Galapagos is one of the most important natural treasures in the world. This archipelago is located in the eastern Pacific Ocean, approximately 1,000 km (621 mi) away from the coasts of continental Ecuador. The endemic and unique native flora and fauna of the Galapagos archipelago make it one of the most exceptional places in the world; and, “in recognition of their importance, the islands were designated a World Natural Heritage Site in 1976, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1984, and a Ramsar Site in 2001” (UNESCO, Reserva de la Biosfera Archipiélago de Colón – Galápagos – Ecuador, 2021).
Knowing what to do in the Galapagos will help you prioritize activities and make the most of your trip to this natural destination for humanity. So, we will tell you some general activities to do on the islands, and we will detail certain specific activities that we consider unmissable during your trip to the Galapagos Islands.
Snorkeling in Los Túneles/Cabo Rosa.
Cover photo: Quito Tour Bus.
How to get to Galapagos from Ecuador?
Before telling you about things to do in Galapagos, we want to tell you how to get to Galapagos from Ecuador.
Now, due to the distance of this archipelago from the Ecuadorian continent, people who want to visit the Galapagos Islands can only do so by plane. Quito and Guayaquil are the only cities in Ecuador and the world with access to the Galapagos Islands. That is, there are no direct international flights to Galapagos. Regardless of whether you are in NYC or the UK, you must first arrive in Ecuador, in Quito or Guayaquil, and then take a connecting flight to the islands.
There are two main airports in the Galapagos Islands. These are located on San Cristóbal Island (San Cristóbal Airport in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno – Airport code: SCY) and on Baltra Island (Galapagos Ecological Airport, better known as Galapagos Airport – Seymour or Seymour de Baltra Airport, Code airport: GPS).
If you want to know everything you need about how to get to Galapagos, we suggest you read our note. Additionally, we advise you to read about the best time to visit Galapagos, where we provide you valuable information about the weather seasons on the islands, the ocean conditions, and water temperature by season, when there is a greater or lesser influx of tourists, when it is most expensive and cheapest to go to the Galapagos Islands and what are the leading wildlife events.
General activities that you can do in the Galapagos
Now that you know how to get to the Galapagos archipelago from Ecuador and what is the best time to travel to this famous tourist destination, we want to tell you what to do in Galapagos. Below, we list a series of general activities to do in Galapagos.
Admire the impressive variety of wildlife
The Galapagos Islands are home to a wide variety of wildlife. On each island that makes up the Galapagos archipelago, you can find giant tortoises, iguanas, penguins, blue-footed boobies, sea lions, and sharks, among many other animals. A very particular aspect of the Galapagos Islands is that you can encounter various animals when walking around the islands. At the same time, many wildlife observation tours are also available.
The islands are home to a variety of unique wildlife, which is why you must always be respectful of wildlife during your visit to the Galapagos Islands. You should not touch or feed the animals and must keep a safe distance from them. Remember that distancing allows us to protect species.
Perform surface and deep diving
The crystal clear waters surrounding the Galapagos Islands are home to a fantastic variety of marine life, including sea turtles, sharks, rays, colorful fish, and more. There is a great diversity of places to practice snorkeling (snorkeling) On all the islands. However, one of the most emblematic sites for snorkeling is Los Túneles/Cabo Rosa, a destination on Isabela Island home to a series of lava tunnels full of marine life.
Another possible activity in the Galapagos Islands is deep diving in its crystal clear waters and observing the fantastic animal life they house. The Galapagos archipelago has been chosen among the best in the world for diving.
Galapagos is the best place in the world to dive with the Galapagos whale shark, a species that divers long to see in the islands’ waters. Whale sharks are the largest shark species on the planet, congregating primarily in the northwestern corner of the Darwin and Wolf Islands archipelago. In general, the waters of the Galapagos Marine Reserve are beautiful feeding grounds that attract many species of whales, dolphins, and sharks, among others.
Several cruises offer the opportunity to dive in the Galapagos Islands. It is recommended that whoever is going to dive has a medium to advanced level of practice since the diving conditions of the Galapagos Islands are considered between medium and high difficulty, taking into account the currents, the depth, and the structure of the dive sites, temperature, and fauna.
