Things to do and see in the Galapagos Islands
Where else in the world can you swim with sealions, chat with pelicans, talk with giant tortoises and pick up mail from ship-wrecked barrels?
Nature and wildlife lovers will not be short of things to do in the Galapagos Islands.
Things to do in the Galapagos Islands
Most of the things to do in the Galapagos revolve around wildlife and nature — birdwatching, getting close to the fearless animals, hiking in unusual landscapes such as up a volcano, or swimming, snorkelling or diving.
If you’re on a boat, there is normally at least one morning and one afternoon activity and sometimes a few more in between. The onboard naturalist guide always gives an in-depth briefing about what to expect; the type of landing; what you might expect to see; what clothes and footwear might be appropriate.
The Galapagos is not a beach destination, The things to do here are more active and less passive, though it’s not necessarily hard work as many of the island visits are suitable for people of most ages and fitness levels.
Here are some ideas of what to do in the islands, but you can also always call and chat to one of our Galapagos specialists.
Landing site trails
This is very well done and the park authorities make sure that all the yachts can’t turn up at the same place at the same time. There is a limit to the size of a group that can land too. With an absolute maximum of 16 plus the naturalist guide you never feel as though you are walking a trail with a crowd.
Landing at one of these sites may be at a small dock or onto rocks where you get directly from the dinghy onto dry land, known as a dry landing; or it may be a matter of getting out of the dinghy in the shallow waters of a beach, known as a wet landing. Then you head off along the trail with your naturalist guide. The pace is always nice and slow as the whole point of being there is to stop and look at the flora and fauna and to have time to take photos. The guide talks you through all kinds of stuff; from the geology of the rocks and sand you are standing on to the life cycle and behaviour of the animals around you.
You can expect to see different things on different trails and on different islands. You’ll find detailed descriptions of the landing sites on our pages about the individual islands. But the experience of walking these trails and seeing wildlife that simply doesn’t move away from you is absolutely magical.
There is farmland up in the highlands too. And the farms are the best place to see the giant Galapagos tortoise in the wild. They often provide a ideal protected environment for these massive reptiles which love to cool off by wallowing in the water holes.
Visiting the Darwin Centre
The Galapagos National Park Visitor Centre
You can have a go at snorkelling even if you’ve never done it before and in some places even if you can’t swim. Where snorkelling is available from the beach the guide may well suggest you put on a life jacket and whilst still at a depth where you can stand he will help you use the mask and snorkel to look below the surface of the water. You’ll be amazed at what you see.
For those more confident some of the snorkelling is done in deep water sites from a panga (dinghy). You may well find yourself swimming with sea lions playing around you or a penguin rushing past you like a torpedo – yes they’re fast under water. You can watch the marine iguanas grazing on seaweeds and algae on the rocks below the surface. And of course there are a million fish to keep you amused. It’s great fun.
If you are doing a land based or island hopping itinerary then there may be more opportunity for sea kayaking. There are multi sport itineraries that include kayaking such as those which take in Isabela where you can paddle out from Villamil dock to Island Bay. Typically you might have sea lions swimming alongside you and you’ll have a good chance of seeing turtles and rays, penguins and blue-footed boobies.
One of the best known hikes is on Isabela where you can spend a whole day exploring the highlands with a hike up to the crater of the Sierra Negra volcano. From here you can continue to the rim of the Volcan Chico, making pretty much a full day’s hike of it and covering about 16 kilometres through the day. It gives you a really good understanding of the geology of the islands as you explore one of the youngest and most active islands in the Galapagos archipelago.
The paths can be a bit muddy if there’s been rain and it’s not uncommon for there to be a morning mist or light rain around the volcano. But when you get to the top the crater is huge, second only to Ngorongoro in Tanzania. You then continue to Volcan Chico walking across an unfamiliar landscape that’s fairly barren but surprisingly supports some life like the lizards that scurry about between the rocks.
Some yachts offer occasional diving but they do not operate this themselves; they get one of the land based diving centres to come out and pick you up from the boat. While you are doing this you are missing the activities that your fellow passengers are doing. So if you want to do a few dives rather than a complete dive based cruise, it is best to do this from a land base before joining your cruise. For more information see our diving section.