea lions!

Kicker Rock can be visited as its own day tour or as a stop on the 360° Tour.


32. San Cristobal Highlands Tour

A close up photo of two adorable baby Galapagos tortoises eating.

A San Cristobal Highlands Tour will take you to three popular sites on the island:

  • Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado
  • Laguna El Junco
  • Playa Puerto Chino

The highlands tour is a great way to see a different part of San Cristobal and provides an opportunity to see giant Galapagos tortoises up close.


33. Isla Lobos

An underwater image of a sea lion surfacing for breath in crystal clear water off of Isla Lobos Galapagos.

Just off the coast of San Cristobal, Isla Lobos is named for its thriving sea lion (lobos de marinos in Spanish) population.

In addition to sea lions, the small islet is home to a variety of Galapagos birds including blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, and frigate birds.


34. Española Island

Colorful red and green marine iguana on a rock at Punta Suarez, Española Island Galapagos

Española Island is most famous for being the only place to see waved albatross.

However, it also has one of the most beautiful beaches in Galapagos in Gardner Bay.

Plus, the island is home to a unique colorful subspecies of marine iguanas, nicknamed Christmas iguanas due to their green and red colors.


35. Punta Pitt

Olivine Sand Beach at Punta Pitt San Cristobal Galapagos

Punta Pitt is the only location in the Galapagos where you can see all three species of boobies (Nazca Blue-footed, and Red-footed) nesting in one place.

Additionally, it provides a nesting site for both species of frigate birds, making it a true birdwatcher’s paradise.

As if this wasn’t enough, it is also one of the few places you can walk on an olivine sand beach, often called “green sand beach”!

🏖 Best Things to Do in Galapagos on
Isabela Island

Palm trees sway over Playa Isabela in Galapagos with the welcome to Isabela sign displayed in Puerto Villamil.

Main Town: Puerto Villamil

Isabela Island has all necessary tourist services but is the least-developed of the inhabited islands (not counting Isla Floreana, which is home to only about 100 people).

What makes Isabela special is the beautiful stretch of beach that runs adjacent to town. The entire town and main port have been built up directly along the beach, making it the ideal island for beach holidays.


Top Attractions on Isabela

The non-tour options for spending a day on Isabela are limited, but there are a few things you can do on your own!

The attractions below can all be visited without arranging a tour and no guides are required.


36. Concha de Perla

Two spotted eagles rays swim by while snorkeling in the Galapagos island at Conca de Perla.

Concha de Perla is an incredible snorkeling site located next to the Main Pier on Isabela island.

This natural pool is set amidst the mangroves. It is home to a diverse population of marine life including eagle rays, marine iguanas, sea turtles, and even the occasional Galapagos penguin.


37. Flamingo Lagoon

Three flamingos bathe in the water at Flamingo Lagoon on Isabela island in the Galapagos.

Known locally as Posada De Flamengos, this small lagoon is home to a small population of flamingos.

You are not able to get very close to them, but it is pretty neat to see flamingos if you never have before.


38. Centro de Crianza (Tortoise Breeding Center)

A baby Galapagos tortoise is photographed having a snack at Arnaldo Tupiza Tortoise Breeding Center, one of the best things to do in the Galapagos islands from Isabela.

You can see all 5 different subspecies of giant Galapagos tortoise that are native to Isabela at the Arnaldo Tupiza Tortoise Breeding Center (Centro de Crianza Tortugas Gigantes Arnaldo Tupiza).

Here, they are hatched and incubated as part of a breeding program to increase the threatened population of wild tortoises.


39. Wall of Tears

The Wall of Tears (El Muro de las Lágrimas) on Isabela Island Galapagos.

The Wall of Tears (El Muro de las Lágrimas) is an interesting and sad part of Isabela’s history as a penal colony.

The best way to get here is by cycling. Along the way, it is common to spot wild Galapagos tortoises and other wildlife, plus you will have some beautiful viewpoints over the coast.


