By Allie E. Almario
What’s our favorite Galapagos visitor sites? Oh, there are so many scattered throughout the archipelago’s 13 major islands! But don’t worry, no matter what sailing itinerary you’re on, the Galapagos National Park has already done a terrific job of choosing the best visitor sites for the optimum wildlife viewing and landscape diversity. Even better, they limit the number of passengers who can disembark at each visitor site, ensuring that there are never ever any crowds – except perhaps for a mountain of marine iguanas here and there.
Still, our Galapagos expert Allie Almario, who’s traveled to these islands close to 20 times, admits to having a few personal favorites.
1. Bartolome Island
Located in the heart of the islands, Bartolome portrays, better than anywhere else, the geological history of the archipelago. With its 350 foot cinder cone, fabulous strange shaped and colored lava formations, and views of volcanic peaks and moonlike landscapes, Bartolome is one of the most popular of the islands visited in the Galapagos. It’s also a popular day trip from Santa Cruz Islands, though visitors who come on day trips can only arrive on specific days designated by the national park.
An interesting hike will take you up to the summit of the once active volcano, a walk of about 30-40 minutes – and yes, someone counted and there are 372 steps to the top. From the summit, you have a panoramic view of the island, as well as the immense black lava flows on nearby James or Santiago. You can also swim or snorkel on the nearby beach. Allie loves it for the opportunity to swim alongside penguins, marine iguanas and sea lions.
2. Concha De Perla on Isabela Island.
Translated into English, Concha de Perla means pearl oyster shell. This visitor site is popular with people who are lucky enough to overnight at one of the many lovely small hotels on Isabela Island. When you first arrive, don’t be surprised if you’ll have to tiptoe your way through a path that may have a small crowd of sleepy sea lions. It’s truly one of the most magical snorkeling experiences Allie has ever had. During low tide, the waters trapped among the lava rock and mangroves create a sort of living aquarium. The waters are nearly always calm and clear, so those who are nervous about snorkeling will enjoy it even more. The variety of colorful fish is startling. Don’t forget to bring a change of clothing and a towel, and of course, reef-safe sunscreen.
3. Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill) on Santa Cruz Island
Located on the western side of Santa Cruz, this site is comparatively among the newest visitor sites approved by the Galapagos National Park. It is not highly frequented by other boats. Why a favorite? It arguably has the largest and most impressive population of Conolophus subcristatus, or Galapagos land iguana, in the archipelago. Since this iguana is so hard to see on other islands, Allie and other travelers were thrilled to find nearly 20 of them scattered throughout their three-hour hike on her last visit. Described as miniature dragons, these rotund and comical land iguanas can be tough to spot. They blend in so well in the desert-like landscape of Santa Cruz Island. Look for the opuntia cacti – the iguanas love to munch at the foot of the cactus.