Marine iguana, Española island, Galapagos islands

Galapagos Islands: What Happens in January

In January, the rainy season begins in the Galapagos Islands. This marks the start of the mating season for land species, both birds and reptiles.

January is also one of the best months for snorkeling, as water temperatures are warming up and visibility is excellent (through March).

On Land
  • Throughout the Galapagos Islands, marine iguanas are mating. On Española Island, these iguanas, famously known as the “Christmas marine iguanas,” are turning bright green and red to attract mates.
  • The land iguanas are also having their season. Especially on Isabela, you’ll see the males fighting each other for females.
  • Giant tortoises are laying their eggs in the wild.
At Sea
  • Green sea turtles are laying eggs on Galapagos beaches. To prevent destruction of the nests, stay on marked paths when visiting Tortuga Bay or other beaches.
In the Air
  • Darwin’s finches, Galapagos mockingbird and other land birds begin nesting after the first rain.
  • The rare lava heron, unique to the Galapagos Islands, are also nesting.
  • Migrant shore birds are visiting, taking a rest stop on their long pilgrimage from the Northern winter.
Humans
  • The winter holiday high season continues, with vacationing Northern Hemisphere visitors.
Climate
  • The onset of the rainy season begins in the Galapagos Islands also heralds warmer temperatures now, both on land and in the sea. These tropical conditions continue until June. The sun is strong now; use SPF 30+ sun screen or other protection.
  • The rainy season is in full tilt on these desert isles. Expect 2.5 – 5 centimeters (1 – 2 inches) of rain, especially in the highlands.
  • Air temperatures are much warmer than in previous months, reaching a high of 29 – 30ºC (84 – 86ºF). In the evenings, temperatures dip to 21 – 22ºC (74 – 76ºF).
  • The seas around the Galapagos Islands are pleasantly warm: 23 – 25ºC (74 – 76ºF). Visibility is good, creating fantastic conditions for snorkeling adventures.

 

Have you visited the Galapagos islands in January? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Galapagos Travel Planner - FREE Download

Photo credit: Vince Smith

Galapagos penguin, Tagus Cove, Isabela Island, Galapagos Islands

Top 9 Things To See And Do On Isabela Island

Isabela is called the Island of Sand and Volcanoes – and this is precisely what awaits you. You can spend several days, relaxing on secluded beaches and visiting young fire mountains. Isabela is also the place to go to see Galapagos penguins and flightless cormorants.

Rent a bicycle for the day and ride out to the tortoise breeding center, wetlands and other sites along the road to the Wall of Tears. (Take a picnic and plenty of water.)

Many other sites require a guide. Tours are easily arranged on Isabela island, or you can book a package through an agency in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island. Visitor sites are open 6am – 6pm.

1. Concha de Perla

Near Puerto Villamil’s port is Concha de Perla, a small cove with crystal clear water perfect for snorkeling. The underwater world here is breathtaking, with penguins, sea lions, chocolate chip starfish, rays, turtles and multitudes of other marine life. Go on tour, or walk the 250-meter path near the port to get to the shores.

2. Tortoise Breeding Center

Centro de Crianza Arnaldo Tupiza is where Galapagos National Park rangers are raising tortoises to replenish Isabela island’s endangered giant tortoise population. This island is unique in that five species are present. Located 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) from Puerto Villamil. Open 7am – 5pm.

3. Lagoons

Past the tortoise breeding center and along the road to the Wall of Tears are several pozas, or lagoons where flamingos, rails and other waterfowl may be seen: Poza de las Diablas, Pozas Verdes, Poza Redonda and Poza Escondida.

4. Beaches

Beaches also line the road out to the Wall of Tears. The best surfing is at Quinta Ola and Playa Barahona (40 – 50 minutes west from Puerto Villamil). Playa de Amor is a shallow lagoon with fascinating tidal pools at low tide. Playa del Estero is a secluded arm of the sea surrounded by forest where you can leave the world behind. Near Playa del Estero is a marked lava tunnel.

5. Wall of Tears

Muro de las Lágrimas – Wall of Tears – is a reminder of when Isabela was host to a prison colony. Inmates had to repeatedly build, tear down and rebuild this 100-meter-long stone wall as part of their punishment. Also on site are remnants of the World War II-era US military base.

6. Las Tintoreras

Las Tintoreras are islets just offshore from Puerto Villamil. Here you’ll see Galapagos penguins, blue-footed boobies, nesting marine iguanas and nursing sea lions. The big feature is the white-tipped sharks (tintoreras) that rest in narrow channels. A guide is required.

7. Sierra Negra and Cerro Chico

A lunar-landscape world awaits you at Sierra Negra volcano. Of Isabela’s six volcanoes, this is the nearest to Puerto Villamil and it is one of the largest active craters in the world. The chiva (rustic bus) takes you as far as El Cura from where it is eight kilometers (5 miles) to Cerro Chico, site of the 2005 eruption. Sierra Negra can also be combined with a tour to the sulfur mines (Minas de Azufre, 12 kilometers / 7 miles). A guide is required for either hike, which can also be done on horseback.