40. Sendero de los Flamencos

Two Galapagos flamingos wade through mirror-like water with their reflections showing.

The Sendero de los Flamencos is a short boardwalk that you can walk to from town which traces a lagoon habitat where flamingos and pintail ducks typically congregate.

You can continue your walk through the wetlands (humedales in Spanish) to find mangroves and Opuntia cacti.

This area is a great place for bird watchers and you can see a variety of avian life, including the critically endangered mangrove finch.


Best Beaches on Isabela

41. Playa Puerto Villamil (Playa Isabela)

Sunset photography from Isabela Beach with a volcano looming in the distance.

Playa Puerto Villamil, informally known as Playa Isabela or Isabela Beach, is a beautiful stretch of coastline that extends 2.5 miles (4km) westward from the main pier at Puerto Villamil.

This is the most accessible beach in all of the Galapagos islands and is the primary reason for choosing to stay on Isabela Island over Santa Cruz or San Cristobal.


42. La Playita

A small group of marine iguanas scurry out to see at La Playita Beach on Isabela island with Volcan Cerro Azul in the distance.

Appropriately named, La Playita (which translates to “Little Beach”) is a small sandy shoreline located just beyond the expansive, aforementioned Isabela Beach.

Being further from town, the main appeal of visiting La Playita is the seclusion.


Best Day Tours on / from Isabela

One of the best things to do in Galapagos is simply enjoy a beach day, and Isabela is the best island for this. Unfortunately, most activities requires an official park guide and/or day tour.

The following are the best things to do on Isabela that require arranging a day tour (meaning they cannot be done on your own).


43. Los Tuneles (Cabo Rosa)

An over-the-shoulder view of blogger Sophie Marland watching a pair of blue footed boobies on a Los Tuneles tour in the Galapagos islands.

A tour of Los Tuneles is one of the best things to do in Galapagos and our top choice of things to do on Isabela Island.

A host of interesting submarine landscapes and tons of marine life await you underwater as you snorkel ancient lava tunnels and other nearby spots.

On the land, this is the best place in Galapagos for seeing the iconic blue-footed boobies up close and personal.


44. Sierra Negra Volcano Hike

A young woman taking a photo at the edge of the Sierra Negra caldera after hiking the volcano.

The Sierra Negra volcano hike takes you to the rim of the great caldera of a still-active volcano.

From the rim, visitors will gaze across a black, baron landscape that abuts a lush green mountainside.

The length of the hike varies from 4-10+ miles (6-16+ km), depending on the tour you select.


45. Las Tintoreras

A sea lion pops out of the water to greet a group of tourists on a kayaking tour of Tintoreras on Isla Isabela.

Tintoreras is a popular half-day tour for snorkeling and kayaking.

During the cold season, Tintoreras is a common spot to see Galapagos penguins. Year-round you have a good chance of seeing sea lions, turtles, white-tip reef sharks, and rays, as well as various birds.


46. Isla Tortuga

Underwater photo of a starfish burrowed into coral in the Galapagos islands.

Just a short boat ride from Isabela Island is the small islet known as Isla Tortuga or Turtle Island.

The snorkeling is excellent for spotting hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, blacktip reef sharks, manta rays, eagle rays, and starfish!

It is also a great place to spot a lot of seabirds, including blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, frigate birds, and lava gulls.

🛫 Best General Things to Do in Galapagos

47. Play Wildlife Bingo

Adam Marland taking a picture of a Galapagos tortoise walking along the grass at El Chato Ranch.

Of all the things to do in the Galapagos, spotting wildlife is really at the center of it all!

Whether it’s snorkeling with sea lions, coming face-to-face with giant Galapagos tortoises, or watching the courtship dance of the many seabirds, these animal experiences are sure to be the most memorable moments of your Galapagos vacation.

In the section below, we have featured the most unique and interesting wildlife that you can in the Galapagos.


48. Inter-island Galapagos Cruise

A large Galapagos cruise ship leaving Santa Cruz island.

A cruise is one of the best ways to island hop in the Galapagos and the only way to visit many of the islands.