Walk and explore the islands
Galapagos is an explorer’s dream. During your visit, you will have several opportunities to take walks to enjoy the rich landscape of the islands and the exuberant flora and fauna. Many Galapagos islands offer hiking trails where you can discover unique landscapes, from volcanic craters to lava tunnels. Since there is much to discover on foot, you should be prepared and wear appropriate footwear as you will need it frequently. Hiking boots will be your faithful companions when visiting the enchanted islands.
Practice adventure sports
The Galapagos Islands have become a world-class surfing destination. This is because, thanks to its exceptional geographical location, it receives currents from both the north and the south of the Pacific, which is why the surf season is extensive and with waves for all levels.
Galapagos has several beaches where you can practice surfing, and some of the most recognized are on the island of San Cristóbal, where there are several points at advanced and intermediate levels. However, no matter your level, you can always find a beach and waves that fit your experience. Remember that the best season to surf in the Galapagos is between December and April when the weather is hot. Find out in our note everything about the best time to travel to Galapagos.
Another adventure sport that you can do in the calm, crystal-clear coastal waters of the Galapagos Islands is kayaking. When doing this sport, you will have many opportunities to meet wildlife since sailing in a kayak allows you to avoid noise pollution, which attracts marine fauna. In the Galapagos Islands, you can kayak at any time of the year since the climate remains between dry and warm.
Enjoying this sport does not require special training, which allows anyone to handle it. This fact makes it an activity that can be done in Galapagos with teenagers and children.
The Galapagos Islands are a popular destination for whale watching. However, managing to see these fantastic mammals can be pretty unpredictable since, to do so, you need to be in the right place at the right time. You will have even more opportunities to see these incredible animals if you tour the archipelago on a cruise since you will spend more time at sea. Additionally, you should travel during whale season and have an itinerary that visits the areas that whales are most likely to frequent.
One of the best areas of the marine reserve for whale watching is in the channel between Isabela Island and Fernandina Island, to the west of the archipelago; another outstanding place for whale watching in the Galapagos is located on the islands of Darwin and Wolf in the extreme northwest of the archipelago.
The best time for Galapagos whale watching is usually from June to November. Whales, known as ocean nomads, often migrate to wherever the best feeding grounds are, and in the Galapagos, that means the cold-water months.
Enjoy local cuisine
We recommend trying Ecuadorian cuisine with a touch of Galapagos. Try dishes made with fresh seafood and locally grown ingredients, and enjoy various beers, coffee, and other products made on the islands.
With such diverse and unique landscapes and wildlife, the Galapagos Islands are a photographer’s paradise. Regardless of the site you visit, you can create snapshots that will remind you of this paradisiacal destination forever.
Catch some unforgettable sunsets
The Galapagos Islands offer stunning sunsets. So you should find a beautiful place to relax and watch the sunset on the horizon. We are sure that these magical sunsets will remain forever in your memory.
Unmissable activities you can do in the Galapagos
First of all, you have to know that the Galapagos has 13 volcanic islands, and since there are many islands to visit, we suggest you read our note about the ones we consider the 8 best islands to visit in Galapagos. In it, we provide information about each of these, their main natural attractions, the most characteristic species that live there, and how you can get to each of them.
Now, we will list a series of unmissable activities during your trip to the Galapagos Islands.
Go to the Charles Darwin Research Station to learn about conservation efforts in the Galapagos Islands (Santa Cruz Island).
The Charles Darwin Research Station is the operational arm of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), “an international non-profit organization dedicated to scientific research for the conservation of the environment and biodiversity of the Galapagos archipelago” (Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands, About us, 2023).
The scientific station is located in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. There you can find an exhibition hall with information about almost 60 years of scientific research in the archipelago, natural history collections, and the Van Straelen Interpretation Center ( Marine World), where you can learn all about sharks and the vital ecological role they play. If you are wondering what to do in the Galapagos with children, this last one is a great activity for them.
Remember that at the Charles Darwin Research Station, you will find the statue in honor of Charles Darwin, the famous English naturalist, who visited the islands in 1835. His discoveries there led him to formulate his theory of natural selection and evolution. In this place and next to the statue, you can get one of the iconic photos of your visit to the Galapagos archipelago.
To make the most of your visit to this site of high tourist interest, we recommend reading: Five Places that You CanNot Miss on your visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station (Grijalva, Isabella, Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands, 2022).
