Galapagos Maps: The Galapagos Archipelago is composed of 19 central islands covering an impressive 28,000 sq. miles- approximately the size of Ireland. Up, down and around them flow five ocean currents, producing some of the richest waters in the world. As such, these islands are not a one-stop visit, but an extensive and diverse world in itself with a range of life that unknowing visitors often underestimate. This rich and unique diversity is one of the iconic features that dominates the archipelago, and one of the primary reasons for which exploring island to island is so fascinating. With a slight change of the wind or stir of the sea, the islands can vary drastically from another; whether it be nesting grounds, unusual geological formations or rare endemic species, each island offers something unique. Check out each Galapagos map we have below.
Isabela Island is renowned for its seahorse shape and immense size. The result of six large volcanoes fused together, this is by far the largest island in the archipelago and also one of the most active; with the exception of Ecuador, all of its volcanoes are active. Isabela also claims the highest point in the Galapagos, with Wolf Volcano, the largest volcano, reaching 5,600 feet above sea level.
This island also has a remarkably rich biota, despite its relatively young age, with more wild tortoises than all of the other islands combined (5 species) and the only penguin found around the equator. Thanks to the upwelling of the Cromwell Current on the western side of the island, its waters support an extremely rich and diverse marine life. Around 16 species of whales have been identified in the area. The island also hosts a cemetery from the first Galapagos settlers.
Bartolome Island has at times been compared to walking on the moon. The young island is still relatively undeveloped and is inhospitable to most plants and animals. Despite this, it is one of the most visited and perhaps most photographed, even making the big screen in Hollywood in the movie “Master and Commander.” The island is filled with a spectacular variety of lava formations including Pinnacle Rock, the famous spearheaded obelisk and best-known landmark in the Galapagos. The Galapagos penguin may also be found waddling around the base of the volcano.
Santa Cruz Island is the center of human activity in the Galapagos, with its main town, Puerto Ayora, hosting about 15,000 residents. The Charles Darwin Research Station is also based in Santa Cruz, where experts gather from all over the world to conduct extensive research on the biology of this ‘living laboratory.’ Unfortunately, Santa Cruz is also the most altered island in the Galapagos, thanks to a century of human interaction and invasive species. Nevertheless, due to the degree of human penetration in Santa Cruz, it is also the only island where visitors can explore the interior and higher elevations of a Galapagos Island, allowing visitors to experience every habitat zone in the archipelago.
Despite its level of human activity, Santa Cruz has remarkably varied and breathtaking landscapes, ranging from white beaches and dry lowlands to misty highlands. The island likewise supports a wide range of land animals and plants, including the giant, endemic Scalesia tree, a relative of the common daisy, and almost every species of bird in the archipelago. Impressive lava tunnels and pit craters, traces of its geologic beginning, can also be explored on this island.
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Genovesa is one of the favourite islands in a recent poll among guides and expedition leaders. It is famous for the quantity and variety of birds that use the island as their nesting ground, giving it the name ‘Bird Island.’ Red-footed boobies, frigate birds, storm petrels, swallow-tailed gulls, tropic birds and Darwin’s finches soar through the skies and skip from rock to rock, searching for food for their young. Additionally, Genovesa is fed by the Humboldt Current, which bring cool, rich waters to its shores, attracting stunning marine life. A number of shark species inhabit these waters, as well as sea turtles and the occasional manta ray, to name a few.
At less than one million years old, Fernandina is the youngest island in the Galapagos Archipelago and also the most pristine. With the exception of one visitor site on the northernmost edge of the island, it is completely untouched by man. It also sits directly over the hotspot, making it the most active volcano in the Galapagos.
Fernandina receives nutrients from the Cromwell Current, enabling this unspoiled land to support a rich array of life. Land iguanas and sea lions lounge in the sun and, depending on the time of year, flightless cormorants can be seen making their nests as the Galapagos hawk, the top predator in the islands, flies overhead. Fernandina is also home to the Galapagos Penguin.
Santiago Island has experienced significant recovery in recent years, following horrific damage from human activity and invasive species. Fur sea lions were thought to have gone extinct by 1905, but they have made a remarkable comeback, making Santiago one of the best locations to observe them. During low tide, tidal pools brim with sea life, including octopus and starfish, and a variety of bird species can be seen throughout the island including Darwin’s Finches, lava herons, yellow-crowned night herons, and at least 10 migratory birds. The island also boasts an incredibly preserved pahoehoe lava flow.