While we typically prefer DIY travel and rarely recommend cruises, the Galapagos islands are a unique destination where the difficulty in organizing a self-guided vacation adds a lot of value to having someone do it for you.

Additionally, it is by far the most time-efficient option for traveling around the islands.


49. Visit the Red Sand Beach of Rabida

Rabida Island Red Sand Beach with a cruise ship docked off shore.

Rabida’s red sand beach is absolutely one of the best beaches in the Galapagos, and certainly the most unique.

There are very few red sand beaches in the world, and even fewer that are as vibrant in color as Rabida (if you’re wondering, another is Maui’s red sand beach!).

There are no tour options available for getting here, meaning you will have to book a cruise that includes it in the itinerary if you want to see this miracle of nature.


50. Take a Scenic Inter-Island Flight

Aerial view of Kicker Rock and San Cristobal island taken from a plane on the way to the Galapagos.

While there are no scenic tourist flights available in the Galapagos, you can book an inter-island flight as a form of transport.

It is slightly more expensive than taking the inter-island ferry but offers absolutely spectacular aerial views of the islands.

We particularly recommend this for journeys between San Cristobal and Isabela, where a direct ferry doesn’t exist.

🦅 Best Wildlife Spots in Galapagos

A pair of blue footed boobies perform a mating dance while Adam crouches in the distance on a day tour to Los Tuneles.

In this section, we will feature the most unique and interesting wildlife that you can see on a visit to Galapagos.

We will also provide insight on the BEST places to see them, meaning the places you are most likely to see them and ideally share a genuine moment.

Note that these are not the ONLY places you will find each featured animal. Rather the locations mentioned are where encounters are easiest and/or most likely.

🐢 DISCOVER EVEN MORE:
MOST ICONIC GALAPAGOS ANIMALS + WHERE TO SEE THEM


Quick Note on Wildlife Etiquette

NEVER TOUCH ANY WILD ANIMALS!

As per Galapagos National Park law, you are required to maintain a 6ft (2m) distance from all wildlife, including protruding arms and selfie sticks.

⭐️ Pro Tip: The animals don’t know the rules! Stay still, do not attempt to touch or approach, and they will often come to you!


Galapagos Giant Tortoises

A giant Galapagos tortoise feeding on grass while Sophie holds a camera and poses at El Chato on Santa Cruz island.

Best Places: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal

These are the animals that Galapagos owes its name to, translating to “tortoise” in English. They are also the most iconic, but sadly among the most endangered animals in the region.

Each island has its own unique species of giant tortoise! In fact, a trained eye can tell which island a tortoise is from just by looking at them.

The best place to see them in a natural habitat is El Chato Ranch on Santa Cruz.

You can also see them at Charles Darwin Research Station (Santa Cruz), Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado (San Cristobal), and Arnaldo Tupiza Tortoise Breeding Center (Isabela).


Sea Lions

Underwater photo from Pinzon Island featuring a young sea lion posing for a picture.

Best Places: San Cristobal

Sea lions are the one wildlife encounter you can guarantee. They are incredibly playful and curious, and live on every island.

While you will encounter them throughout your time in Galapagos, San Cristobal is the best place to see them. They are literally on every beach and pier in town, and have completely taken over Playa de los Marinos.


Galapagos Fur Seals

A Galapagos fur seal posed on a rock on Floreana Island.

Best Places: Isabela, Fernandina, Santiago

The Galapagos fur seal is one of the cutest endemic species in the archipelago.

Although technically a sea lion rather than a seal, the Galapagos fur seal has a few noticeable differences from the more commonly encountered sea lions.

It is smaller, has denser fur, more pronounced ears, and larger eyes than a sea lion. They are also less common and are typically solitary creatures.

While they can be spotted in a few locations around the Galapagos, they can be found more reliably on Isabela, Fernandina, and Santiago.


Galapagos Penguins

A close up photo of the endangered Galapagos Penguin swimming off the coast of Bartolome Island, captured over / under water.

