What to expect in the Galapagos? The Galapagos consist of 13 major islands (ranging in area from 5.4 to 1,771 square miles, 6 smaller islands, and scores of islets and rocks lying athwart the Equator 600 miles west of the mainland of Ecuador. Their total land area of 3,093 square miles is scattered over 23,000 square miles of ocean. Here is what to expect on the main islands:
- FERNANDINA and ISABELA ISLANDS – lie on the western edge of the archipelago. They are generally visited on a longer itinerary. Fernandina is the youngest and most active volcano in the Galápagos, with eruptions taking place every few years. It is also one of the most pristine of the islands, with none of mans introduced species to date. The flat lava of Punta Espinosa gives a feel for this stark and barren landscape. Flightless cormorants build their nests on the point, and sea lions sprawl on the beach or play in the tidepools. Isabela is the largest island, made up of six volcanoes joined by extensive lava flows. There are various sites to visit around the island. A two-day trek up Alcedo Volcano will lead you to some of the last of the wild tortoises found in the islands.
- SANTA CRUZ ISLAND– supports one of the largest human populations of the five inhabited islands. Some 4,000 residents are distributed between the cattle-farming communities in the lush highlands and the coastal town of Puerto Ayora. Here you can visit the Charles Darwin Research Station to see the huge land tortoises, or galápagos, which once flourished in the islands. The populations were decimated in the early 1800s by the whaling ships that stopped in the islands to fill their holds with fresh meat. A bus ride into the highlands takes you to Los Gemelos, two deep pit craters situated in the Scalesia forest with lots of interesting bird life, or for a trek through the giant lava tubes, or to the Tortoise Reserve to search for giant tortoises in their natural surroundings. On the north shore of the island, accessible only by sea, is an extensive mangrove lagoon called Black Turtle Beach. Here in the peacefulness of the mangroves turtles break the surface of the still waters, while fish, rays, and small sharks cruise below.
- JAMES (SANTIAGO) ISLAND– has several sites to visit in the region of James Bay at the western end. Puerto Egas with its black sand beaches was the site of small salt mining industry in the 1960s. A hike inland to the salt crater is an excellent opportunity to sight land birds such as finches, doves, and hawks. A walk down the rugged shoreline, especially at low tide, will turn up many marine species. Iguanas bask on the rocks and sea lions laze in the tide pools. At the end of the trail there is a series of grottoes or sea caves where fur seals and night herons are found resting on shady ledges. Just north of James Bay is Buccaneer Cove, a particularly scenic area of steep cliffs and dark beaches. A large population of feral goats now frequents this part of the island. Part of the point has been fenced off to protect the native vegetation from their destructive foraging. On the eastern coast of James Island is Sullivan Bay, a large area of fresh pahoehoe (ropey) lava flows dating from an eruption in 1897. A walk over this glazed black rock gives the impression of the still-molten lava, as every ripple, swirl, and bubble in its surface has been preserved. Only the occasional pioneering Mollugo plant gives a clue of the time needed for species to colonise such an expanse.
- SAN CRISTOBAL ISLAND – is geologically one of the oldest, reflected by its eroded volcanic peaks in the north and densely vegetated slopes in the south. The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is the capital of Galápagos Province. A bus ride through highland farms brings you to El Junco, the only freshwater lake in Galápagos. Cruise to spectacular Kicker Rock, or Leon Dormido, the jagged remains of an old tuff cone whose flanks are covered with seabirds.
- SANTA FE (BARRINGTON) ISLAND– is one of the most picturesque anchorages within the archipelago. Its beauty is best appreciated from the trail which climbs the fault cliff overlooking the southern half of the bay. This plateau is also the best place to find the large land iguanas that are endemic to this island. Often they can be seen beneath the imposing Opuntia cacti that are also particular to Santa Fe. The two beaches are sleeping grounds for sea lions, and snorkeling near the small island by the entrance of the bay can also be rewarding.
The best way to see the islands are to take a cruise, give us a call and let us plan your bucket list trip to this amazing place.
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