Galapagos Main Islands
Baltra (South Seymour) Island: Also known as South Seymour, Baltra is a small flat island located near the center of the Galápagos. It was created by geological uplift. The island is very arid, and vegetation consists of salt bushes, prickly pear cacti and palo santo trees.
Until 1986, Baltra Airport was the only airport serving the Galápagos. Now, there are two airports which receive flights from the continent; the other is located on San Cristóbal Island. Private planes flying to Galápagos must fly to Baltra, as it is the only airport with facilities for planes overnight.
On arriving in Baltra, all visitors are immediately transported by bus to one of two docks. The first dock is located in a small bay, where the boats cruising Galápagos await passengers. The second is a ferry dock, which connects Baltra to the island of Santa Cruz.
During the 1940s, scientists decided to move 70 of Baltra's land iguanas to the neighboring North Seymour Island as part of an experiment. This move had unexpected results during the military occupation of Baltra in World War II; the native iguanas became extinct on the island. During the 1980s, iguanas from North Seymour were brought to the Charles Darwin Research Station as part of a breeding and repopulation project, and in the 1990s, land iguanas were reintroduced to Baltra. As of 1997, scientists counted 97 iguanas living on Baltra; 13 of which were born on the islands.
In 2007 and 2008, the Baltra airport was remodeled to include additional restaurants, shops and an improved visitor area.
Bartolomé (Bartholomew) Island: Bartolomé Island is a volcanic islet just off the east coast of Santiago Island in the Galápagos Islands group. It is one of the "younger" islands in the Galápagos archipelago. This island, and neighboring Sulivan Bay on Santiago (James) island, are named after life-long friend of Charles Darwin, Sir Bartholomew James Sulivan, who was a Lieutenant aboard HMS Beagle. Today Sulivan Bay is often mispelled Sullivan Bay. This island is one of the few that is home to the Galapagos penguin which is the only wild penguin species to live on the equator. The green turtle is another animal that resides on the island.
Darwin (Culpepper) Island: This island is named after Charles Darwin. It has an area of 1.1 square kilometers (0.4 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 168 meters (551 ft). Here fur seals, frigates, marine iguanas, swallow-tailed gulls, sea lions, whales, marine turtles, and red-footed and Nazca boobies can be seen.
Española (Hood) Island: Its name was given in honor of Spain. It also is known as Hood, after Viscount Samuel Hood. It has an area of 60 square kilometers (23 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 206 meters (676 ft).
Española is the oldest island at around 3.5 million years, and the southernmost in the group. Due to its remote location, Española has a large number of endemic species. It has its own species of lava lizard, mockingbird, and tortoise. Española's marine iguanas exhibit a distinctive red coloration change during the breeding season. Española is the only place where the waved albatross nests. Some of the birds have attempted to breed on Genovesa (Tower) Island, but unsuccessfully. Española's steep cliffs serve as the perfect runways for these birds, which take off for their ocean feeding grounds near the mainland of Ecuador and Peru.
Española has two visitor sites. Gardner Bay is a swimming and snorkeling site, and offers a great beach. Punta Suarez has migrant, resident, and endemic wildlife, including brightly colored marine iguanas, Española lava lizards, hood mockingbirds, swallow-tailed gulls, blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, red-billed tropicbirds,Galápagos hawks, 3 species of Darwin's finches, and the waved albatross.
Fernandina (Narborough) Island: The name was given in honor of King Ferdinand II of Aragon, who sponsored the voyage of Columbus. Fernandina has an area of 642 square kilometers (248 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 1,494 meters (4,902 ft). This is the youngest and westernmost island. On 13 May 2005, a new, very eruptive process began on this island, when an ash and water vapor cloud rose to a height of 7 kilometers (23,000 ft) and lava flows descended the slopes of the volcano on the way to the sea. Punta Espinosa is a narrow stretch of land where hundreds of marine iguanas gather, largely on black lava rocks. The famous flightless cormorants inhabit this island, as do Galápagos penguins, pelicans, Galápagos sea lions and Galápagos fur seals. Different types of lava flows can be compared, and the mangrove forests can be observed.