Remember that Santa Cruz is the gateway to the Galapagos and the second largest island in the archipelago, after Isabela Island. Due to its privileged location, this island is known as the heart of the Galapagos. It has become the tourist center of the archipelago since the majority of commercial flights from the continent land there, while most of the cruises that tour the archipelago depart of its docks.
Puerto Ayora is the cantonal capital of the Santa Cruz canton and the largest and most populated city in the province of Galapagos. There is significant commercial activity and a diverse range of tourist establishments and services. You can find souvenir shops, clothing stores, nightclubs, bars, restaurants, cafes, local breweries, and art galleries, among others. If you are wondering about food in the Galapagos Islands, it is precisely in Puerto Ayora where you will find the most remarkable diversity of gastronomic offerings in the entire archipelago.
If you want to know everything about what to do on Santa Cruz Island, please review our note: 14 things to do on Santa Cruz Island.
Walk to Tortuga Bay and enjoy the most famous beach in the entire archipelago (Santa Cruz Island).
During your visit, you should take advantage of a visit to Tortuga Bay, the most famous beach in the Galapagos, a beach that gets its name from being a turtle nesting site in the Galapagos Islands. This paradisiacal and famous beach on Santa Cruz Island has white sand and crystal-clear turquoise water, where you can tan, swim, surf, snorkel, or sail in a kayak. In addition, Tortuga Bay is an ideal place for observing wildlife, such as marine iguanas, lava gulls, colorful crabs, ground finches, sea lions, sea turtles, white tip sharks, flamingos, and other species.
In Tortuga Bay, you can find Playa Brava, where, as its name indicates, the currents are strong; hence, it is considered a perfect place for surfing as well as Playa Mansa, an area of mangroves and a bay with a stream, a good place for swimming, diving, and kayaking.
This beach is located on the south coast of Santa Cruz Island, a few kilometers from Puerto Ayora. You can take a walk from Puerto Ayora, which takes around 40 minutes to reach Brava beach. You can arrive at this beautiful beach on your own without needing guides or transportation. The trail is paved, flat, and easy, and as you walk, you can enjoy an ancient lava field colonized by palo santo trees and Opuntia cacti. Or, if you prefer, you can take a sea transport that takes you to Tortuga Bay beach from the Puerto Ayora docks. Whichever option you choose will depend on your budget and your physical condition.
If you visit Tortuga Bay, we recommend you take everything you need with you since it is a natural place where you will not find shops or tourist facilities. Therefore, we recommend bringing water, snacks, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, a towel, and sports shoes for the walk.
If you want to know what other things to do on Santa Cruz Island, we suggest you review our note.
Rent a bicycle and go to the Wall of Tears through the Wetland Complex (Isabela Island).
Between 1946 and 1959, there was a penal colony on Isabela Island. 300 prisoners were brought from the continent, and to punish them, they were forced to build a wall with huge blocks of lava. This wall is about 100 meters long, 7 meters high, and 3 meters wide, and it constitutes the only evidence of a prison camp where the abuse of power ended the lives of many convicts.
This is, therefore, “one of the most famous and shameful attractions of Isabela. […] A living monument of a tragic page in the history of the island” (GAD Municipal Santa Cruz. Dirección de Desarrollo Productivo y Sostenible del Gobierno Autónomo Descentralizado de Santa Cruz, Muro de Lágrimas, 2022), which shows a very different side of Galapagos life to tourists. A construction preserved in memory of the suffering of those forced to build it and a reminder of a period that was never repeated.
This site is located 5 km (3.10 mi) west of Puerto Villamil. To go to this iconic site on Isabela Island, you can rent a bicycle in Puerto Villamil, or if you prefer, you can walk. Although the most recommended option is usually the bicycle since sometimes the sun can be harsh, and the closer you get to the Wall of Tears, the area becomes drier.
One of the charms of doing this route is that after reaching the wall (end of the route), you can return and make many stops. This walk is one of the favorites of tourists because, along the way, you will encounter giant turtles, marine iguanas, and many kinds of birds. The route taken in this area is known as the Wetland Complex. This is a complex of trails that includes viewpoints, such as Cerro Orchilla, Los Tunos, and Poza Verde, and trails, such as El Estero, Poza Escondida, Poza Redonda, Túnel del Estero, Playa del Amor, and La Playita.
