On average, over the course of a ten day land based tour, you'll get to visit about five of the 21 Galápagos Islands which initiates opportunities to undertake plenty of in depth cultural and natural experiences as opposed to whizzing from one jetty or port to the next. Domestic flights from Quito to San Cristóbal, and back from Baltra, with island-hopping ferries in between, give travelers every chance to do just that – travel – with Floreana, Isabela and Santa Cruz all unveiling the cultural traditions of communities that call Galápagos home. Away from the barking harbour seals and open-air fish, textile and fruit markets, you’ll find the uninhabited islands of North Seymour and Bartolomé, where boobies, herons and iguanas can be found on solidified lava, natural beaches and iconic landmarks, such as Pinnacle Rock. Spending time on land lets organic encounters flourish and also provides benefit to highland communities away from popular ports.
Bartolome Island Floreana Tortoise breeding center Las Tintoreras Los Tuneles Isabela Island North Seymour San Cristobal Island Santa Cruz Sierra Negra Tortuga Bay Wall of tears


The clarity of the water around Bartolomé’s Pinnacle Rock is superb and snorkellers are in for a real treat as they take the plunge amongst penguins, sea lions and white-tipped reef sharks. There’s a great board walk, flanked by lava cacti, to the highest point on Bartolomé which takes a bit of effort (300+ steps) but the views from the extinct volcanic summit more than make up for the exertion.

Isla Floreana

A 200-year old wooden barrel in Floreana’s Post Office Bay provides post cards to be sent from the island, although it’s worth visiting the sea lions and pink flamingos at Punta Cormorant first so you have something special to write home about. Floreana was the first island within the archipelago to be inhabited and some of the tales of yore are a tad wilder than you might expect.

Giant tortoise breeding center

Isabela Island is pristine – like the Galápagos 25 years ago – and although it’s the archipelago’s largest island it’s only home to some 2,000 people who live within the shadow of Sierra Negra, the world’s second largest volcanic crater. Hiking to the crater’s edge gives you an amazing view, with boat rides to Los Tuneles and cycle rides to the Wall of Tears, accompanied by giant tortoises, equally memorable.

Las Tintoreras

There’s nothing better than exploring the coves and beaches of Las Tintoreras islet, just south of Isabela's Puerto Villamil. A boat ride, over puffer fish, manta ray and shark infested waters, unveils Dali-esque lava, decorated with iguanas, boobies, sea lions and penguins. Hiking trails and snorkelling expeditions allow for endless animal encounters both above and below the water's edge.

Los Tuneles

Snorkelling at Los Túneles is often offered as an alternative to hiking on Sierra Negra, but if you’ve got time both experiences really do take some beating. Los Túneles is just an hour from Isla Isabela by boat but a world away in terms of surreal underwater experiences. Snorkel through the twists and tubes created by lava and become a miniature diver in a giant exotic fish tank.

Isla Isabela

Isabela is pristine – like the Galápagos 25 years ago – and although it’s the archipelago’s largest island it’s only home to some 2,000 people living in the shadow of Sierra Negra, complete with the world’s second largest volcanic crater. Hiking to the crater’s edge gives you an amazing view, with boat rides to Los Túneles and cycle rides to the Wall of Tears, accompanied by giant tortoises, just as memorable.

North Seymour

Famed for blue-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls and magnificent frigate birds, the uninhabited island of North Seymour can only be experienced on an organised tour led by one of the national park’s official guides. There’s a 2km nature trail that runs across the island from where you’ll discover sea lions, pelicans, flamingoes and marine iguanas, all seemingly unaware of human existence.

Isla San Cristobal

San Cristóbal holds a fantastic combination of wildlife and land based activities with guided walks over lava fields to La Lobería beach leading to sea lions, marine iguanas and Nazca boobies. Just offshore, Kicker Rock thrusts from the clear waters of the Pacific like a giant’s boot (hence the name) with boat trips taking small groups to see hammerheads, eagle rays and tribes of tropical fish.

Santa Cruz

Slap-bang in the middle of the Galápagos, Santa Cruz is the archipelago's most densely populated island with the south coast town of Puerto Ayora boasting 12,000 inhabitants. Walks to nearby Tortuga Bay find you surrounded by marine iguanas whilst sea lions and pelicans vie for fish along the coast in Academy Bay, which is also home to the Charles Darwin Research Station.

Sierra Negra

Isla Isabela has been shaped by five volcanoes; however, only one has the world’s second largest caldera. Still active and certain to excite, Volcán Sierra Negra is an incredible highlight on any land based Galápagos vacation and well worth the 17km gradual incline to the top. If feeling energetic, hike onwards to Volcán Chico for more puffing fumaroles and spectacular lava formations.

Tortuga Bay

Situated a healthy 3km from the hustle of the harbour town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, Tortuga Bay is accessible by footpath and only open from 6am to 6pm to offer some exceptional white sand scenes dotted in crabs, marine iguanas, giant tortoise and brown pelicans. Although swimming is prohibited along the main stretch of Tortuga Bay there is a nearby cove where you can dive right in.

Wall of Tears

From the 1940s to 1950s the Galápagos were used as a penal colony, with abandoned WW2 US military installations housing Ecuadorian prisoners on Isla Isabela. Inmates were instructed to build a wall out of volcanic rock to keep themselves active. El Muro de las Lágrimas still stands as a poignant reminder of how the Galápagos were once seen as far from welcoming for human visitors.

Galapagos travel times

Sample of the cruising times between the main Galápagos Islands, and the flight time from mainland Ecuador.

Santa Cruz – Floreana: 2hrs by boat
Santa Cruz – Isabela: 2hrs by boat
Floreana – Isabela: 2hrs by boat
Baltra – Santa Cruz: 10 mins by boat
Guayaquil (mainland Ecuador) – Galápagos: 1hr 30 mins by plane
Photo credits: [Map topbox: Michael (a.k.a. moik) McCullough ] [Bartolome: Ollie Harridge] [Isla Floreana: Aaron Logan] [Giant tortoise breeding center: Michael R Perry] [Las Tintoreras: queulat00] [Isla Isabelle: Michael R Perry] [North Seymour: Andrew Turner] [San Cristobal: Diego Delso] [Santa cruz: oliver.dodd] [Sierra Negra: Michael R Perry] [Tortuga Bay: mrthomson] [Wall of tears: Steven Bedard]
Written by Chris Owen
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