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A Guide to Five Unique Islands of the Galápagos

Introduced to the Galápagos by her father Sven Lindblad, Isabella Lindblad has been exploring this famed archipelago since she was two years old. Here, she shares some of her favorite details about these remarkable islands, from Genovesa with its enormous bird colonies to Floreana’s one-of-a-kind post office.

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Sven and Isabella Galapagos.jpeg
Isabella, pictured here with her dad in 2002, meets one of the islands' newest residents, a baby sea lion.

Genovesa Island

A horseshoe-shaped island due to the collapsed caldera, Genovesa is situated in the northeastern waters of the archipelago. Isolated and uninhabited, this small and remarkably pristine island is filled to the brim with wildlife—on land, in the sky, and under the water. Probably best known for its enormous bird colonies, it’s one of the few islands where visitors can see the red‑footed boobies en masse which has earned it the name “Bird Island." But below the water’s surface is just as magical. Due to its location, these northern waters are home to some of the archipelago’s larger marine species—hammerhead sharks, large parrotfish, sea turtles, rays, sea lions, among others. Throw on a provided wet suit (waters are still chilly) and make sure not to miss this incredible opportunity to observe life under the water in Darwin Bay.

 

Photo: Michael S. Nolan

Española Island

At the southeastern end of the archipelago you'll find Española Island, one of the oldest islands in the Galápagos. Due to years of erosion it is largely flat so upon arrival you can look across the entire island and receive a proper Galápagos greeting from the many sea lions who hang out along the shore. As you walk further inland you are welcomed by a number of strange sounds. Listen for the honking and whistling that will lead you to the awkward, yet beautiful, mating dance of the blue‑footed boobies, which breed opportunistically. From about April to December, you can also hear incessant clicking, another mating ritual belonging to the islands’ largest bird: the waved albatross. Some sounds are evergreen like that of the blowhole on the tip of Española which sprays water more than 80 feet into the sky. Or marine iguanas spitting salt from their noses, and of course the vocal sea lions barking as they clumsily make their way across the beach. Whatever soundtrack accompanies you on Española, you are guaranteed a phenomenal experience.

 

Photo: Michael S. Nolan

Floreana Island

Floreana is one of the four inhabited islands in the archipelago. It might be best known for the lore surrounding the early inhabitants—pirates, marooned sailors, and trips gone awry. However, strange stories are not all Floreana has to offer. The island is also home to a one-of-a-kind post office. This post office looks quite a bit different than your local branch. At Post Office Bay there's a barrel filled with letters addressed to people all over the world, and it has been in use for hundreds of years. Sailors would leave letters in the hope others would hand deliver them along their route. Amazingly, this post office is still in use! During your visit be sure to leave a postcard without postage and then just wait and see. Maybe a fellow traveler to the islands will deliver the letter, much like the sailors of years ago. You can also take a few letters to deliver yourself when you return home.

 

Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins

Fernandina Island

The westernmost and youngest of all the islands has quite the reputation. Home to an active volcano, Fernandina is a testament to the ever-changing nature of the Galápagos. Here you can see what the older islands may have once looked like, before they drifted off the hotspot that gave these islands life. Fernandina is also a perfect place to witness how animals have adapted, gaining and losing certain traits to make them perfectly suited for these isolated Pacific islands. The flightless cormorant is a great example. A bird that has lost its ability to fly might seem counterintuitive. But these cormorants have evolved to be incredibly skilled divers and superb marine hunters, with strong legs to propel themselves through the water and striking turquoise eyes that allow them to see under the surface. With no predators and an ocean buffet right at their feet, their ability to take flight became a thing of the past. Spot them along the coastline, spreading their stunted wings to dry in the equatorial sun before jumping back into the water for another meal of eels or octopus.

 

Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins

Santiago Island

Situated in the middle of the Galápagos archipelago, Santiago is home to some remarkable geological formations. Buccaneers Cove, located on the island's northern tip, was once a haven for pirates and sailors. Steep cliffs above the cove seem entirely inhospitable at first glance. However, many seabirds seek refuge there, much like the buccaneers of years past. At nearby Puerto Egas, you can spot fur seals and sea lions jumping from the water onto the rocks to take a nap in the sun. Santiago is also covered in beautiful grottos and tidepools where you can find sea lions playing in the shallow waters. Against the dark lava, the water is a beautiful turquoise. Don't worry if the lava rock looks like it's moving or even breathing. That's just the large groups of marine iguanas that congregate near the water. Near the water’s edge, you will also see flashes of red scurrying back and forth as the sally lightfoot crabs run around. Here on Santiago the island itself is alive with all the animals that call it home.

 

Photo: Ralph Lee Hopkins