There are so many incredible Galapagos Islands activities to do and so many amazing things to see in Galapagos Islands. Use my Guide to Planning your Galapagos Trip, but for some inspiration and practical information, here are some of my top picks for the best things to do in the Galapagos Islands and the best places to visit in Galapagos Islands.
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Best Things To Do in The Galapagos Islands
It’s hard to narrow it down to just ten, but my top ten things to do in the Galapagos Islands are:
1. Diving with whale sharks
One of my top picks for best things to do in Galapagos Islands is to swim with these incredible creatures. They are on average 12-14 meters (39-46 feet) long, with the largest one ever measuring a mind-blowing 18.8 m (62 ft) in length. Despite their size, they are not dangerous, as they are filter feeders.
When is the best time to dive with whale sharks in Galapagos?
Although whale sharks are found year-round in the Galapagos Islands, the best time to dive with whale sharks in Galapagos between June and December. The best place to see them is on a live-aboard dive trip to Darwin and Wolf Islands.
For a full low down on what you can see in each month of the year, check out my month-by-month guide to wildlife and weather in the Galapagos.
2. Seeing Frigate Birds
These male birds have large bright red chest sacs. Much of the time they are deflated and small. However, the male attracts females by inflating his sac and he is transformed.
Where is the best place to see frigate birds in the Galapagos?
You can see them throughout the Galapagos Islands, but the main breeding colonies are on North Seymour, Floreana, San Cristobal and Genovesa.
When is the best time to see frigate birds in the Galapagos?
You can see them year-round, but their mating season is March-April. Seeing the frigates with their swollen red neck sacs is another of the top things to do in Galapagos Islands.
Recommended tour to see frigatebirds
North Seymour is a classic destination from Santa Cruz to see frigate birds. Chances are good to also see blue footed boobies, brown pelicans, sea lions, reef sharks and more (depending on the season). Book a day trip to North Seymour here.
3. Snorkeling with Marine Iguanas
Snorkeling is one of the popular things to do. Galapagos Islands is home to marine iguanas. They are the only lizards in the world able to live in the sea and the Galapagos Islands is the only place they live, so swimming with them is one of the top things to do on the Galapagos Islands.
Where can you see marine iguanas in the Galapagos Islands?
They are around Isabela, Fernandina, Española, Floreana, and Santa Cruz Islands and small islets nearby.
When is the time to see marine iguanas in the Galapagos Islands?
Marine iguanas live on the islands all year. However, although they are black most f the year, they become colorful in their mating season, so this is a good time to see them. There are six subspecies, which are very similar except they turn different colors in the mating season.
- Española and Floreana: bright green and red (the most colorful)
- Santa Cruz: red and black
- Fernandina: dull green and brick red
Generally, the mating season is late December – March. Nesting season is January – April.
Recommended tour to see marine iguanas
There are many places to see marine iguanas, but a highlight of any trip to the Galapagos is Espanola Island. You can also see albatrosses, blue-footed boobies, sea lions and Galapagos sharks in season. Book a day trip to Espanola from San Cristobal here.
4. Witnessing the Famous Blue-footed Boobies’ Mating Dance
There are three types of boobies in the Galapagos islands (Blue-footed Boobies, Red-footed Boobies and Nazca Boobies). Blue-footed Boobies are definitely the most well-known. They are famous for their bright blue feet, but also the “dance” they do when mating. Seeing this ‘dance’ is one of the many fun things to do in the Galapagos Islands. Watch their mating dance here.
When can you see the blue footed boobies’ mating dance?
The mating season is around May, but can be as early as March and extend into July. In fact, blue footed boobies can mate at any time of the year, but these are the main times.
Where is the best place to see the blue footed boobies’ mating dance in the Galapagos Islands?
There are blue footed boobies in many places around the Galapagos, and if you take a cruise, you will certainly see them. If you are in a land-based trip (check out my critique of land-based travel vs. cruises in the Galapagos), one of the best places to visit in the Galapagos Islands is North Seymour Island, where there is a large blue-footed booby breeding ground. You can also see them on Espanola, Fernandina, Floreana, Isabela, Pinzon and Santa Cruz.
Recommended tour to see blue-footed boobies
North Seymour is one of the best places to see the blue-footed boobies’ mating dance. You can also see frigatebirds, pelicans, sea lions and fur seals, Galapagos sharks and more (depending on the season). Book a day trip to North Seymour from Santa Cruz here.
5. Watching Turtles Hatch
Green sea turtles mate November – December and then lay their eggs in January. Typically, they start hatching in April and the season can go through to June.
Common places are Gardener Bay, Punta Cormorant and Puerto Egas. Note, though that they typically hatch at night when visitors are not allowed on the beaches, so their hatching is one of the few Galapagos Island activities that are rarely seen (and perhaps that is not a bad thing in this case, as their hatching can easily be disturbed).
You can, nonetheless go snorkeling or diving and sea adult sea turtles swimming.
Recommended tour to see sea turtles
A great snorkeling destination is Kicker Rock (AKA Leon Dormido/ Sleeping Lion) on Isabela Island. Day trips to Kicker Rock include snorkeling to see sea turtles (not their hatching, but seeing adults is better for the turtles), marine iguanas, rays, Galapagos sharks and sometimes even hammerhead sharks! Book a snorkeling trip to Kicker Rock on Isabela here.
