Must see attractions in The Galápagos Islands

  • Sights in Puerto Ayora

    Charles Darwin Research Station

    Just northeast of Puerto Ayora is this iconic national-park site, where over 200 scientists and volunteers are involved with research and conservation efforts, the most well known of which involves a captive breeding program for giant tortoises. Paths leading through arid-zone vegetation take you past tortoise enclosures, where you can look at these Galápagos giants. There's also a baby-tortoise house with incubators (when the tortoises weigh about 1.5kg or are about four years old, they’re repatriated to their home islands).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Isla San Cristóbal (Chatham)

    León Dormido

    About an hour’s boat ride northeast of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is León Dormido (Kicker Rock), so named because of its resemblance to a sleeping lion. León Dormido is an imposing, vertical, sheer-walled tuff cone that has been eroded in half; smaller boats can sail between the two rocks. Because there’s no place to land, this site is usually seen by snorkelers, passing boats or from the top of Cerro de las Tijeretas outside of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, often to dramatic effect when the sun is setting. Day trips from Puerto Boquerizo Moreno here are around $80.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Isla Santa Cruz (Indefatigable)

    El Chato Tortoise Reserve

    South of Santa Rosa is El Chato Tortoise Reserve, where you can observe giant tortoises in the wild. When these virtually catatonic, prehistoric-looking beasts extend their accordion-like necks to feed, it’s an impressive sight. The reserve is also a good place to look for short-eared owls, Darwin’s finches, yellow warblers, Galápagos rails and paint-billed crakes (these last two are difficult to see in the long grass). The reserve is part of the national park and a guide is required.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Isla Isabela (Albemarle)

    Volcán Alcedo

    The summit of this volcano (1097m) is famous for its 7km-wide caldera and steaming fumaroles. Hundreds of giant tortoises can be seen here, especially from June to December, and juvenile hawks soar on thermal updrafts. The view is fantastic. Permits are required to hike this long, steep and waterless trail and to camp near the summit (two days required).

  • Sights in Isla Santiago (San Salvador or James)

    Puerto Egas

    Puerto Egas is one of the most popular sites in the Galápagos – a long, flat, black lava shoreline where eroded shapes form lava pools, caves and inlets that house a great variety of wildlife. It's a great place to see colonies of marine iguanas basking in the sun and hundreds of Sally Lightfoot crabs attracting hunting herons. The inlets are also a favorite haunt of the surprisingly agile Galápagos fur sea lions.

  • Sights in Isla Isabela (Albemarle)

    Darwin Lake

    A dry landing deposits you at the beginning of a 2km-long trail that brings you past this postcard-perfect saltwater lagoon. It has twice the salinity of the ocean, and is a tuff cone, like a chimney from the main volcano. The trail leads to the lower lava slopes of Volcán Darwin (1280m), where various volcanic formations and stunning views of surrounding slopes can be observed. There are some steep sections on this trail. A panga ride along the cliffs to Tagus Cove will enable you to see the historical graffiti and various seabirds, usually including Galápagos penguins and flightless cormorants. There are snorkeling opportunities in the cove.

  • Sights in Puerto Ayora

    Tortuga Bay

    In terms of sheer white-sand beauty, this beach is the rival of any in South America. You’ll find it at the end of a 2.5km paved trail southwest of Puerto Ayora. In addition to swimming (a spit of land provides protection from the strong and dangerous currents on the exposed side), surfing or just sunbathing, you can see sharks, marine iguanas, pelicans and the occasional flamingo. There’s no drinking water or other facilities.

  • Sights in Isla Isabela (Albemarle)

    Volcán Wolf

    Not only is Isla Isabela the largest Galápagos island, but its imposing skyline of grumbling volcanoes makes it the most striking. Volcán Wolf, at the northern tip of the island, is the highest point in the Galápagos, standing at 1707m (5600ft), and is one of the most active volcanoes in the archipelago – young lava covers the caldera floor. Ten eruptions have occurred between 1797 and 1982. The 1982 eruption saw fountains of lava emanating from vents before rising over the rim.

  • Sights in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno

    Interpretation Center

    This modern and easily digestible center explains the history and significance of the Galápagos better than anywhere else in the country. Exhibits deal with the biology, geology and human history of the islands – it deserves a visit even if you've been inundated with facts from boat guides. From the center there are also many well-marked trails that wind around the cacti and scrub of Cerro de las Tijeretas (Frigate-Bird Hill).

  • Sights in Isla San Cristóbal (Chatham)

    Cerro Brujo

    Possibly one of the nicest beaches in the Galápagos, Cerro Brujo is a huge white expanse found on the west side of the island. The sand here feels like powdered sugar. A colony of sea lions and blue-footed boobies call Cerro Brujo home, and behind the beach is a lagoon where you’ll find great egrets and great blue herons. There’s also good snorkeling in the turquoise waters.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Puerto Ayora

    MAPRAE

    The first of its kind in the world, this museum uses augmented reality to showcase a permanent exhibition of 55 pre-Columbian artifacts. The ancient cultures of Ecuador’s Amazon and coastal regions are brought to life as visitors point smart phones or tablets at one of the relics, with historical information and three-dimensional images appearing directly on the devices.