Best Places: Bartolome, Isabela

The incredible Galapagos penguin is the only penguin species in the world found in a warm climate and in the northern hemisphere.

Though endangered, these cute little birds can semi-reliably be seen on several islands where they have established nesting colonies.

A day tour to Bartolome Island is the best bet, followed by Tintoreras or Los Tuneles on Isabela Island.

Our penguin encounter on Bartolome Island was an absolute highlight of our most recent visit and swimming with them is something we’ll never forget!


Marine Iguanas

Three marine iguanas laying on a restaurant fence with the blue ocean in the background on Isabela island.

Best Places: Santa Cruz, Isabela

The marine iguana is notable as the only species of iguana on earth that can swim and even feed underwater.

This unique evolution is a nearly miraculous demonstration of life’s ability to adapt and survive.

Much like sea lions, you are basically guaranteed to see marine iguanas on any island. They are a bit more scarce on San Cristobal, but absolutely everywhere on Isabela and Santa Cruz.


Blue Footed Boobies

A male and female pair of blue footed boobies on Isabela island.

Best Places: Los Tuneles tour (Isabela), North Seymour, Española

The flamboyant blue-footed booby has become the unofficial mascot of Galapagos and is a genuine crowd favorite.

With their azure accessories and demonstrative mating rituals, they always entertain!

You will see blue-footed boobies in a dozen locations in Galapagos, but the best places to get up close and personal is by taking the Los Tuneles day tour from Isabela island.

There are also large colonies on North Seymour and Española islands.


Land Iguanas

A land iguana with a vibrant blue and yellow head laying beneath a shrub on black gravel on Baltra island.

Best Places: Baltra, Santa Fe, South Plaza

While the Galapagos is known for the evolutionarily extraordinary marine iguanas, the colorful land iguanas still make for an impressive sight as well.

Look out for them if/when you arrive and depart from the Baltra airport as we saw several while waiting for our flight right outside the doors!


Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks

Underwater dive photo of a Galapagos hammerhead shark swimming at Kicker Rock.

Best Places: Kicker Rock (San Cristobal), Gordon Rocks (Santa Cruz), Darwin & Wolf Islands

Watching an underwater cyclone of scalloped hammerhead sharks circling en masse is one of the most surreal experiences you will ever have observing wildlife.

With a day trip, Kicker Rock off of San Cristobal (snorkeling or diving) or Gordon Rocks off of Santa Cruz (diving only) are the best places to see them.

Darwin and Wolf Islands are known for their dense shark populations, but these are only accessible by SCUBA liveaboards.


Galapagos Sharks

Underwater photo of a snorkeler swimming underneath a Galapagos shark while filming it with a GoPro.

Best Places: Pinzon Island, Santa Cruz, Darwin & Wolf Islands

Galapagos sharks can be found worldwide but were named after the Galapagos islands where they were first identified.

They are typically seen at depths over 100m, though younger sharks can be spotted in shallower waters while snorkeling in Galapagos, particularly from March to April after their mating season.

The best place to truly see them while snorkeling is on a tour to Isla Pinzon, which has one of the highest shark populations and perhaps the clearest water you will snorkel in Galapagos.

In addition to hammerheads and Galapagos sharks, you are also likely to spot blacktip and whitetip reef sharks in the waters throughout the archipelago.

🦈 READ MORE:
PINZON ISLAND GUIDE


Magnificent & Great Frigate Birds

Magnificent frigate bird with red inflated throat pouch on North Seymour Island Galapagos.

Best Places: North Seymour Island

Known as the pirates of the sky, the magnificent and great frigate birds can be easily identified in the sky by their unique M shape.

Seeing them soaring overhead will be a near-constant throughout the Galapagos. However, most people are more interested in seeing the hilarious mating display of the males wherein they inflate a bright red pouch on their neck to impress their match.

The best chance you have at observing this behavior is at North Seymour Island just north of Santa Cruz.


