This is the year: you’ve decided to plan your Galapagos Islands bucket list trip! With a deep breath, you can feel the equatorial sunshine and refreshing salty air against your skin. In your minds eye, you can envision sea lions with flippers outstretched as if to say hello, a giant tortoise extending its long neck to see who has arrived, and a flock of albatross waving their way along the sea breeze to welcome you to the archipelago.
Picturing your perfect Galapagos cruise getaway is the best place to start in planning your trip, but you’ll only have so much time to see the very best these majestic islands have to offer. When you’re not sure where to go and what to do in the Galapagos Islands, try our top 9, traveler-tested, Quasar-approved destinations.
Seated at 90 degrees west and 1 degree south, Galapagos “is a scattering of 13 main islands, each with its own character.” Known for its diverse array of prehistoric creatures, colorful marine animals, and vibrant flora, these islands are home to some of the strangest and most captivating life imaginable. Nestled into the islands are sites you simply can’t miss on your Galapagos adventure, as these are the very sites that won The Galapagos Islands a spot on The World’s Ultimate Bucket List.
With nearly 35 years of experience guiding passengers on unforgettable Galapagos expeditions, allow Quasar to guide you in planning the trip of a lifetime. Read on for the top places to visit in the Galapagos, by can’t-miss activity.
1. Top Galapagos Historical Site: Post Office Bay, Floreana Island
One of Quasar Expeditions’ ports of call, Floreana Island, is a traveler favorite not only for the beauty of unique lava caves and awe-inspiring beaches, but also for the bewildering presence of mail, long-awaiting delivery to its intended recipient.
Post Office Bay has a unique history as a mail depot for British sailors and Galapagos whalers, who would drop letters there in hopes that passing ships would pick up and hand-deliver the mail when they reached their final destination, likely worlds away. To this day, the stampless system is quite effective. You will enjoy sifting through intriguing postcards, keepsakes, and letters you could hand-deliver upon return home… and leaving behind a sentiment or two of your own for travelers from other corners of the world to discover.
2. Top Destination for Darwin Enthusiasts: Santa Cruz Island and Charles Darwin Station
While touring the six different vegetation zones of Santa Cruz Island, you will have the coveted opportunity to observe the out-of-this-world creatures and cosmic terrain that first captivated Charles Darwin, leading to studies that would change the course of evolutionary science forever. The time you spend on Santa Cruz Island will affirm the Galapagos as an Ultimate Bucket List Experience!
While enjoying Santa Cruz, Darwin enthusiasts can’t miss Charles Darwin Station, the island’s center of conservation, restoration, and research. Quasar Expeditions voyagers are welcomed ashore to visit the Giant Tortoise Breeding and Rearing Program run by the research station. Bring your camera to capture once-in-a-lifetime moments with these ET-like animals, from hatchlings to juveniles to large, distinguished-looking individuals.
Learn more here at the Charles Darwin Research Station.
3. Top Place for Galapagos Wildlife Experiences: Punta Espinosa, Fernandina Island
Quasar Expeditions visits Punta Espinosa, a narrow spit of land on Fernandina Island, on all of its Galapagos cruises. Your wildlife experiences are sure to begin even while you’re en route to the spit – it’s not unusual to see penguins swimming nearby the dinghy, or herons and egrets foraging among the mangrove roots.
Upon arrival, panga drivers skillfully navigate the reef to get you up close and personal with the exotic creatures who gather in close proximity here. Wildlife regularly spotted on this unique point include Marine Iguanas dodging Racer Snakes, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, California Sea Lions, Flightless Cormorants, Galapagos Hawks, Lava Herons, Yellow-Crowned Night-Herons, and Great Blue Herons. If you’re lucky, you might even witness the combating flutter of 5-foot wing spans during a Blue Footed Booby feeding frenzy.
4. Top Galapagos Hike: Sullivan Bay, Santiago Island
Some travelers say hiking Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island feels otherworldly, as if you’ve been transported to the face of the moon. While traversing the unique volcanic landscape, you will navigate lava formations and fissures that reshaped the island just over a century ago, with viewpoints that gleam like a giant obsidian sculpture in the equatorial sunshine.
While traversing the rope-like lava field, you will also experience the stark contrast Sullivan Bay is famous for. The gallery of dark, abstract volcanic shapes is interspersed with the perplexing presence of vibrant vegetation and wildlife. You are sure to see fur seals, flamingos, and Galapagos Hawks along the 1-2 hour hike, topped off with an awe-inspiring view of Pinnacle Rock nearby Bartolome Island and the option to snorkel in Sullivan Bay’s famous crystal blue water.