During this incredible walk, you will come across El Estero, another picturesque place on Isabela Island that offers a pleasant walk through nature. You can follow a wooden boardwalk that crosses mangroves, streams, and pools, where you can see different plants and animals, such as crabs, herons, ducks, finches, and more. This is a perfect place to cool off after touring the Wall of Tears. Other paradisiacal sites are La Playita, a wide area of sand with small wooden seats protected by the shade of the trees, or the Playa del Amor, a beach of rock and stones, which marine iguanas have chosen as a nesting place.
If you are wondering what to do in the Galapagos with teenagers and children, this activity combines adventure, the history of the islands, and contact with nature.
Remember that Isabela Island is the largest island in the Galapagos archipelago and one of the most desirable islands to visit, characterized by its abundant wildlife and spectacular volcanic landscapes. Its populated center, Puerto Villamil, is a quiet, small, and not very populated place, making it a place where it is easy to relax and find everything at practically immediate distances.
If you want to know everything about what to do on Isabela Island, we recommend you review our notes on 13 things to do on Isabela Galapagos Island. You will find a lot of helpful information in it.
Snorkel diving in Los Túneles/Cabo Rosa: an essential excursion (Isabela Island).
The Tunnels in Cabo Rosa are a fantastic natural formation that deserves to be visited during your stay on Isabela Island. They are located to the southwest of Isabela, and they are lava tunnels that have formed arches and bridges over the water, making it a unique landscape.
This is one of the best sites for snorkeling in the Galapagos, as there is abundant marine life in the area, which makes it one of the favorite activities for tourists in the Galapagos. In this area, you will be able to observe underwater sea turtles, sea lions, manta rays, sharks, thousands of colorful fish, and even seahorses. In addition, the boats that usually take you to the site make strategic stops in the middle of the open sea and on small islets where it is possible to observe blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, and pelicans.
If you want to go to Los Túneles, you must do so through a tour. These depart only from Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island, where there are several agencies where you can get this service.
To know everything about what to do in Isabela, read our note: things to do on Isabela Galapagos Island.
Learn about the sulfur mines in the area of the active volcano Sierra Negra (Isabela Island).
Another thing to do in the Galapagos is to visit the sulfur mines in the area of the Sierra Negra volcano on Isabela Island, an ideal activity to learn about the geology of volcanoes and one of the most impressive places on the island.
Sierra Negra is one of the most active volcanoes in the Galapagos, It has one of the largest craters in the world, and it rises to a height of 1,124 meters (3,687 feet) above sea level.
Once this famous volcano is known, we proceed to walk to the area of the sulfur mines, an area located on the west side of the Sierra Negra volcano, where, for many years, miners exploited this stone. At present, the mine is no longer in operation, and the site has become a tourist place where the main attraction of this site is the observation of the landscape, the fumaroles, and the sulfur mines. To see this site, you must book a daily tour in Puerto Villamil.
Take photographs of the Sleeping Lion (Kicker Rock) (San Cristobal Island).
If you are in the Galapagos Islands, you must visit and photograph the Sleeping Lion (Kicker Rock), one of the most recognized landscapes of the archipelago. It is a rock formation or eroded cone of volcanic tuff located to the northwest of San Cristóbal Island, in front of the beaches of Puerto Grande and Cerro Brujo, two hours by boat from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
In the underwater lava formations in León Dormido, you can perform snorkeling and swim alongside turtles, hammerhead sharks, sea lions, and manta rays. In addition, you can see Nazca boobies, blue-footed boobies, and frigate birds. You can reach this site if you take a daily tour from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the cantonal head of the San Cristóbal canton and the capital of the province of Galapagos. Another option to get to this site is by taking a cruise, so you should ensure this site is included in your visiting itinerary.
If you want to know in detail what to do on San Cristóbal Island, we recommend you check our note: 14 Top Things to do on San Cristóbal Island.
Visit Bartolome Island and its iconic Pinnacle (Pinnacle Rock).