8. Lava Tunnels

On the coast west of Puerto Villamil, you can explore the labyrinth of lava tunnels. These were formed as lava flowed from Volcán Sierra Negra to the sea. The variety of marine life here makes for astonishing snorkeling. These can be visited only on a guided tour. Due to sea conditions, the lava tunnels are best visited January – May.

9. Tagus Cove

Follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin with a visit to Caleta de Tagus on the west coast of Isabela island. Since the early 19th century, this cove overshadowed by Volcán Darwin has been a popular rest stop for pirates, whalers and tourists. Wildlife includes giant tortoises, land iguanas and birds. Accessible only on a tour.

Other sites, like Elizabeth Bay, Urbina Bay and Fernandina Island, can be visited on boat tours arranged from Puerto Villamil. Many of these destinations are also included on multi-day Galapagos Island cruises.

Prime scuba diving sites near Isabela are Isla Tortuga and Roca Cuatro Hermanos, among others. Cabo Marshall and Punta Vicente Roca are also good for snorkeling.

Visiting Isabela Island

Even though Isabela is at the far western end of the Galapagos archipelago, it is still easy to get there with local boats and flights, or book an all-inclusive tour from Santa Cruz island.

Puerto Villamil offers a handful of restaurants and hotels. If camping is your thing, stay at Campo Duro Eco-Lodge. Take plenty of cash with you to Isabela, as there is no ATM or bank. There is a $10 dock tax upon arriving at Puerto Villamil.

Have you been to a place or done an activity on Isabela island that you would recommend to fellow travelers? Share your tips in the comments below.

Galapagos Travel Planner - FREE Download

Photo credit: Harvey Barrison

Post Office barrel, Post Office Bay, Floreana Island, Galapagos Islands

Floreana Island: Longest Occupied Galapagos Island

In Galapagos Travel Planner’s continuing series on the colonization of the Galapagos Islands, today we visit the history of Floreana Island.

Floreana, located in the southern part of the Galapagos archipelago, is an island full of history and mystery. It is the Galapagos Island that has been inhabited by humans for the longest time. Named for Ecuador’s first president, Juan José Flores, over the centuries Floreana has also been called Charles Island and Santa María.

In the 1950s, Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl (of Kon Tiki fame) stated that a carved head near Asilo de la Paz and pottery shards prove that South American indigenous visited the Galapagos centuries before the Spanish – a theory not supported by academics.

The first human known to reside long-term in the Galapagos Islands is Patrick Watkins, an Irish sailor marooned near Floreana’s Black Beach from 1807 to 1809. He survived by growing vegetables that he traded with passing ships. Watkins inspired part of Herman Melville’s novella, Las Encantadas.

During this era, whaling ships found safe harbor on the north shore of Floreana. Sometime before 1793, a barrel post office was established, and thus the bay’s name: Post Office Bay. In the latter half of the 19th century, several short-lived settlements were established on Floreana, including a political prison colony and an orchil lichen dye enterprise.

In 1926, Norwegian settlers set up a fishing cannery at Post Office Bay. When that business failed, many went to live in the fledgling town on Santa Cruz Island’s Academy Bay.

Galapagos’ most famous residents lived on Floreana during the 1930s. This German settlement began when Dr. Friedrich Ritter and Dora Strauch arrived in 1929. Soon thereafter, the Wittmer family arrived, and later the Baronness Eloise von Wagner and her two lovers. The disappearance of the Baroness and one lover, and the sudden death of Ritter is a mystery that endures to this day. The Wittmer family continues to live on the island.

After World War II, more settlers arrived on Floreana. Since then, the population of the island has grown to a bit over 100 inhabitants, many living in Puerto Velasco Ibarra. Farming is the main occupation, though eco-tourism is beginning to take hold.

Human occupation has taken a heavy toll on Floreana’s environment. The native species of giant tortoise is extinct, and the Floreana Mockingbird and other species are endangered. In 2011, scientists from the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Galapagos National Park began “Proyecto Floreana,” an effort to restore the island’s ecosystem.

Been to Floreana island? Share any tips for future travellers in the comments below.

 

Galapagos Travel Planner - FREE Download

 

Photo credit: NH53

Galapagos sea lion, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal island, Galapagos

Top 9 Things To See And Do On San Cristobal Island

San Cristóbal island presents many facets of the Galápagos Islands’ natural and human history. It is also an adventure capital, with great snorkeling and the best surfing in the Galapagos.

Pack a picnic lunch and head out for the day. Many of the visitor sites are easy to get to without a guide. Tour operators can take you out to other destinations around San Cristóbal and to nearby islands. All national park sites are open 6 a.m. – 6 p.m.

1. Beaches

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristóbal’s main town and the capital of the Galápagos Islands, sits on a broad, horseshoe bay dotted with beaches. Right downtown is Playa de Oro, good for snorkeling and swimming. Going southeast from the center, you come to Playa de los Marinos and El Cañón (surfing, snorkeling, swimming). Heading west from Playa de Oro is Playa Mann (snorkeling and swimming).

2. La Lobería

La Lobería, located near the airport, is deservedly famous for its large sea lion population. Many frigate birds, finches and yellow warblers nest in the mangrove and palo santo forest. This beach is also great for snorkeling, swimming and surfing.

