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Home > Galapagos > The Islands : ecologic and tourist information, geography, climate of the Galapagos archipelago. Description of the main islands : fauna, flora, avifauna, geology, history : Baltra, Charles Darwin station, Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal, Genovesa, Floreana, Espanola, Fernandina, Bartolome, Santiago, Rabida, Santa Fe


Galapagos beach - Santa Cruz island
The Galapagos from Island to Island
The Galapagos Islands stand among the wonders of the natural world in their ability to inspire awe, a sense of touching the power of Live itself.
The Galapagos Islands, officially know as the Archipelago of Colon, sit in the Pacific Ocean 972 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador.
The best way to explore the unparalleled natural wonders of the Galapagos is by a cruise.
The Archipelago covers 7882 square kilometers and offers 1366 kilometers of coastline. It consist of six main islands: Isabella, Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Floreana, Santiago and Fernandina, 12 smaller islands, 42 islets and countless small rocks formations. Only 13 of these islands exceed 14 square kilometers of surface.
Photo Cédric Neuville
Sea lion sleeping in the sun
Climate :

The oceanic winds and currents determine the climate.
From July till December: dry season (or Garua). The warm tropical air circulating over the cold sea currents engenders an inversion layer due to the exchanges of heat ocean-atmosphere. This zone of inversion consists of cold and wet air which top is materialized by a layer of stratus (garua).

From December till June: wet season. The sky at that time of year appears more like a summer sky punctuated by small formations of cumulus which were formed by convection in the bay of Panamá and pushed until the Galápagos by the Northeast winds.

The surface sea currents around the islands are pushed by the dominant winds of the Northeast and the Southeast.

From July till December: dominant strong winds of the Southeast are pushing the equatorial front northward. The archipelago is subjected to the cold sea currents.

From December till June: dominant winds of the Northeast are pushing the equatorial front southward. The archipelago is subjected to a current of warm water resulting from the bay of Panamá.
The Islands

Galapagos islands archipelago

Baltra (27 km2)
This is the only island that is not part of the national park. It is considered the entrance door to the Galapagos, as it has the main airport of the archipelago. During World War II, there was a military base there for the US troops that controlled the Panama Canal. They are responsible for the extinction of the ground iguanas on this island. It is now an Ecuadorian Air Force base that controls the airport and the island.

This small island situated North of Santa Cruz is a plateau of basalt that by its westward inclination forms abrupt cliffs in three other directions.
It is thus on the West that the numerous cruise boats embark their passengers directly since their descent of the plane at the nearby airport.
Today, the archipelago is served by a second airport at Puerto Baquerizo. It is planned to build a third one in the south of the Isabela island.
A 40 kilometers long road connect the airport of Baltra to the port of Ayora (Santa Cruz Island).

Santa Cruz (986 km2 - highest elevation : 864 m)
This island is the second of the archipelago by his surface and the first one for his population: 4500 inhabitants. It is the home of the Charles Darwin Station, the guardian entity that watches over the flora and fauna of the islands. A road of 40 km crosses the island from North to South to the small island of Baltra where the airport is located.

Puerto Ayora is the provincial capital and has several hotels, restaurants, travel agencies and souvenir stores.
The harbour is very small, so boats anchor in the bay. Today, it is possible to organize a visit of the archipelago from Puerto Ayora.
The main street owes its charm to its vegetation and to its very original houses decorated tastefully. The Banco del Pacifico opened in 1991 the first banking branch.

Santa Cruz offers 7 accessible classified sites. At Conway Bay, on the Northwest coast, a colony of iguana maybe observed. The maritime, very well represented iguanas are distributed along all the coast of Santa Cruz.

Just in front of Conway Bay, in Eden Island, is a colony of sea lions.
Eight sorts of finches can be found on the island and the Hawaiian Petrel makes its nest in the heights.

Almost all the sorts of birds were observed on Santa Cruz.
Iand Iguanas
The agricultural and pastoral zone does not enter into the Park zone but it is however interesting to understand the terracing of the vegetation and the life of the islanders. Santa Cruz possesses all the zones of vegetation and a very rich flora. The South of the island is much wetter and diversified than the North part, very dry.