5. Top Galapagos Beach: Rabida Beach, Rabida Island
A surprise among Galapagos’ pristine white sand beaches is a mesmerizing sight you simply can’t miss: Rabida Beach on Rabida Island. Rabida Beach is a traveler favorite its rusty hues, striking land-sea contrast, and wide variety of wildlife.
At first glance, you may feel like you’re experiencing an optical illusion. How could a sandy beach be so vividly red? The iron content of Rabida Island’s volcanic rock is so high that the rock rusts when exposed to air, turning the beaches, soil, and rocky cliffs red. Rabida’s visitors are greeted by sunbathing sea lions that have made this mesmerizing red sand beach their home. As if this Mars-like island wasn’t colorful enough, you will also discover a hyper-saline blue lagoon where flocks of pink flamingos stand out among the crowd of extraordinary wildlife.
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6. Top Galapagos Snorkeling Site: Punta Vicente Roca, Isabela Island
Punta Vicente Roca, located on the northwestern tip of Isabela Island, is one of the archipelago’s most interesting and diverse snorkeling sites. A Quasar traveler favorite for the abundance of marine wildlife spotted here, it’s no wonder Punta Vicente Roca is one of the Top Snorkeling Sites in Galapagos.
The nutrient-rich waters and the upwelling of cold water currents in Punta Vicente Roca attract a diverse array of rare creatures. Sun rays punch through the crystal clear water and light up this magical underwater theater, animating colorful schools of fish and shining light into Punta Vicente Roca’s two protected coves. Prepare to glide among Frogfish, Moonfish, sea horses, Flightless Cormorants, and Red-lipped Batfish while delighting in the calming presence of Pacific Green Sea Turtles and graceful Galapagos sea lions.
7. Top Kayaking in the Galapagos: Elizabeth Bay, Isabela Island
Elizabeth Bay, a tranquil inlet on the east coast of Isabela Island, is one of the most beautiful sites designated for kayaking by the Galapagos National Park. Quasar guests of all ages enjoy zig-zagging through turquoise shores and wildlife-filled coves at a pace that allows for Kodak moments amidst unforgettable scenery.
The waters of Elizabeth Bay are so calm, you will feel as though your kayak is skimming across glass. As you explore and venture further into the bay, you are likely to see Galapagos penguins, sea lions, Blue-Footed and Nazca Boobies, pelicans, marine iguanas and a dozen other magnificent creatures.
8. Top Place for Galapagos Wildlife Photography: Punta Suarez, Española Island
One of the oldest of the Galapagos Islands, Española seems to be the choice gathering place for some of the world’s most rare creatures. On Quasar Expeditions’ photo safari cruises, travelers can interact with naturalists who guide the discovery of wildlife that has adapted to perfectly blend in with its Punta Suarez surroundings.
With its breathtaking variation of species, Punta Suarez is a top international destination for wildlife photographers. From tiny sea lion pups that seemingly model for the camera to this island’s peculiar population of red-and-turquoise-marked marine iguanas, your film will fill up in no time. At Punta Suarez, wildlife photographers may even bear witness to the Waved Albatross courtship dance made famous by BBC’s Galapagos series. Espanola Island is one of only two places you’ll find this rare endemic species nesting from April to December.
9. Top Galapagos Bird Watching Site: Darwin Bay Beach, Genovesa Island
Darwin Bay Beach is located on Genovesa Island, which is also known as “Bird Island.” Rightfully so, as this bay more than any other in the Galapagos is truly a bird watcher’s delight. The bustling activity of Great Frigate Birds, Yellow-Crowned Night-Herons, and Swallow-Tailed Gulls stands out against the bay’s white coral sands and calming ocean waves.
Bird watchers highlight Darwin Bay Beach on their bucket list for the chance to see Lava Gulls and Pintail Ducks riding the sea breeze. The sparse vegetation in this part of the Galapagos makes rare bird sightings more frequent. Quasar passengers are assisted by naturalist guides, experts in scouting out the more shy species here. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the Short-Eared Owl hiding among the cracks and tunnels of Genovesa’s lava fields, patiently awaiting the arrival of their Storm Petrel prey coming in for a landing.