Which island in the Galapagos is the best to visit? [Updated 2023]

August 10, 2022

Which Island in the Galapagos is the Best to Visit?

With 21 islands (18 main islands and three smaller ones) making up the Galapagos archipelago, you might wonder which island is the best to visit. As locals who live on Santa Cruz Island, we love to share our expertise to help visitors enjoy the best Galapagos vacation possible.

If you’re coming for Galapagos Diving trips or PADI Dive Courses, take a look at our offerings to get you started. Hoping to see all the essential attractions during your trip? Check out our Galapagos Islands Tour Packages to choose the best combination of islands and activities for you.

Whatever your motivating travel interests, your plans should include these top Galapagos islands on your visit. We look forward to seeing you here in this truly exceptional part of the world!

Start on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos

Visit Giant tortoises with Academy Bay Diving

Don’t miss the Giant tortoise reserve in Santa Cruz.

The second-largest and most densely populated of the Galapagos Islands, Santa Cruz is also our home island at Academy Bay Diving. We live in the heart of all the action here in the archipelago!

Many visitors will start and end their Galapagos trips in Santa Cruz. The Charles Darwin Research Station is here, and many flights arrive at Baltra Airport, accessed via a 5-minute ferry from Santa Cruz.

You can take many excellent day trips from Santa Cruz, making it an ideal hub for a land-based Galapagos vacation.

For wildlife enthusiasts, Santa Cruz is home to giant tortoises, an array of beautiful birds, and marine iguanas. Suppose you fancy swimming in the blue waters surrounding Santa Cruz. In that case, Carrion Point is a popular destination for snorkeling, while the pristine sands at Garrapatero Beach and Tortuga Bay make these good choices for those wanting to relax on the beach.

Interested in the islands’ natural history? In that case, you can walk the lava tunnels of Santa Cruz to get an insight into how volcanic activity has shaped the terrain.

Visit Isla Isabela for Diverse Wildlife

Isabela is known for its wide variety of wildlife. As the largest of the Galapagos Islands, you can see everything from the iconic giant tortoises to reef sharks, flightless cormorants, penguins, boobies, and more. This active volcanic island also offers interesting geological spots, such as the Chico or Sierra Negra Volcanos.

Chico Volcano comprises a series of volcanic cones. With the volcano having erupted as recently as 1979, guests can walk on recently created lava flows. From the top of the 860-meter Chico Volcano, you’ll enjoy excellent views over Isabela and Fernandina.

The Sierra Negra Volcano, meanwhile, erupted as recently as 2005 and possesses the largest caldera of any volcanic site across the islands.

To discover the conservation efforts on Isla Isabela, we recommend visiting the tortoise breeding center at Tintoreras. Bird enthusiasts will not want to miss Flamingo Lake, the best place to see these iconic pink creatures in the Galapagos archipelago. Similarly, we recommend Isabela’s Wetlands – a fantastic place for spotting diverse birdlife. Learn more about the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands with our Galapagos Wildlife Guide.

If you’re interested in exploring the wonders of Isabela (and we recommend you do), why not browse our selection of Multi-Day Isabela Tours?

Visit Bartolomé Island for the Iconic Galapagos Vista

Bartolome tour with Academy Bay Diving

Take a land tour to Bartolome

Bartolome is one of the younger islands in the Galapagos archipelago. A visit to this island yields beautiful views and vistas, with its extinct volcano and stunning variety of colorful landscapes.

It’s worth the steep climb to Cerro Bartolomé for the iconic view across this wild terrain (one of the most photographed areas across the Galapagos Islands).

And don’t skip the green turtle nesting site on the southern stretch of beach, nor the penguins at Pinnacle Rock on the north side of this tiny island!

For birdlife, keep your eyes peeled for the majestic Galapagos hawks which nest across the island.

See the Colors of Isla Rábida in the Galapagos

Isla Rábida is famous for its high iron oxide content, responsible for creating its mesmerizing red sand beach. The sea lions seem to be particularly fond of this spot, lounging across the sand in large numbers!

But that’s not the only color on this island. Head in from the coast, and you’ll spot bright pink flamingos. You can also hop into a panga to explore the coastal mangroves to try to spot mating green turtles.

Isla Rábida is ideal for travelers who enjoy quiet, revitalizing hikes.

Santa Fe Island is Perfect for Day Trips

Situated near Santa Cruz Island, Santa Fe is a popular day trip destination. You’ll likely spot sea lions, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and frigates. There is also excellent snorkeling around Santa Fe! We’re huge fans of the diving here, too.

If you’d like to journey around Santa Fe with an expert local guide, consider joining us for our Santa Fe Day Tour, which blends wildlife encounters and quiet time spent in nature with superb snorkeling at our favorite Sante Fe swimming spots.

Diving Santa Fe with academy Bay Diving

la Cueva at Santa Fe

Explore Española for the Birdlife

Española boasts some dramatic views, and its position as the most southerly of the Galapagos means it’s less frequently visited, too. Expect high coastal cliffs from which the waved albatross takes off. Or enjoy the white sand beaches where sea lions lounge aplenty.

This island is only visited by cruises since it’s too far from the hubs for day trips. You will feel like an old-fashioned explorer in this secluded Galapagos paradise.

Head to Isla Floreana for Snorkeling

Located near Santa Cruz Island is Isla Floreana, the smallest and least populated of the inhabited islands in the Galapagos. This island is known for its colorful birdlife, from pink flamingos to blue-footed boobies to finches and more.

You can also visit Post Office Bay, from which you can send a postcard directly from our archipelago – your friends and family at home won’t be at all jealous!

But the real show-stopper at Floreana is snorkeling around Devil’s Crown, a lagoon with some of the best snorkeling in the whole region. You might see white-tip reef sharks, rays of all kinds, green turtles, and penguins.

You’ll surely see plenty of colorful reef fish, and you might even get lucky and see a harmless hammerhead shark!

(Learn more about hammerhead sharks and the rest of the Galapagos’ native species on our dedicated Galapagos Wildlife page.)

Find Isla Fernandina in the Western Galapagos

Typically only visited during a Galapagos cruise, Fernandina is the westernmost of the Galapagos Islands. You’re likely to spot flightless cormorants, plenty of penguins, and tons of land iguanas there.

As a western island, Fernandina is not visited on day trips, it is only visited on cruises.

Set Out for North Seymour for Seabirds

North Seymour Island is a tiny island just north of Baltra (sometimes called South Seymour). It is known for having one of the Galapagos’ most significant and active seabird breeding colonies. As an arid island, this is also where you’ll spot land iguanas seeking out succulent flowers.

So, what do you think? Which is the best island in the Galapagos to visit? We’d venture to say you can’t pick just one! With such mind-boggling diversity and awe-inspiring landscapes, you must visit several islands during your Galapagos trip. Keen to get started? Check out our Galapagos Diving Packages to blow some bubbles with our Galapagos Islands Tour Packages or us if you’re staying above water.

If you have any questions about our tours or services, please get in touch.

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