One of the attractions is walking inside the lava tunnel that takes you to Tortuga Bay, on the north of the island, where you’ll see sea turtles, mantas and sharks. If walking is not a problem, you should climb up and see the Twin Craters
On geologic plan, the island is at a high stage of erosion and the oldest part is located in the Northeast, Cerro Colorado (in front of Plaza islands) is a lifted part where basalt lave and fossiliferous tuffs are inserted with volcanic tuffs (Miocene origin).

The human history of the island really began in the XXth century, when colonists of Europe and the United States came to settle down between both wars, in the wet and fertile zone of the High Lands. So, around the villages of Santa Rosa and Bellavista extend plantations of sugar cane, coffee trees, pineapple, papayas, banana trees, avocado and cattle-breeding areas are found.
All these plants and numerous pets were introduced by the colonists, certain number of these animals returned to the wild state, causing a serious impact on the native species of the island.
The Charles Darwin Research Station

This station, established since 1961, is a research center on the life and the conservation of the islands. Scientists of the whole world come to work in its laboratories.
It contains a National Park Information Center, a museum In the Van Straelen Exhibition Center, a baby tortoise house, and a walk-in aduld enclosure where you can meet the giant Galapagos tortoises face to face.
The Van Staelen museum, visited by the tourists, is a centre of information about the methods and the operations practised in Galápagos to know and protect the fauna and the flora.
Galapagos tortoise
A guided path allows a botanical walk in the middle of the most representative species of Galápagos.
The centre of breeding of the giant tortoises is the occasion for the travellers to see giant tortoises ( Galápagos) in the centre of incubation and breeding of the young tortoises. Those remain at the Station up to the age of 4 years before being repatriated in their native islands. This experiment is undertaken since 1970 and made it possible to save the tortoises threatened of extinction to have been used during three centuries for fresh meat by the boats on passage and by the fact that eggs were trampled and eaten by the animals introduced by man into the islands. A specific species of the Española ( Hood) island was reduced to two males and 11 females in 1960. It is today represented by more than 200 tortoises thanks to the efforts of the Park and the Station.

Isabela (4588 km2 - highest elevation : 1707 m)
It is the largest island of the archipelago and occupies over 58% of the entire land mass of the archipelago. It consists of a chain of five fairly young and intermittently active volcanoes. Because of its size and environmental conditions, it harbors a great diversity of flora and fauna, unmatched by the other islands. Its surrounding sea is also one of the richest areas. Centuries ago whaling ships anchored in its Tagus Cove.
You may sea-tour its coast and admire penguins, marine iguanas, pelicans and others.
Small boats do not frequently visit this island because most of the best visitors sites are on the west side of the island. The reverse "C" shape of the island means that the visitors sites on the west side are reached only after a very long passage (over 200 km) from Santa Cruz, so you either have to visit Isabela without seeing many of the other islands or take De Luxe or First Class cruise boat as they are bigger and faster.

San Cristóbal (558 Km2)
This is the fifth largest island in the archipelago and the second largest population. It is a large island with interesting places to visit, but not frequently visited by the cruise yachts. On your way to the top of the island, you will see El Junco lagoon, the only source of fresh water on the island. Here you can see white-cheeked pintails and common gallinules. The Chatman mockingbird, a species not found elsewhere, is common throughout the island. Punta Pitt is an interesting place from where you may admire the volcanic landscape and its birds, and take photographs

Genovesa or Tower (14 km2 - highest elevation : 75 m)
This island, situated totally in the Northwest of the archipelago, is very flat and its lave results from a central natural volcano, which became afterward a caldera filled with water (65 m of depth). The coast is lined with cliffs.

The vegetation belongs to the dry zone. The palo santo is plentiful, as well as opuntia and the salty bush (Cryptocarpus pyriformis).

The last island to be opened to tourists, is a paradise for bird lovers and photographers. It offers an incredible variety of birds and colonies of petrels. Both sorts of frigate birds nest in the bushes of cryptocarpus, whereas the red-footed boobies prefers palo santo.
masked boobies
It is the ideal place also to observe the masked booby in colony, the Galápagos dove, the Darwin finch, petrels and it is often possible to watch short-eared owls. If bird watching is your hobby, you will be delighted
Genovesa is visited preferably in the morning by low tide.
The visited site, located at the south of the island, is called Bahia Darwin and offers the best place to cast anchor and to disembark. Almost circular, this bay results from the erosion of a collapsed crater. A path of a kilometre and a half going there and back allows to realize an excursion of a little more than one hour.
A big number of "tide-pools", which are holes of water left by the tide, are found here where you will be able to observe the lurking heron of lava.
Sea lions concentrate along the cliffs of the Darwin bay. The island also shelters marine iguanas.
Floreana or Santa Maria (173 km2 - highest elevation : 640 m)
The most Southern of all the islands of the archipelago (with Española), Floreana is of ancient volcanic origin and its numerous volcanoes are very affected; no volcanic activity was indicated for a long time.