Darwin’s Finches (Galapagos Finches)

A small black Galapagos finch (Darwin's Finch) perched in a tree.

Best Places: Everywhere!

Darwin’s finches (also referred to as Galapagos finches) are one of the archipelago’s most famed residents due to their important role in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

There are 17 different endemic species of finch that can be seen throughout the islands. Although strictly speaking they are tanagers rather than finches.

No matter where you go on the islands, you are going to spot one of these iconic birds.


Waved Albatross (Galapagos Albatross)

A pair of courting waved albatross on Española Island Galapagos

Best Places: Española Island

With an impressive wingspan that can reach 8ft (2.5m) in length, the waved albatross is the largest bird in the Galapagos.

The Galapagos albatross can only be seen on Española Island during their breeding season from April to December.

The rest of the year, they can be found along the coast of Ecuador and Peru.


Red Footed Boobies

Photo of a red-footed booby taking flight against a clear blue sky in Galapagos.

Best Places: Genovesa, Punta Pitt (San Cristobal)

There are actually three species of booby that inhabit the Galapagos islands.

Though their blue-footed relatives get all the attention, the red-footed booby is quite spectacular as well.

Like most aviary species on Galapagos, you may see the red-footed booby in dozens of places. However, the largest colony can be found on Genovesa island.

There is also a smaller colony at Punta Pitt on San Cristobal.


Sea Turtles

Underwater photography of a Galapagos green sea turtle.

Best Places: Isabela, San Cristobal

Four species of sea turtles frequent the Galapagos islands.

Green sea turtles are by far the most populous and common to see and are also the only sea turtles to nest in the Galapagos.

However, you may also see hawksbill, leatherback, and olive ridley turtles occasionally in the water.

The best place to truly experience their majesty is with a snorkel tour to Los Tuneles on Isabela or at Rosa Blanca on the 360 Tour from San Cristobal.


Eagle Rays

A pod of beautiful spotted eagle rays are photographed underwater while snorkeling on Isabela island in Galapagos.

Best Places: Elizabeth Bay (Isabela), Black Turtle Cove (Santa Cruz)

If you have never swam with rays before, their grace in the water is genuinely transcendent.

Eagle rays are especially beautiful with their unique spotted patterns.

They can be found in Elizabeth Bay on Isabela and are often found at Black Turtle Cove (Caleta Tortuga Negra), on Santa Cruz. 

However, they can be seen throughout the Galapagos. When we visited, we spotted them off the pier in Puerto Ayora and swam with a large group in Concha de Perla on Isabela.


Flamingos

Two Galapagos flamingos eating in Galapagos.

Best Places: Floreana, Isabela, Santiago, Rabida, and Santa Cruz

With their vivid pink feathers, flamingos are always impressive to spot.

They can be found in shallow, brackish water lagoons throughout the Galapagos where they feed on small crustaceans.

While they can be found on many islands, the largest colonies are on Floreana and Isabela.


Dolphins & Whales

A pod of dolphins are seen in the water on a boat trip from San Cristobal Galapagos.

Best Places: Bolivar Channel (between Isabela and Fernandina)

The Galapagos islands are home to over 24 species of dolphins and whales.

Some species live here year-round, making sightings possible year-round. However. you have the best chance to spot dolphins and whales between June and October when large numbers of migratory species are also present.

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💬 Final Thoughts

Sophie Clapton of We Dream of Travel poses for a photo at the iconic Isla Bartolome Viewpoint during our 2023 travels to the Galapagos islands.

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Adam Marland is a professional travel blogger and landscape photographer from Oregon. After over a decade of experience as a freelance travel photographer, Adam found national acclaim when he became the National Park Foundation's “Chief Exploration Officer” in 2021.

4 thoughts on “🐢 50 Best Things to Do in Galapagos (+Where to Do Them!)”

  1. Amaaaaazing post! The Galapagos look incredible for wildlife lovers! Those beaches, fabulous views and so, so many amazing tortoises, christmas iguanas and fabulous sealife. I can see why you love it.

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