Many Galapagos guides told us that Española is their favorite island in the archipelago, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978, because Española offers some of the best of the Galapagos including a high density of species, one of the longest and loveliest beaches, and the only waved albatross nesting area in the world. Here are travel highlights from visiting Española Island in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.
Galapagos travel highlights from Española Island
Española Island is the southernmost island in the Galapagos archipelago. It’s also one of the most remote islands, and one of the oldest at more than four million years old.
Because of its remote location, Española has a large number of endemic species including the Española mockingbird, the Española lava lizard, red and green marine iguanas, and the island’s star species: the waved albatross (sometimes called the Galapagos albatross) which is not endemic, but this bird’s only nesting area is on Española. There are also Galapagos giant tortoises in the upper elevations of the island and they’re currently benefiting from serious conservation efforts.
We visited Española Island as part of the itinerary during our trip aboard the Origin with Ecoventura.
The albatross haven of Punta Suarez
After a wet landing at Punta Suarez we picked our way around lazy sea lions and embarked on the rocky and mostly flat 2 mile (3 km) inland trail, eventually reaching what we’d come here for.
According to the Galapagos Conservancy, a not-for-profit conservation group, the world’s entire population of adult waved albatross returns to Española Island where 25,000 to 30,000 adults congregate throughout the nesting season (April to December).
These critically endangered animals mate for life and their mating dance involves stumbling, honking, and “fencing” with their bright yellow beaks. The display can go on for five days. When they finally get down to business, the pairs produce one egg per season.
We visited Puerto Suarez early in the mating season, so we didn’t see any chicks. We did, however, see a waved albatross egg and it was just about as big as you’d expect from a bird that’s 3 feet (1 meter) tall, can weight 9 lbs (4 kilos), and has a wingspan of up to 8 feet (2.5 meters). With no trees or people in these photos for scale, you may be thinking that the waved albatross is basically a big seagull but they’re much, much, much bigger than that.
The pattern of their feathers really does achieve a waved effect and the trail that takes visitors around the nesting colony on Española gets you close enough to really appreciate the intricate beauty of the birds.
The birds are also elegant in the air where they are perfectly designed for what looks like effortless flight. On land, however, they waddle and stumble and trip over their feet and wings which seem to be too big and too heavy and we felt sorry for them as they tried to move around on the ground.
Another spectacular feature of Puerto Suarez is its natural blowhole. It might be easy to overlook it with all those nesting albatross around, but it periodically makes itself known when incoming seawater shoots up to 100 feet (30 meters) into the air.
We visited in: May
Activities: wet landing, hiking
Animal highlights: During our hike, we saw dozens of waved albatross, many marine iguanas, Nazca boobies (including one feeding its chick), blue-footed boobies, red-billed tropicbirds, lava lizards, a Galapagos hawk, cactus finches, and warbler finches.
Part of: the southern group of islands
Here are more photos from the Puerto Suarez area of Española Island.
Snorkeling in Gardner Bay
The beach at Gardner Bay, on the western part of the island, is a 1.25 mile (2 km) stretch of lovely white sand dotted with lounging sea lions. It’s one of the longest and loveliest beaches in the Galapagos. There is no trail here and visitors are restricted to the beach or the water in Gardner Bay where we snorkeled.
We visited in: May
Activities: wet landing, beach walking, snorkeling
Animal highlights: On the beach, we saw many sea lions. In the water, we saw a green sea turtle, lots of diamond rays, and a whitetip reef shark.
Part of: the southern group of islands
See more of Española Island in our Galapagos Islands travel video below.
More Galapagos travel tips
Use our Galapagos Islands Travel Guide index post to quickly navigate through the entire series, or choose specific posts below.
- Part 1 in our Galapagos Islands Travel Guide series gives you the facts you need to plan your trip to the Galapagos Islands.
- Part 2 is our Santa Cruz Island Travel Guide including what to do and where to sleep on this tourist hub island.
- Part 3 tells you what to expect during boat trips to landings around Santa Cruz Island.
- Part 4 covers highlights from North Seymour, South Plaza, and Daphne Islands.
- Part 5 is our San Cristóbal Island Travel Guide.
- Part 6 covers what to expect during boat trips to Cerro Brujo, Punta Pitt, and Kicker Rock around San Cristóbal.
- Part 7 reveals highlights of visiting Santa Fe Island.
- Part 8 tells you what to expect on Genovesa Island.
- Part 9 gives you travel highlights from Fernandina Island.
- Part 10 helps you explore Isabela Island.
- Part 11 takes you around Santiago Island.
- Part 12 covers highlights of Floreana Island.
- Part 14 tells you how to take the best travel photos in the Galapagos.
- Part 15 brings you all the adventure of SCUBA diving in the Galapagos Islands.
- Part 16 helps you pack like a pro for the Galapagos.
- Part 17 delivers answers to 5 top Galapagos travel questions.
- Part 18 reveals our favorite shots of wildlife in the Galapagos.
- Part 19 reveals our favorite shots of landscapes and sunsets in the Galapagos.
Here’s more about travel in Ecuador
Here’s more about Island Travel
Here’s more about Galapagos Travel