  • Sights in Isla Santa Cruz (Indefatigable)

    Rancho Primicias

    Next to El Chato is this private ranch, where there are dozens of giant tortoises, and you can wander around at will. The entrance is beyond Santa Rosa, off the main road – ask locals for directions. Remember to close any gates that you go through. There is a cafe selling cold drinks and hot tea, which is welcome if the highland mist has soaked you.

  • Sights in Isla Isabela (Albemarle)

    Volcán Sierra Negra

    Northwest of the tiny settlement of Tomás de Berlanga lies the massive Volcán Sierra Negra (1490m), which last erupted in late 2005. An 8km trail leads around the east side of the volcano. It’s possible to walk all the way around the caldera, but the trail peters out. Galápagos hawks, short-eared owls, finches and flycatchers are among the birds commonly seen on this trip. The summit is often foggy (especially during the colder, drier garúa season, which extends from June to December) and it is easy to get lost. There are spectacular views from nearby Volcán Chico, a subcrater where you can see fumaroles. Several agencies in towns offer all-day tours (per person $35). These include transport up to the volcano, followed by an 11km walk. Bring a rain jacket, water and snacks (a sack lunch is provided). Make sure you go only in a closed vehicle (and wear your seat belt); do not go in an open-sided chiva. A tragic accident in 2014 left several tourists on this outing gravely injured, when the driver of their chiva lost control coming down the mountain.

  • Sights in Puerto Villamil

    Pozo Villamil

    Behind and to the west of the village is this lagoon, known for its marine iguanas and migrant birds, especially waders – more than 20 species have been reported here. A trail a little over 1km long begins just past the Iguana Crossing Hotel. The wooden boardwalk takes you over the lagoon, passing through mangroves and dense vegetation, eventually ending in the Centro de Crianza de Tortugas (Giant Tortoise Breeding Center).

  • Sights in Isla Floreana (Santa María or Charles)

    Post Office Bay

    Most groups spend several perfunctory minutes on the north coast at Post Office Bay, where scraps of wood covered in graffiti surround a a few gone-to-seed barrels. Although a functioning mailbox for American and British whalers from the late 18th century, these days it’s tourists who leave postcards, hoping they will find their way, like a message in a bottle. Actually, it’s more prosaic than that: visitors are asked to grab a few to post when they return to their home countries.

  • Sights in Isla Santa Cruz (Indefatigable)

    Lava Tunnels

    These impressive underground tunnels southwest of the village of Santa Rosa are more than 1km in length and were formed when the outside skin of a molten-lava flow solidified. When the lava flow ceased, the molten lava inside the flow kept going, emptying out of the solidified skin and thus leaving tunnels. Because they are on private property, the tunnels can be visited without an official guide. The tunnels have electrical lighting (you can also hire flashlights/torches).

  • Sights in Isla Santa Cruz (Indefatigable)

    Las Grietas

    For nice swimming and snorkeling, head to this water-filled crevice in the rocks. Talented and fearless locals climb the nearly vertical walls to plunge into the water below. Take a water taxi (per person US$0.80 from 6am to 7pm) to the dock for the Angermeyer Point restaurant, then walk past the Finch Bay Hotel, then past an interesting salt mine, and finally up and around a lava-rock-strewn path to the water. It's about a 700m walk from the dock.

  • Sights in Puerto Villamil

    Muro de las Lágrimas

    Some 7km west of Puerto Villamil is the Muro de las Lágrimas (Wall of Tears), a 100m-long wall of lava rocks built by convicts under harsh and abusive conditions. The penal colony closed in 1959, but the wall stands as a monument to an infamous chapter in the island’s history. The best way out here is by bike, as there are other intriguing stops (mangroves, beaches, overlooks) along the way. Bring water and sun protection, as there's little shade on the way. A taxi here costs around $10.

  • Sights in Isla Fernandina (Narborough)

    Punta Espinoza

    Just across Canal Bolívar, Punta Espinoza houses marine iguanas (too many to count), which can be seen sunning themselves on the black lava formations – a dramatic sight that looks like a museum diorama on dinosaurs come to life. Flightless cormorants nest nearby and Galápagos penguins, turtles and sea lions can be seen frolicking in a fine display of multi-species tolerance in the nearby lagoon.

  • Sights in Puerto Ayora

    Playa Mansa

    If you walk the length of Tortuga Bay, you'll reach this picturesque lagoon lined with mangroves. Here you can spot marine iguanas, brown pelicans and blue herons, among other species. On the nearby dunes, sea turtles lay their eggs. The placid, shallow water is a great swimming spot for kids. Kayaks are available for hire.