3. Interpretation Center

The Interpretation Center (Centro de Interpretación) offers three galleries describing the Galapagos Islands’ origins, their human history and conservation. As well, it has scale models of ships, a high-relief map of the islands, and self-guiding hiking trails. The Center marks the beginning of the trail to Cerro Tijeretas and Punta Carola Beach.

4. Cerro Tijeretas

Cerro Tijeretas, located 3.5 kilometers (two miles) from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, has scenic viewpoints on its three peaks, including a grand vista of León Dormido rock. A statue of Charles Darwin commemorates his visit in 1835. Cerro Tijeretas owes its name to the two species of frigate birds that nest here.

5. Punta Carola

Following Avenida Alsacio Northía northward, you come to Punta Carola, one of Isla San Crisóbal’s most famous beaches. This golden strand is home to sea lions and marine iguanas.

This prime surfing territory is also perfect for swimming and snorkeling.

6. Hacienda El Progreso

In the highlands of San Cristóbal are the ruins of Hacienda El Progreso which bespeak one of the most tragic chapters of Galapagos history: the slave conditions of the sugar plantation of Manuel Cobos, who is buried at this site. To get here, you can catch a local chiva (bus) or taxi, or bicycle up.

7. Laguna El Junco

El Junco is set the crater of San Cristóbal Island’s extinct volcano. This is the only freshwater lake in the entire archipelago. Luxurious vegetation provides habitat for a number of bird species.

8. Cerro Colorado

From El Junco, a road heads to San Cristóbal’s southeast coast. Along the way is the Galapaguera Cerro Colorado breeding center, where the local species of giant tortoise are being bred.

9. Puerto Chino

The road from El Junco ends at Puerto Chino. After your explorations of San Cristóbal’s highlands, relax on this long, white-sand beach and observe the abundant shorebirds.

Day trips to the highland visitor sites and to Puerto Grande and Cerro Brujo can be arranged through local tour agencies. Scuba diving can be done at Islote Five Fingers, Isla Lobos, Roca Ballena and Roca Este. León Dormido and Punta Pitt also offer snorkeling.

Visiting San Cristóbal

If you would like to spend a few days exploring San Cristóbal, it is easy to do it on your own.

You can get to many of the visitor sites without a guide. Tour operators can take you out to guide-required sites or for scuba diving.

Arriving at San Cristóbal is easy. Flights depart from Quito and Guayaquil, and local flights and boats connect San Cristóbal with the other inhabited islands. As well, some Galapagos island cruises begin (or end) in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

As one would expect of a capital city, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno offers all the services a tourist needs for spending a few days in this corner of the Galapagos. Besides a wide range of hotels and restaurants for every budget, the town also has a bank with ATM.

Have you been to a place or done an activity on San Cristobal island that you would recommend to fellow travelers? Share your tips in the comments below.

Galapagos Travel Planner - FREE Download

Photo credit: NAParish

Green Sea Turtles mating, Galapagos islands

Galapagos Islands: What Happens in December

December is an exciting time in the Galapagos Islands as life springs anew.

For many animals, the mating season is either beginning or ending.

After months of the garúa mist, the landscape is greened with flowering plants.

Northern birds, dolphins and whales are passing through on their southward journeys.

On Land
  • Fur seals are breeding, especially on Fernandina Island.
  • Giant tortoise eggs are hatching. This lasts until April.
At Sea
  • Green sea turtles are mating in shallow waters. (Don’t be surprised if you bump into a happy couple while snorkeling!)
In the Air
  • The big bird news in the Galapagos is with the spectacular Waved Albatross. Chicks are fledging and this month the Waved Albatross will be leaving Española Island. They won’t return until March.
  • The Galapagos Islands’ endemic Lava Herons are nesting.
  • Blue-footed Boobies are also nesting.
  • And as always, you may catch the year-round breeding and nesting of Red-footed and Masked Boobies, or up on North Seymour, nesting Magnificent and Great Frigatebirds. If the food supplies are excellent, Flightless Cormorants, Penguins and Greater Flamingoes will also be breeding and nesting.
Humans
  • The high season begins in mid-December with school vacations and Christmas holidays. This continues until mid-January.
  • New Year’s Eve is an interesting time in the Galapagos Islands. In the days before December 31, people build stages with comedic scenes featuring sports, political and other public figures. On New Year’s Eve, the viudas alegres (Merry Widows) of Old Man Year will be out. These men dressed as women later participate in a beauty pageant in the park on Puerto Ayora’s seafront.
Climate
  • December marks the beginning of warmer weather in the Galapagos Islands. Days are mostly sunny and there is little wind.
  • The sun is more intense. Be sure to use a sunscreen of at least SPF30 or other protection.
  • It is getting hotter in the Islands, with air temperatures ranging from 22 to 27ºC (72-81ºF).
  • As the Humboldt Current weakens, the sea becomes warmer, averaging 22-23ºC (72-74ºF).

 

Have you visited the Galapagos islands in December? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Galapagos Travel Planner - FREE Download

Photo credit: Brian Gratwicke