Bartolomé Island is a volcanic islet located north of Santa Cruz Island, just off the east coast of Santiago Island. It is one of the youngest islands in the archipelago, which impresses with its lunar landscapes and offers some of the most beautiful landscapes. It contains the iconic Pinnacle Rock, a needle-shaped rock formation at the ocean’s edge. It has eroded over time and is considered the most representative image of the Galapagos archipelago.
Visiting Bartolomé is considered an essential activity when visiting the Galapagos. You must climb to the top of the island’s volcano to enjoy impressive panoramic views, it is recommended to enjoy the beautiful white sand beaches and do recreational activities. snorkeling to observe marine life.
Remember that there is no way to get to Bartolome Island alone. You should always go by boat and be accompanied by a guide. There are two ways to get to Bartolome Island. Firstly, you can get to the site by cruise ship, as most of these run aground on Bartolomé Island. So, you should ensure that your cruise itinerary includes visiting this island.
And, failing that, if you have not chosen to visit the Galapagos Islands by cruise, you can take one of the daily tours, which lasts a full day and takes you from Santa Cruz Island to Bartolomé. Bartolomé Island is just two hours away by boat from the Itabaca Channel. We suggest you make your reservation for this daily tour in advance because Bartolomé is one of the most desired places by tourists who visit the Galapagos.
If you are wondering what to do in Bartolomé, we tell you everything about this island in our note: 5 things to do on Bartolome Island, Galapagos.
Go to Santa Fe Island, a perfect place for snorkeling.
With 24 km² (14.9 mi²) surface, Santa Fe Island or Barrington is located between Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal and is one of the oldest of the Galapagos Islands at a geological level. It is known as an extraordinary place for snorkeling, as its beautiful bay with turquoise water is home to various marine life. On-site, you can swim with sea turtles, rays, sea lions, fish, etc.
Additionally, during your visit to this island, you will be able to see: hawks, land iguanas, crabs, night herons, sea iguanas, mockingbirds, land pigeons, blue-footed boobies, sheared petrels, swallow-tailed gulls, among others.
You can visit this island as part of a cruise itinerary or as a daily tour that departs from Santa Cruz.
Get to know Fernandina Island and one of the most active volcanoes in the world, the La Cumbre volcano.
Fernandina Island is the archipelago’s westernmost and the Galapagos Islands’ youngest. It is located on the west side of Isabela Island, it has no human population and is the third largest in the archipelago, only surpassed in size by Isabela Island and Santa Cruz Island.
This island is a perfect place to learn about the island’s volcanic activity since it is home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world, the La Cumbre volcano. This fact makes Fernandina an ideal place to learn about volcanic activity and see the enormous lava fields created there due to the eruptions of the aforementioned volcano.
Furthermore, Fernandina Island is unique in terms of biodiversity. On Fernandina, the island’s animals have yet to be introduced, which means they all arrived on their own without the help of humans. In it, you will find a species as striking and exciting as the flightless cormorant and one of the largest colonies of iguanas in the Galapagos Islands.
Due to its remote location, Fernandina Island is the most pristine in the Galapagos and one of the least visited islands in the archipelago hence it can only be accessed by cruise ship. On Fernandina Island, Punta Espinoza is the only place visitors are allowed. Remember that not all cruises that travel through the Galapagos Islands run aground on this island, so you should ensure that a visit to this island is included in your cruise itinerary.
To know what to do in Fernandina, we suggest you read our notes on things to do on Fernandina Island. In this, we recommend what to see and do on this pristine, majestic, and large island of the Galapagos.
These are just a few things to do in the Galapagos Islands. With its unique wildlife, stunning landscapes, and diverse activities, the Galapagos Islands are an extraordinary place to visit.
Remember that this archipelago is a protected area, and visitors must follow strict guidelines to guarantee the preservation of the environment. It is recommended to book tours and activities with accredited operators that prioritize responsible tourism and conservation.
Now that you know what to do in the Galapagos Islands, we invite you to discover this unparalleled natural destination of humanity in our company. On our Galapagos Tour – 6 days – 5 nights, you can visit these islands: Baltra, Santa Cruz, Isabela, Santa Fé or Pinzón. Learn all the details of this tour that offers an ideal adventure for travelers who like to get to know each place in depth: Galapagos Tour – 6 days and 5 nights.
Likewise, we recommend you review this unique selection of the best tours in the Galapagos from our partner Viator (Tripadvisor).