Española Island, Galapagos
Around 4 to 4.5 million years old, Española Island or Hood Island is one of the oldest islands in the Galapagos Islands. It’s also the most remote island, found on the southernmost part of the archipelago about two hours away from its nearest neighbor, San Cristobal. And although the 60-square-kilometer (23-square-mile) isle is uninhabited with little vegetation, it’s vibrant and full of life, with a dynamic assortment of animals. Here, travelers will be able to set eyes on exceptional wildlife, from the colorful Christmas iguana to the unique mating dance of the famous blue-footed booby.
Due to largely flat terrain, Española has one of the driest climates in the archipelago, with hardly any rain throughout the year. The island is a birder’s paradise, home to endemic birds like the Galapagos waved albatross and Española mockingbird. Other animals on the unpopulated isle include sea lions, iguanas, Española giant tortoises, and lava lizards. Beyond the extraordinary wildlife, this is a popular destination, with white-sand beaches and dazzling waters ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking. Although the island only has a handful of visitor sites, Española is a highlight in any Galapagos Islands cruise itinerary.
Key Visitor Points
Suarez Point (Punta Suarez)
Suarez Point is one of the most incredible places for wildlife viewing in the Galapagos. As soon as travelers step foot on the dock, they’ll be greeted by sleepy sea lions lounging or playing by the waters. Sally Lightfoot crabs and red and green Española marine iguanas are frequently spotted on the coast. Past the rocky beach, a challenging trail leads explorers on a circular route through volcanic boulders, jagged cliffsides, sandy shores, and the spectacular blowhole known as El Soplador. This is some of the most stunning scenery in the archipelago, with glimpses of Española mockingbirds, Galapagos hawks, Nazca boobies, red-billed tropicbirds, and the endemic waved albatross during nesting season. Lucky birders will even witness the delightful mating dance of the blue-footed boobies.
Gardner Bay (Bahia Gardner)
Beach lovers eager to relax on pristine white shores will find that Gardner Bay is one of the best beaches in the Galapagos Islands to do so. The 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) stretch is a stunner, with blinding white coral sand and clear waters that are an unreal shade of brilliant blue. Swimming and snorkeling are popular activities in the bay, but travelers who aren’t in the mood to get in the water can just sunbathe on the pristine shores with adorable sea lions. Three species of Darwin’s finches live on the bay, while sea turtles use the beach as a nesting site. The nearby Turtle Rock (Tortuga Rock) is a rock formation jutting out of the ocean that’s home to rich marine life. Common sightings here include white-tipped reef sharks and manta rays.
Northeast of Gardner Bay is Gardner Islet, an excellent snorkeling site where travelers can enjoy close encounters with sea lions in the water. Playful, curious, and unafraid of humans, the sea lions will often approach swimmers right to their faces. Osborn Islet is another stop southeast of Española that’s a well-loved snorkeling site.
Wildlife on Española Island
Due to the isolation of this southernmost Galapagos island, a handful of endemic species live on Española. For one, the island is the world’s only breeding ground of the Galapagos waved albatross. Visit Española between April and December to get a glimpse of this seabird that mates for life and exhibit an elaborate mating dance that can last days.
Another endemic species is the Española mockingbird, an infamously bold bird known for approaching and even landing on travelers in search of food. Be on the lookout for the Española marine iguana, dubbed the “Christmas iguana” for its striking red and green color.
The Española giant tortoise is one of the greatest success stories in wildlife conservation in the Galapagos. After nearing extinction in the 1960s, the species underwent an intensive breeding program to restore the population on Española. Today, there are around 1,500 giant tortoises on the island.
Birdlife thrives on the island. One of the greatest draws of Española Island is the chance to witness the blue-footed booby mating dance where the males show off their bright blue feet to the females in a confident strut. Other bird species on the island include Nazca boobies, Galapagos hawks, Galapagos doves, swallow-tailed gulls, red-footed tropicbirds, Darwin’s finches, and more.
The incredible sea creatures in the waters around Española are another high point of visiting the island. Besides the friendly sea lions that lounge on the coast, there are sea turtles, white-tipped reef sharks, rays, and a wide range of colorful reef fish.
Visiting Española, Galapagos
Explorers may join a Galapagos Islands cruise visiting the southern islands to enjoy the snorkeling spots and visitor sites of Española. An Española Island day tour is also possible from San Cristobal Island.