Floreana (Charles or Santa María) Island: It was named after Juan José Flores, the first president of Ecuador, during whose administration the government of Ecuador took possession of the archipelago. It is also called Santa Maria, after one of the caravels of Columbus. It has an area of 173 square kilometers (67 sq mi) and a maximum elevation of 640 meters (2,100 ft). It is one of the islands with the most interesting human history, and one of the earliest to be inhabited. Flamingos and green sea turtles nest (December to May) on this island. Thepatapegada or Galápagos petrel, a sea bird which spends most of its life away from land, is found here. At Post Office Bay, since the 18th century whalers kept a wooden barrel that served as post office so that mail could be picked up and delivered to their destinations, mainly Europe and the United States, by ships on their way home. At the “Devil's Crown”, an underwater volcanic cone and coral formations are found.
Genovesa (Tower) Island: The name is derived from Genoa, Italy where it is said Columbus was born. It has an area of 14 square kilometers (5.4 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 76 meters (249 ft). This island is formed by the remaining edge of a large crater that is submerged. Its nickname of “the bird island” is clearly justified. At Darwin Bay, frigatebirds andswallow-tailed gulls, the only nocturnal species of gull in the world, can be seen. Red-footed boobies, noddy terns, lava gulls, tropic birds, doves, storm petrels and Darwin finches are also in sight. Prince Philip's Steps is a bird-watching plateau with Nazca and red-footed boobies. There is a large Palo Santo forest.
Isabela (Albemarle) Island (Ecuador): This island was named in honor of Queen Isabela. With an area of 4,640 square kilometers (1,792 sq mi), it is the largest island of the Galápagos. Its highest point is Wolf Volcano, with an altitude of 1,707 meters (5,600 ft). The island's seahorse shape is the product of the merging of six large volcanoes into a single land mass. On this island, Galápagos penguins, flightless cormorants, marine iguanas, pelicans and Sally Lightfoot crabs abound. At the skirts and calderas of the volcanos of Isabela, land iguanas and Galápagos tortoises can be observed, as well as Darwin finches, Galápagos hawks, Galápagos doves and very interesting lowland vegetation. The third-largest human settlement of the archipelago, Puerto Villamil, is located at the southeastern tip of the island. It is the only island to have the equator run across it. It is also the only place in the world where a penguin can be in its natural habitat in the Northern Hemisphere.
Marchena (Bindloe) Island: Named after Fray Antonio Marchena, it has an area of 130 square kilometers (50 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 343 meters (1,125 ft). Galápagos hawks and sea lions inhabit this island, and it is home to the Marchena lava lizard, an endemic animal.
North Seymour Island: Its name was given after an English nobleman, Lord Hugh Seymour. It has an area of 1.9 square kilometers (0.7 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 28 meters (92 ft). This island is home to a large population of blue-footed boobies and swallow-tailed gulls. It hosts one of the largest populations of frigate birds. It was formed from geological uplift.
Just north of the Baltra Airport is the small islet of North Seymour. North Seymour was created by seismic uplift, rather than being of volcanic origin. The island has a flat profile with cliffs only a few meters from the shoreline, where swallowtail gulls and tropicbirds sit perched in ledges. A tiny forest of silver-grey Palo Santo trees stand just above the landing, usually without leaves, waiting for rain to bring them into bloom. The island is teeming with life. While visiting the island, one may have to give way to a passing sea lion or marine iguana. Flocks of pelicans and swallow-tailed gulls feed off shore, and seasonally, Nazca boobies can also be seen.
North Seymour is an extraordinary place for breeding birds, and is home to one of the largest populations of nesting blue-footed boobies and magnificent frigate birds. Pairs of blue-footed boobies can be seen conducting their mating ritual as they offer each other gifts, whistle and honk, stretch their necks towards the sky, spread their wings, and dance—showing off their bright blue feet. Magnificent frigatebirds perch in low bushes, near the boobies, while watching over their large chicks. The frigates are huge, dark acrobats with a 90-inch (2.3 m) wingspan. Male frigates can puff up their scarlet throat sacks to resemble giant red balloons. Boobies and frigates have an interesting relationship. Boobies are excellent hunters and fish in flocks. The frigates by comparison are pirates, they dive bomb the boobies to force them to drop their prey. Then, the acrobatic frigate swoops down and picks up the food before it hits the water.