6. Admiring Giant Land Tortoises
This is one of the most popular things to do Galapagos Islands. Most Land tortoises, which are without a doubt, one of the Galapagos Islands main attractions, live on several islands, but Santa Cruz is the most popular. Most visitors see them in research centers or farms on the Santa Cruz highlands, where they roam freely, but stay around because they conditions are ideal for them. There are also wild land tortoises on San Cristobal Island.
They are usually in the highlands from August – June. They go down to the lowlands in summer to lay eggs.
Recommended tour to see giant land tortoises
Santa Cruz is the most popular place to see land tortoises. It is worth heading to El Chato Tortoise Reserve. Book a private tour that goes there and the incredible lava tubes.
7. Sailing Past Fur Seals and Sea Lions
There are both sea lions and Galapagos fur seals. The fur seals are smaller than sea lions and are covered in two layers of hair. They are super cute and kayaking past them is one of the many wonderful Galapagos things to do (though you can see them in town easily, too).
When is the best time to see Galapagos sea lions?
The sea lions stay in the Galapagos Islands all year. However, if you want to see babies, then July – November are the best months.
Where can you see Galapagos sea lions?
They can be found on every island in the Galapagos, but popular spots include Bartolome, Sombrero Chino, Rabida, San Cristobal, Isla Lobos, Gardner Bay, Punta Suarez, Islas Plaza, North Seymour, Punta Vicente Roca, and Punta Espinosa. They often crowd beaches and even sleep on benches!
Recommended tour to see sea lions
A great day trip from Santa Cruz is to Tortuga Bay (where you can see flamingos and finches in season) and then to Loberia Island, where there is a huge colony of sea lions. You can go snorkeling with them, along with turtles and even white-tipped reef sharks. Book this day trip to Tortuga Bay (including the Cracks and Alemanes Beach)
8. Swimming with Equatorial Penguins
When you think of penguins, you probably think of Antarctica. Or at the very least, somewhere cold. However, they also live in the Galapagos island and are one of the most endearing Galapagos Island attraction. They are the second smallest penguin, and the only penguins found north of the equator.
Where is the best place to see Galapagos Penguins?
They are mostly found on Bartolome Island, the northern end of Fernandina Island and the west coast of Isabela Island. There are a few on other islands, but these are the biggest populations.
When is the best time to see Galapagos Penguins?
Galapagos Penguins nest between May and January, so this is the best time to see them.
Recommended tour to see Galapagos penguins
Take a day trip to Bartolome Island from Santa Cruz. In season, chances are good to see the penguins. The trip also includes a hike up a small volcano for incredible panoramic views. Book a Bartolome day trip from Santa Cruz here.
9. Diving with Hammerhead Sharks
Hammerhead sharks, on the other hand, do have teeth. However, they do not actively seek out humans as prey, so unless they feel threatened, they are quite safe to dive with. There are large schools of them around the Galapagos Islands. Diving with them is another of my top Galapagos activities.
When is the best time to dive with Hammerheads in Galapagos?
For liveaboard dive trips to Darwin and Wolf Islands, the best time to see large schools of hammerhead sharks is June – November. There is also a very good chance of seeing schools of hammerhead sharks all year round at Gordon Rocks, which is dived as a day trip from Santa Cruz Island. Gordon Rocks has strong currents, but for more experienced divers is high on the list of things to do at the Galapagos Islands.
Recommended tour to see hammerhead sharks
Other than a multi-day live aboard on a dive boat cruising around Wolf and Darwin Islands, the next best bet to see schools of hammerhead sharks is Gordon Rocks. Hammerheads hang out there all year round. You can do this dive as a day trip from Santa Cruz island (experienced divers only). Book a dive to Gordon Rocks from Santa Cruz here.
10. Fanboying/ Fangirling over Flamingos
Wondering what to do in the Galapagos Islands? Admire the flamingos, of course. Flamingos are found in many places around the world, but those in the Galapagos Islands are an especially bright pink color because of their diet.
Where is the best place to see flamingos in the Galapagos Island?
The flamingos can be found throughout the islands, but popular places to see flamingos on Galapagos Islands are:
- Punta Cormorant lagoon, Floreana
- Quinta Playa, Puerto Villamil, and Punta Moreno, Isabela Island,
- Puerto Egas on Santiago Island
- Bahia Tortuga and Las Bachas on Santa Cruz Island
- Rabida Island
You can see them year-round, but their courtship “dance”, which you can see around July-August, is another of my favorite things to see in Galapagos Islands.
Recommended tour to see flamingos
The trip to Tortuga Bay and La Loberia gives you a great chance to see flamingos (and sea lions). Book a yacht trip to Tortuga Bay from Santa Cruz here.
Enjoy your Galapagos trip!
Do you have any other favorite activities to do in the Galapagos Islands? I’d love to hear them. Comment below.
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Are you planning a trip to the Galapagos? Be sure to read other Galapagos Islands posts:
- Complete Guide to Planning your Trip to the Galapagos Islands
- The Best Time to Visit the Galapagos Islands
- How to Choose the Best Way to See the Galapagos Islands
- How to Get To and Around the Galapagos Islands
- Where to Stay in the Galapagos Islands
James Ian has traveled to 82 countries and all 7 continents. He is passionate about experiential travel, i.e. meaningful travel that actively engages with the environment and culture. He helps people have similar experiences that involve active participation in activities and festivals; engaging with the local food and handicrafts through lessons and food tours; and interacting positively with environment by hiking, riding, rowing, diving and low/no impact animal encounters.
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