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The Galápagos Islands: An Overview

926km from the Ecuador coast, straddling the equator in the Pacific Ocean, are the wonderful Galápagos Islands. The Galápagos archipelago was famously Darwin’s major inspiration for his theory of evolution. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is regularly visited by globetrotting tourists. So, what is there to see?

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The highlights of the Galápagos Islands are the captivating wildlife and diverse geology, but you should know that, far from being a single tantalising discovery, each island of the Galápagos has its own defining feature. At Jacada, we’ve curated this ‘living museum’ and organised the major islands as follows…

North Seymour: Home to the Palo Santo trees

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AREA: 1.9km²

DEFINING FEATURES: North Seymour is dominated by the endemic silver-grey ‘Palo Santo’ trees. It is a dry and arid land, with low bushy vegetaion and plenty of cacti.

LOOK OUT FOR: Nestling colonies of frigate birds on the island – the frigate birds are majestic creatures with up to 2.3m wingspan. If you’re lucky, you may be able to see the males puff up their scarlet throat sacks.

WILDLIFE: Swallow-tailed gulls, blue-footed boobies, sea lions, marine iguanas.

Rábida: Red Island

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AREA: 4.9km²

DEFINING FEATURES: The landscape of Rábida is very peculiar. Picture red sand beaches (due to oxidation of iron rich volcanic material), small volcanic craters and cliffs.

LOOK OUT FOR: The saltwater lagoon inhabited by a sea lion colony and flamingos.

WILDLIFE: Brown pelicans, Darwin’s finches, Galápagos mockingbirds, doves, warbles.

Floreana: ‘Devil’s Crown’ diving

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AREA: 173km²

DEFINING FEATURES: The ‘Devil’s Crown’ is an underwater volcanic cone, located just off the northern coast of Floreana. It provides prime snorkelling opportunities, where you’ll swim with schools of fish, sea lions, sea turtles and over striking coral.

LOOK OUT FOR: The Post Office Bay. The human history of the island is particularly interesting. In the 19th century, the island was a favourite spot for whalers, who kept a wooden barrel at Post Office Bay so that their mail could be delivered to Europe and the United States by ships.

WILDLIFE: Pink flamingos, green sea turtles, rays, crabs.

Santa Cruz: Turf of the giant tortoise

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AREA: 986km²

DEFINING FEATURES: This is the land of the giant tortoise. You’ll find them both at the Charles Darwin Research Station and in the wild. The island has the largest human population of the archipelago. Santa Cruz is also a nature-lovers paradise with a wide variety of outdoor activities: hiking, scuba diving, mountain biking and kayaking.

LOOK OUT FOR: The highlands and the pit craters.

WILDLIFE: Darwin’s finches, Galápagos mockingbirds, flycatchers, herons, egrets, ducks, stilts.

Isabela: Volcanoes galore

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AREA: 4,588km²

DEFINING FEATURES: Isabela is the largest island of the Galápagos, with staggering volcanic scenery. It is made of six large shield volcanoes fused into one island.

LOOK OUT FOR: Ecuador volcano and Wolf volcano, both of which lie directly on the equator.

WILDLIFE: Galápagos penguins, marine iguanas, flamingos, sea turtles, penguins, sea birds.

Fernandina: Lava land

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AREA: 642km²

DEFINING FEATURES: Fernandina has an almost completely rocky surface. The island is an active shield volcano and is built of fluid lava flows. You’ll be taken to the outskirts of the crater for safety reasons. Expect astonishing views when the marine iguanas blend in with the black lava or when bright animals, such as crabs, constrast against the rock.

LOOK OUT FOR: Punta Espinoza, where you’ll see hundreds of marine iguanas gather in large groups.

WILDLIFE: Sea lions, Galápagos snakes, intertidal pools that bloom with marine life, cormorants and penguins.

San Cristóbal: The Galápagos capital

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AREA: 558km²

DEFINING FEATURES: Puerto Baquerizo is the capital of the Galápagos province. It is a small, cosy town where you’ll find the Interpretation Centre. Here you can learn more about the natural and human history of the archipelago.

LOOK OUT FOR: The tranquil El Junco – the only permanent fresh water lagoon in the Galápagos.

WILDLIFE: Galápagos sea lions, Darwin’s finches, marine iguanas, lava lizards, giant tortoises, San Cristobal mockingbird.

Bartolomé: ‘The View’

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AREA: 1.2km²

DEFINING FEATURES: This very small island provides most photographed view of the archipelago. When you’ve reached the top of the wooden staircase, you’ll have the ultimate Galápagos view of the nieghbouring islands.

LOOK OUT FOR: The base of Pinnacle Rock – here you’ll see the famous Galápagos penguins.

WILDLIFE: Lava lizards and marine life. The major natural attraction is the fascinating geology and scenery.

Española: Largest nesting colony of blue-footed boobies

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AREA: 60km²

DEFINING FEATURES: Enjoy good swimming and snorkelling at Gardner Bay and overwhelming wildlife diversity on this ancient island – one of the oldest of the Galápagos islands, roughly four million years old.

LOOK OUT FOR: The largest nestling colony of blue-footed boobies and the waved albatross colony (exclusively on Espanola island).

WILDLIFE: Mockingbirds and lava lizards endemic to Espanola, varied bird-life, Galápagos sea lions, colourful marine iguanas, Darwin’s finches, yellow warblers.

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If you have any questions or queries about the Galápagos our travel experts are always available to help.