Pinzón (Duncan) Island: Named after the Pinzón brothers, captains of the Pinta and Niña caravels, it has an area of 18 square kilometers (7 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 458 meters (1,503 ft).
Pinta (Abingdon) Island: Named after the Pinta caravel, it has an area of 60 km2 (23 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 777 meters (2,549 ft). Sea lions, Galápagos hawks, giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and dolphins can be seen here. Pinta Island was home to the last remaining Pinta tortoise, called Lonesome George. He does not live on Pinta Island any longer, but at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, where scientists are attempting to breed him.
Rábida (Jervis) Island: It bears the name of the convent of Rábida, where Columbus left his son during his voyage to the Americas. It has an area of 4.9 square kilometers (1.9 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 367 meters (1,204 ft). The high amount of iron contained in the lava at Rábida gives it a distinctive red color. White-cheeked pintail ducks live in a saltwater lagoon close to the beach, where brown pelicans and boobies have built their nests. Until recently, flamingos were also found in the lagoon, but they have since moved on to other islands, likely due to a lack of food on Rábida. Nine species of finches have been reported in this island.
San Cristóbal (Chatham) Island: It bears the name of the patron saint of seafarers, "St. Christopher". Its English name was given after William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham. It has an area of 558 square kilometers (215 sq mi) and its highest point rises to 730 meters (2395 ft). This is the first island in the Galapagos Archipelago Charles Darwin visited during his voyage on the Beagle. This islands hosts frigate birds, sea lions, giant tortoises, blue- and red-footed boobies, tropicbirds, marine iguanas, dolphins and swallow-tailed gulls. Its vegetation includesCalandrinia galapagos, Lecocarpus darwinii, and trees such as Lignum vitae. The largest freshwater lake in the archipelago, Laguna El Junco, is located in the highlands of San Cristóbal. The capital of the province of Galápagos, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, lies at the southern tip of the island.
Santa Cruz (Indefatigable) Island (Galápagos): Given the name of the Holy Cross in Spanish, its English name derives from the British vessel HMS Indefatigable. It has an area of 986 square kilometers (381 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 864 meters (2834 ft). Santa Cruz hosts the largest human population in the archipelago, the town of Puerto Ayora. The Charles Darwin Research Station and the headquarters of the Galápagos National Park Service are located here. The GNPS and CDRS operate a tortoise breeding center here, where young tortoises are hatched, reared, and prepared to be reintroduced to their natural habitat. The Highlands of Santa Cruz offer exuberant flora, and are famous for the lava tunnels. Large tortoise populations are found here. Black Turtle Cove is a site surrounded by mangroves, which sea turtles, rays and small sharks sometimes use as a mating area. Cerro Dragón, known for its flamingo lagoon, is also located here, and along the trail one may see land iguanas foraging.
Santa Fé (Barrington) Island: Named after a city in Spain, it has an area of 24 square kilometers (9 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 259 meters (850 ft). Santa Fe hosts a forest of Opuntia cactus, which are the largest of the archipelago, and Palo Santo. Weathered cliffs provide a haven for swallow-tailed gulls, red-billed tropic birds and shear-waters petrels. Santa Fe species of land iguanas are often seen, as well as lava lizards.
Santiago (San Salvador, James) Island: Its name is equivalent to Saint James in English; it is also known as San Salvador, after the first island discovered by Columbus in the Caribbean Sea. This island has an area of 585 square kilometers (226 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 907 meters (2976 ft). Marine iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, land and sea turtles, flamingos, dolphins and sharks are found here. Pigs and goats, which were introduced by humans to the islands and have caused great harm to the endemic species, have been eradicated (pigs by 2002; goats by the end of 2006). Darwin finches and Galápagos hawks are usually seen, as well as a colony of fur seals. At Sulivan Bay, a recent (around 100 years ago) pahoehoe lava flow can be observed.
Wolf (Wenman) Island: This island was named after the German geologist Theodor Wolf. It has an area of 1.3 square kilometers (0.5 sq mi)and a maximum altitude of 253 meters (830 ft). Here, fur seals, frigatebirds, Nazca and red-footed boobies, marine iguanas, sharks, whales, dolphins and swallow-tailed gulls can be seen. The most famous resident is the vampire finch, which feeds partly on blood pecked from other birds, and is only found on this island.
The Galapagos Isles