The vegetation is varied and luxuriant in the heights; the volcanic ground is very rich and the precipitation is modest. The colonists into the heights introduced numerous plants.

The sites of visit are Punta Cormorant and Post Office Bay. Post Office Bay: this island was constantly visited by whaling ships and turtle hunters in the XIX Century because of its permanent fresh water springs and easy anchoring sites.
The post office consisted of a wooden barrel where letters where kept until the consignee arrived, quite often, several years later. The yachts of passage and now the tourists immortalized this custom. There is a cave of lave not far from the barrel; a well-marked path allows reaching it.
Punta Cormorant : you reach it by a magnificent beach of green sand: this color is due to the abundance of the crystals of olivine (of volcanic origin). Exotic Punta Cormorant has an easy trekking trail, which surrounds a beautiful salt-water lagoon full of flamingos and other aquatic birds.

The place is also suited to observe the migratory birds of the coast: waders, curlews, Bahama ducks and turnstones. The trail ends at a beautiful sandy beach, an important nesting site for marine turtles.

fur sea lion
Española or Hood (61 km2 - highest elevation : 206 m)
This island is not a volcano, but a block of submarine laves that raised in the same adaptation of structures as Santa Fe and Baltra. The south coast is lined with abrupt and dangerous crests.

This is an arid island with a dense vegetation of thorny bushes. The vegetation is typical of the dry zone and the transition zone. The wealth of Española lies in its colonies of sea birds, as the endemic albatross, the blue-footed booby and the masked booby. -Gardner Bay, in the northeast of Española, is a bay with an island of the same name and a magnificent beach with laziness sea lions. It is a very good place for the apnea and scuba diving
Punta Suarez, in the southwest of the island, in spite of its inhospitable appearance, conceals among the most varied and the most impressive colonies of sea birds. If you are lucky, you will see the albatross between April 15th and December 15th.
The boobies concentrate inside lands or on cliffs all year round. It has important colonies of marine birds, mocking birds of Hood (endemic), Galapagos hawks, singer finches, the big cactus finch, oystercatchers, heron of lava, Galápagos doves, lizards, iguanas, Galapagos snakes and many other species are found on Española.

There is a blower hole on the basaltic coast, at the end of the arrowed path of Punta Suarez. The sea water is engulfed there violently and is ejected up to 25 meters height.
blue footed booby
Fernandina (642 km2)
The third largest island and the most westerly of the normally visited ones. It is considered the youngest of the main islands and the recently formed landscapes are most impressive. At least 10 eruptions have been recorded since 1813. With Punta Espinosa as its main visiting site, it is one of the most interesting places of the Galapagos Islands, as it has the biggest concentration of marine iguanas. Galapagos hawks are often seen here, and the rare flightless cormorant, unique to Isabela and Fernandina, nests near the water.
Bartolomé (1,2 km2)
This is a small and extremely arid island located in front of Sullivan bay, offering a real landscape of volcanic desert; however, visitors love it as it offers a beautiful beach and a magnificent bay with clear and calm waters. The only track of vegetation is represented by the coldenia, a small white plant and brachycereus, the cactus of lava.
A good trail climbs up to the 114 meter summit. From here you can see the most frequently photographed and hence most famous vista in the islands.
Bartolome island and pinnacle rock
The sight is extraordinary: towards the East one embraces a series of small cones of ejection giving the impression of a red desert perforated like a strainer; towards the West, one can only be astonished by the beauty of Bartolomé's isthmus, covered with mangrove and fringed by two small white sand bays. It is there that sets up " pinnacle rock ", a rocky needle, bombarded by the Americans during the second world war, which gives all its character to the island.

A small penguin colony exists there, and you can often see sharks in the south beach.

It is possible to bathe in the bay under the rocky pinnacle. The submarine fauna is there very attractive to the eyes
.

