The Galapagos Islands
Santa Cruz Island
- The only island that is not part of the Galapagos National Park, Baltra is an airport and a military base. Most visitors to the islands will make their acquaintance of the island as they first come in and then eventually leave to return home. This is also where visitors pay their park entrance fees, but some of the archipelago’s famous iguanas, lizards, and Darwin finches can often be seen for free at the airport.
- Near Baltra is North Seymour Island, named after English nobleman Lord Hugh Seymour. The island is known for its Galapagos land iguanas which were brought over from Baltra in the 1930s to preserve the species as Baltra was converted into a military base. North Seymour was unpopulated and an ideal location to move the iguanas to, which was carried out by Captain G. Allan Hancock. The island is home to other bird populations as well, including the blue-footed booby and magnificent frigate bird.
- If you’re looking for the Galapagos fur seal, then you’ll definitely want to visit Santa Fe Island. One of the smaller islands, Santa Fe Island still gets plenty of foot traffic for its close proximity to Santa Cruz Island and it’s population of Galapagos fur seals. These are the smallest seal species in the world, and enjoy sunbathing on the beaches of Santa Fe Island. The island also has an Opuntia cactus forest, where Yellow Warblers, Galapagos Mockingbirds, Darwin Finches, and Galapagos Doves all flock, and sighting of Lava Lizards and Santa Fe Land Iguanas are highly prized.
- The main island, Santa Cruz Island holds the biggest population of human residents of all the islands. The island is a large but dormant volcano, and was first settled in the 1930’s by a group of Norwegians. Not all of them stayed, but those who did quickly found themselves in a simpler and quieter life. Today the island is home to over 12,000 residents, and has more “people-focused” activities, such as snorkeling, surfing, mountain biking, and hiking. The beaches here are easily accessible and restaurants and hotels are abundant, especially in the capital of Puerto Ayora. The town feels more like a coastal South American port city, despite the seals lounging on the beaches and waterfront. There is still plenty of wildlife to see here though, especially along the beaches and lagoons; Bahama ducks and pink flamingos are especially fond of the lagoon near Garrapatero Beach.
- The easternmost island, San Cristóbal Island is a compilation of 4 extinct volcanoes. The English name for the island, Chatham, originates from William Pitt, the 1st Earl of Chatham, but is seldom used in favor of San Cristóbal, for Saint Christopher, the patron saint of sailors and seafarers. The only source of fresh water on the island, the lake El Junco, encouraged settlement, and a penal colony for prisoners exported from Ecuador was established in the 1880’s. The colony gradually evolved into a military base and export center for good procured from the islands, including fish, lime, cassava, coffee, and sugar. The island is home to the Chatham mockingbird, which is found on no other island and in no other part of the world.
- Isla Bartalomé is one of the “youngsters” of the islands, named after lifelong friend of Darwin, Sir Bartholomew James Sullivan. This island is considered one of the most beautiful in the entire archipelago, due to the colorful rock formations from volcanic activity, creating a rainbow of black, red, orange, and green rock formations. The high rocks of Isla Bartalomé are fairly easy to climb, the most popular being Pinnacle Rock, and reward you with breathtaking views of the surrounding islands. Snorkeling and swimming are popular pastimes in the bay, where you can frolic with penguins, turtles, and tropical fish.
- Named after Charles Darwin himself, Darwin Island is teeming with marine life, with no real dry landing sites. While a visit onshore is not permitted, most visitors are happy snorkeling and diving right off the island and exploring the colorful marine life. You can often find Whale, Hammerhead, Galapagos, Silky, and Blacktip sharks in the waters, as well as Manta rays, turtles, and dolphins.