Galápagos Islands Things to Do Tips by SanguiniA Top 5 Page for this destination
Galápagos Islands Things to Do: 363 reviews and 1,041 photos
Playful sea-lions underwater
Life underwater in the Galapagos is as rich as life on land so is definitely not to be missed. You don't need to be a diver to enjoy the underwater; snorkelling in these waters is an experience that you will difficultly forget! If you want to dive you will have to book a cruise that caters for divers. For those who want to snorkel almost any cruise (at least on a small boat) will stop you for a snorkel 1 or 2 times a day. Where you will be snorkelling will depend on the itinerary of the boat, but I can assure you that every snorkel will be great.
You will definitely be encountering plenty of tropical fish and sea lions. Sea lion pups are especially playful and actually approach you to play with them. They may nibble at your fins or blow bubbles in your face - it is truly an exhilarating experience to make friends with them.
You will also have a good chance of encountering marine turtles, rays and sharks.
A couple of things that you surely won't be able to see anywhere else in the world (well one is impossible, the other not with so much simplicity) is swimming with marine iguanas and seeing penguins flying underwater! Note that the latter can be seen only in certain parts of the Galapagos.
Another interesting thing to see from an underwater perspective is diving blue footed boobies. You will have seen them from the shore or the boat but seeing what happens underwater puts this onto a whole new level. The speed at which they dive underwater is incredible and even the depths they reach. And the precision is to be envied.
Don't even contemplate not snorkelling or diving in the Galapagos - you would be making a big mistake!
Land Iguana on Santa Fe
This island is situated on the south east of the archipelago; 2.5 hrs from Santa Cruz and 3 hrs from San Cristobal. The island was formed by an uplift, and is not a volcano in itseld; giving it a rater flat appearance. It has a wonderful turqoise cove, great for snorkelling.
This island is well known for its pricky-pear cacti forest and the unique land iguana, which is more uniformly coloured than the other ones in the archipelago and has larger crests.
Wildlife highlights here are the Galapagos Hawks, mockingbirds, finches, galapagos snake and rice rats. Of course there are also sea lions present, especially on the beach.
Scenery from the Cliffs
The Plazas are two islands, North and South Plaza, off the coast of Santa Cruz. North Plaza is closed to the public due to ongoing scientific research, but South Plaza is a visiting site for tourists.
South Plaza is most popular for the dizzying population of land iguanas - the largest population throughout the archipelago. This must be related to the large amount of prickly pear cacti present here - the fav food of land iguanas. Here another strange phenomenon concerning iguanas occurs - a hybrid iguana. This is the offspring of a marine iguana and a land iguana. Hybrid iguanas live the lifestyle of a land iguana though.
Other wildlife you can expect to see on this island are sea lions, swallow tailed gulls, frigatebirds, red-billed tropicbirds and audobon shearwaters.
The trail on this island takes you from the dry landing site ( a rocky beach) up to the cliffs - where the scenery is quite nice.
Snorkelling here is also great with the usual encounters with Sea Lions, plenty of tropical fish, sharks and turtles.
Fat Marine Iguana on Espanola
While early visitors to the Galapagos were repulsed by these creatures, I found them to be truly fascinating. I wouldn't date one of course, but they far more interesting than some of the guys I dated :)
All of the marine iguanas throughout the islands, despite their different sizes and colours are in fact of the same species. Espanola's ones are the most colourful and the only ones to change colour from red to green in the breeding season.
Marine Iguanas, as the name implies, are iguanas that take to the sea for sustenance. In fact they feed off marine algae and may even dive to find some. This is one of the most notorious adaptations to a hostile environment in animal history. Anyway, for this to occur the iguana had to change physically from other normal land iguanas. First of all the tail is flattened to help in swimming. The claws are longer, for them to get a better grip to exit the water and for them not to be washed away by currents and waves. Their face is also flattened to allow them to better scrape off algae from rocks. They can also dive and spend several minutes underwater ... large males even up to half an hour and at a depth of 15m.
I visited the Galapagos in September and was amazed at how these creatures manage to live here and not hibernate during this season. The air was chilly and the sea frigid - for cold blooded creatures their lifestyle and success is truly remarkable. At night they sleep huddled together in large number and they are a bit slow to kickstart in the morning as they have to spend considerable time trying to absorb the sun's rays to get to an optimal temperature.
Marine Iguana Fact - To get rid of the salt accumulated in their system iguanas sneeze a mixture of salt and water upwards, like a fountain. They may also do this to ward off any threats; so mind you don't step too close ...
