Charles Darwin Research Station, Santa Cruz
No Galápagos trip is complete without visiting the giant tortoise enclosures and learning about the station’s successful repopulation program.
About 15 minutes’ walk east of [Puerto Ayora] is the headquarters of the Charles Darwin Foundation (5/252-6146, 7 a.m.–6 p.m. daily). The station was opened in the 1960s as a research and breeding center for endangered native species. —p.59
Bird-watching heaven is found on this tiny island near Santa Cruz. Decide which has the most interesting mating ritual — boobies marching around showing off their bright blue feet or frigates inflating their red chests to the size of a basketball.
This tiny islet hosts the largest sea lion colony in the archipelago. Watch them lounging on the rocks and tending their pups, but keep your distance from the cranky bulls.
Punta Espinosa, Fernandina
Fernandina’s only visitor site is home to the islands’ largest marine iguana colony, along with a sea lion population and the biggest breeding site for flightless cormorants, birds who have swapped flying for diving to the ocean floor.
Fernandina is special even by Galápagos standards. The westernmost island in the archipelago is one of the few that has escaped invasion by introduced species, and the island’s pristine ecosystem has been preserved. This island is also less visited than most of the others due to its remote location, and it retains the air of a land that time forgot. —p.80
Punta Suárez, Española
On the west side of Española is the biggest breeding site in the world for waved albatross. Nicknamed “albatross airport,” it’s the best place to see these magnificent birds take off, land, and perform their dancing mating ritual.
This site is teeming with birdlife, and aside from the boobies and albatross, you can see Galápagos hawks, Galápagos doves, swallow-tailed gulls, oystercatchers, red-billed tropic birds, and finches. The views of the cliffs below are equally impressive, with waves crashing into rocks and water spurting high into the air through blowholes. —p.85