Galápagos Islands

A list of the top 10 things to do in the Galápagos Islands including swimming with penguins, diving with sharks and unique wildlife encounters on dry land.

Top 10 things to do in the Galápagos Islands

1. Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock), San Cristóbal: Of all the things to do in the Galápagos Islands, snorkelling will no doubt dominate your time in the archipelago. If you book only one big tour, book this. Leon Dormido is a dramatic rocky island 1.5-hours from the port at Baquerizo Moreno.

There’s no beach but there is excellent snorkelling and diving offshore. On the dizzying cliffs above, you’ll see frigatebirds, red-billed tropicbirds and blue-footed boobies.

2. Diving North Seymour and Daphne Island, Santa Cruz: Scuba diving has got to be one of the most thrilling things to do in the Galápagos Islands, and this spot offers some of the best diving you’ll do anywhere in the world. The diversity of marine life is practically unparalleled.

In two dives around Baltra Island we saw white-tipped reef sharks, manta rays, sea turtles, stingrays, sea lions , swarming schools of black-striped salema and even a hammerhead shark.

3. Las Tintoreras, Isabela: If you have your heart set on seeing penguins (like Kia did), this is the best tour for you. Las Tintoreras is a group of rocky islands close to the harbour where penguins are often seen roaming.

At $90 per person, the tour was far more than we’d usually pay for snorkelling but Kia (absolutely, positively, indisputably) had to see Galápagos penguins in the wild! The tour did not disappoint with opportunities to see wildlife on land and in the sea including, of course, penguins!

4. Los Tuneles, Isabela: A good alternative to the Las Tintoreras tour, Los Tuneles comes highly recommended. A 40-minute boat ride from Puerto Villamil is an area filled with lava formations sitting between mangroves and the open ocean. An excellent spot for snorkelling you can expect to see white-tipped sharks, manta rays, eagle rays, sea lions, turtles and even sea horses in the shallow areas.

5. Isla Floreana: The “fourth” inhabited island of the Galápagos has a population of just over 100 and is probably the Galápagos you’ve imagined. Away from the tourist crowds, Floreana has an intriguing history as well as a host of fascinating sites.

On land, there is Punta Cormorant, famed for its volcanic green olivene crystals found on the beach; Post Office Bay, a stunning white sand beach; and the Puerto Velasco Ibarra highlands that provide excellent vistas of the island. Offshore, there is Devil’s Crown, a collapsed volcanic cone with excellent snorkelling.

6. Tortuga Bay, Santa Cruz: Tortuga is one of the most beautiful beaches we have ever seen. It’s a 40-minute walk from the main town Puerto Ayora, so isn’t as populated as it could be – meaning you could have large swathes of it entirely to yourselves. We didn’t see any eponymous tortugas (turtles) on this beach but we did lounge with marine iguanas on its incredible strip of pure white sand.

7. Reserva El Chato, Santa Cruz: The giant tortoise colony at El Chato may be smaller than its counterparts across the islands, but it feels the most natural. The trail through the reserve begins at Santa Rosa, 22km from Puerto Ayora, and weaves its way through fields of long grass and muddy pools of water where tortoises can be seen.

The reserve differs from the breeding centres as the tortoises are largely left free to roam, meaning it’s the best place to see them completely at ease in natural surroundings.

8. Centro de Interpretación, San Cristóbal: This is the best information centre in the Galápagos and far exceeds the more popular Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz. Just a 15-minute walk from our hotel, Casa Opuntia, the displays focus on conservation, climate and geology as well as the thought-provoking history of the Galápagos.

9. La Galapaguera tortoise habitat, San Cristóbal: This sanctuary along the main cross-island road on San Cristóbal seems to be the quietest. There’s no guarantee that you’ll see any adult tortoises as they’re left to freely roam the thickets, but there is a breeding centre where you can see younger and more “middle-aged” tortoises – if up to 100 years old can be classed as middle-aged…

10. Puerto Ayora town, Santa Cruz: The town of Puerto Ayora has everything a tourist will need to organise a trip throughout the islands as well as plenty of shopping, eating and drinking options.

There are several walks available from town including along the coast in either direction to the Charles Darwin Research Station or Tortuga Bay as well as inland hikes towards the central highlands. There are often volleyball games in the town square or music performances in the evenings offering glimpses into local life on the islands.

Lonely Planet Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands covers all the top things to do in Galápagos Islands and includes maps, highlights, itineraries, tips and essential information.