Santiago (585 km2 - alt max. 907 m)
The volcanic landscape is there very original with its numerous small cones of scoria and tuffs dominated by a central volcano covered with vegetation. On the heights (more than 900 m of height), the vegetation is dense because of the humidity and a forest of scalesias covers the Northwest of the central volcano, while the south coast is only lava and dry vegetation of palo santo, opuntia, and muyuco (Cordia lutea).

Puerto Egas (James Bay) is located on the west of Santiago and was the centre of a small exploitation of salt during the 50s. It is the most important place to visit on this island, especially at low tide when you may see invertebrates in tidal pools. Maritime iguanas, crabs and sea lions play in the submarine caves dug by the sea in the lava. At the end of the trekking trail, you may see the grottos or pools where Fur Sea Lions live. Galapagos hawks, iguanas and different species of seabirds are abundant on this island. An important visit for bird watchers.
Rábida or Jervis (5 km2)
This island lies five km south of Santiago. It is home for a large colony of sea lions.
This is a small island with red volcanic rocks surrounding a beautiful and unique red beach where sea lions haul out, and where there are often pelicans.
Behind the beach there is a salt-water lagoon with pink flamingos where white-cheeked pintails are also sometimes seen.
A strange site that you can enjoy only here.
red sand beach at Rabida island
Santa Fé (24km2 - highest elevation : 259 m)
Another island that raised by tectonic action, where the basalt cliffs were dated amongst the oldest of the archipelago (2,7 million years).
Located at 20 km south-east of Santa Cruz, it is easy of access thanks to a path which ends in the first heights of a cliff which dominate the south bay and its two beaches.

It has a beautiful calm bay where ships anchor. Its vegetation is arid and it has a forest of rare Opuntia cactus trees.

You will walk among land iguanas, so tame that you will think they are not real. Two ground sorts of iguana live in the island, but one of them, conolophys pallidus, is endemic only here. This sort, bigger, distinguishes itself by a clearer color and a very pronounced dorsal crest.
Sea lions and sea turtles are common to the small bay.


South Plaza
This is a barren and arid island that consists of beautiful formations of Sessuvium that display a bright red color during the dry season. The most important colonies of sea lions live here, and you can walk as close to them as you may wish, while they sunbathe on the rocks. A cliff top walk is a good opportunity to watch various sea birds in flight. You can watch swallow-tailed gulls, pelicans, puffins and the acrobatics of birds trying to land on their nests. Red-billed tropicbirds, frigate birds, Audubon's shearwaters and others are always seen.
No wonder this is a favorite wild life watching site.
North Seymour (2 km2 of lifted basalt)
The Seymour island and the nearby Mosquera island are very similar to Baltra by their aspect, typical of the dry zone.
Seymour is a flat and rocky island. It has a large variety of fauna that includes sea lions, swallow-tailed gulls, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies that nest during the dry season, and an important colony of the two species of frigate birds. If you are lucky, you may see the red-chested male performing the mating dance.
red-chested male frigate bird
Daphne Islands (32 ha - highest elevation : 120 m)
Located north of Santa Cruz and west of Baltra, there are in fact two craters made up of emerged tuff. The lava which solidified at the time of the eruption, has formed a solidified piton (neck). The main attraction is a colony of blue footed boobies which do not hesitate to nest straight on the ground n the bottom of the crater of the biggest island.
The license to come on this island is granted only one time per month and for one boat.


A Terrestrial Paradise
Galápagos are a terrestrial paradise: "Enchanted Islands" where live in peace, far away from the mankind, exceptional, magnificent and unique species of wildlive. In Galápagos, animals do not run away either in front of the man, nor in front of another species. In this place of the world, maybe the only one, was realized by Nature a complete disarmament. No weapons, no predators, no conflict, and the fear is then unknown. Nature seems to prove us that peace by the disarmament is not an utopia.

The relationship of the animals of Galápagos with the men and with their environment are in an extremely precarious state of balance. In this underprivileged habitat where food is sparingly measured, Life is always called in question. All that these bare islands have to offer to a unique world's fauna is, at best, a very rough paradise. But, it remains until now a paradise which could keep up because he was respected. It is one of the rare places of the planet where the man did nothing but stopping by briefly, where he did not disembark in tightened rows.

Let's hope that it lasts….
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