Land Iguana eating Prickly Pear
While not as remarkable (lifestyle-wise) as the marine iguanas, land iguanas are larger (can grow up to 1m) and more colourful - having yellowish orange bellies and darker brownish backs. They are found throughout the archipelago but are extinct from Santiago and have been re-introduced by humans on Baltra.
Their sustenance is mainly the prickly pears (fruits that grow on these cactus). They are not all that active, and can be seen lazily waiting underneath the cactus for the fruit to fall off on their own (patient animals ...) Once one falls they scurry towards it and try to remove the thorns with their paws - usually they just remove the larger thorns and eath the fruit with the rest of the thorns(!!) The prickly pears are a source of food - and more importantly water, as they live in very arid places. They also eat other vegetation and flowers when available.
They have burrows which they use for nesting, shade from the sun and protection during the night.
One of the best places to see land iguanas is on Plaza, where there is the highest density of them in the Galapagos.
Sombrero Chino Landscape
The name, which is translated to Chinese Hat, refers to the shape of this tiny island, off the coast of Santiago. It has some delightful landscapes but Park services have restricted visits to small boats with 16 passengers or less, and if often not included in trip itineraries.
It is a good place to see different lava formations, as well as sea lions, sally lightfoot crabs and marine iguanas.
Landing is wet, and on a lively white sandy beach in the shape of a crescent.
The coast nearby is an especially good place to snorkel with the highlights being swimming with Galapagos Penguins, sea lions, white tipped reef sharks, marine turtles, marine iguanas and rays.
Lava Heron stalking prey
The Lava Heron (or Galapagos Heron) is another example of how animals evolved to better suit the environment around them - it has taken on the colouration of lava, for camouflage reasons.
This rather smallish heron can be found on rocky shores or in mangroves, stalking fish, crabs and lizards. Like almost all other herons it will lie motionless ,intently concentrated, and with flash speed will lash out at its prey with its long, powerful beak.
The Lava Heron is endemic to the Galapagos Archipelago.
Female Lava Lizard
These active lizards are seen almost throughout the islands (with the exception of the northern outer ones Genovesa, Darwin and Wolf). There are 7 species of lava lizards in the Galapagos but they all share common traits - that the male is larger than the female and that the female usually has a red throat.
They come in a variety of colours and markings, but always well comouflaged to their surroundings. Even within the same species there may be significant difference in size and colouring. Lava Lizards can also change their colour slightly according to temperatures and mood (especially if they are threatened).
They feed on invertebrates, and occasionally they are also cannibalistic. If there is a shortage of food they may even resort to eating leaf matter (like in Bartolome for example)
View from summit
Bartolome, off the coast of Santiago is one of the smallest and youngest islands of the Galapagos archipelago. For a change, here the attraction is the landscape and not the wildlife - even though here is one of the few places where one can spot the Galapagos Penguin.
The lava landscape is lunar, desolate and very arid - but it is quite a sight. Bartolome is an extinct volcano and there is a trail to the summit. The trail is a wooden boardwalk to protect the fragile lava from erosion. Once on top of the boardwalk you are greeted with a spectacular view of the famous pinnacle rock and the twin bays. This is the most photographed and most suggestive spot of the Galapagos. During the trail one can observe spatter cones and lava tubes, cacti and lava lizards, and of course plenty of lava and its weird colours and formations.
Even though this island is arid there is a mangrove on the narrow strip of land dividing the twin bays and the island is a site for Green Sea Turtles nesting.
The pinnacle rock is a great spot for snorkelling where sharks, turtles and plenty of fish are commonly seen. If you are lucky you may even swim with a Galapagos Penguin!
Other wildlife to be seen on land are marine iguanas, lava lizards, sea lions and lava herons.
Well adapted for lava camouflage ...
Penguins in the equator?! Yes, no wonder the Galapagos are called the Enchanted Islands! These are the most northerly penguins that even venture to the Northern Hemisphere!
Galapagos Penguins (endemic to the Galapagos) are the third smallest species of penguin in the world - just 14 inches long. They probably arrived to these islands by the Humboldt current from Antartica - now this is quite a remarkable feat for a flightless bird!
They live in colonies and fish for a living, like all other penguins. Their wings might be useless for flying in the air but they sure are impressive underwater, where they literally 'fly' underwater at incredible speed. The fish don't stand a chance ...
There are just around 2000 of these penguins. They can be seen on Fernandina, Isabela, Bartolome, Santiago, northern Santa Cruz and Floreana.
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