Santa Fe is a small, relatively flat island measuring just over nine square miles; however, its small size does not diminish its importance. The volcano is one of the oldest in the archipelago, with rock formations dating back 3.9 million years. As such, life has had time to evolve. The giant opuntia cactus dominates the landscape, towering up to 33 feet tall. A favorite treat of the land iguana, it has grown extremely tall and developed a wood-like skin to withstand constant gnawing. On the other hand, endemic land iguanas roam the islands reaching more than five feet long. Santa Fe is also home to the rarest endemic animal in the Galapagos. The Santa Fe Rice Rat was most devastated with the arrival of man, thought to have been extinct until it was recently re-discovered in 1997.
This extremely small island, measuring just 1.14 square miles, was formed from the uplifting of submarine lava and is almost entirely devoid of vegetation. Nevertheless, it is home to a variety of species, including the largest colony of frigate birds, blue-footed boobies, land iguanas, marine iguanas, swallow-tailed gulls, sally-foot crabs and sea lions. It is also a popular breeding ground for marine birds.
Española is located at the southern tip of the archipelago and is one of the oldest islands in the Galapagos. The beautiful white beaches and variety of life that this island holds make it one of the primary visitor sites. Due its isolation, the island has an extremely high rate of endemism, with Punta Suarez claiming the highest rate of endemism in the entire archipelago. The Española mocking bird, lava lizard, colorful ‘Christmas’ iguanas and Darwin’s finches are just a few of the animals found here and nowhere else on earth. The island is also the breeding ground for blue-footed and Nazca boobies, and nearly every single waved albatross in the world. This is also home to the renowned Galapagos ‘blowhole,’ which sprays water almost 100 feet into the air.
Floreana has one of the more vibrant histories of all Galapagos Islands. First settled in the early 1800s, it has housed pirates, whalers, criminals and doctors. Post Office Bay, a popular visitor site, was established as a sort-of post office by whalers in 1793. Residents and travelers would leave letters in the barrel to hopefully be hand-delivered by passing ships, a tradition that is still practiced for fun today.
Due to the age of the island, its ecosystem has had time to strengthen and diversify. The rich soil supports a variety of flora and fauna including green sea turtles, stilts and pelicans. The island is also known for its beautiful beaches, one made of tiny olivine crystals giving the sand a green tint, while ‘Flour Beach’ has a fine white coral. Española also has an excellent snorkeling site at Devil’s Crown, thanks to the beautifully clear water and spectacular coral growths.
Rabida Island is located 4.5 ml south of Santiago Island and is just 1.89 ml2. The island is quite arid and steep; however, it is a paradise for bird-watchers, home to some of the rarest species in the archipelago. The island hosts nine subspecies of finches, as well as large billed flycatchers, Galapagos hawks, mockingbirds, yellow warblers, blue-footed and Nazca boobies and brown pelicans. The island is also an excellent site to observe pelicans nesting up close. Furthermore, located just beyond the beach is a saltwater lagoon, which often serves as a feeding ground for flamingoes. Rabida is also well known for its dark red beaches due to the high amount of iron in the lava, literally making the sand rusty.
San Cristobal is the easternmost island and, similar to Isabela, was formed from five different volcanoes that merged together. It is also the most populated island thanks to its regular supply of fresh water. Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is the capital of the Galapagos Province and is home to 5,400 residents. However, the island also has rich soil, which is able to support a variety of plants and animals, including frigate birds, tropicbirds, and blue-footed and red-footed boobies, while sharks, and rays swim in the surrounding waters. Punta Pitt is the only site in the Galapagos where all three varieties of Boobies can be found in the same location.
This island is actually one of a pair of crescent-shaped islands; however, North Plaza is only used for research. It is the smallest island with a visitor sight (.05 ml2) and like North Seymour, is formed from an uplifted seabed. Nevertheless, it is popular among visitors for its extraordinary flora and wide variety of species. Red-billed tropicbirds and swallow-tailed gulls are just a few of the birds that nest on the island, and it also has the smallest land iguana in the archipelago. The landscape is dotted with prickly pear cacti, around which the beautiful succulent Sesuvium carpets the ground, changing from red, orange and purple to a bright green in the rainy season.