This post is part 8 of 20 in the series Galapagos Islands Travel Guide

There were many notable moments for us on Genovesa Island where we saw mating and nesting red-footed boobies for the first time, somehow spotted the elusive short-eared owl, encountered soft cactus, and snorkeled with hammerhead sharks. With two distinct areas to explore (including Prince Philip’s Steps) plus spectacular deep water snorkeling, Genovesa is one of the most diverse destinations in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.

nazca booby darwin bay galapagos

Nazca boobies in love near Darwin Bay Beach on Genovesa Island in the Galapagos archipelago in Ecuador.

Located in the north of the Galapagos archipelago, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978, Genovesa is too far from Santa Cruz Island or San Cristobal Island for day trips. Therefore, the only way to visit this spectacular place is as part of your itinerary on multi-day cruise boat trip. We visited Genovesa Island onboard the M/Y Grace with Quasar Expeditions and during our trip on the M/V Eric with Ecoventura.

Exploring Genovesa Island in the Galapagos

Comma-shaped Genovesa Island is named after the city of Genoa, Italy. It’s also sometimes called Tower Island or Bird Island since this 5 square mile (14 square km) island is favored by red-footed boobies in huge numbers plus frigatebirds, finches, red-billed tropicbirds, lava herons, swallow-tailed gulls, and storm-petrels which are a favorite food of the area’s short-eared owls.

soft spine opuntia cactus genovesa

Because of a lack of predators, cactus on Genovesa Island have evolved from stiff spines to soft spines.

Genovesa is also home to the smallest marine iguanas in the Galapagos and there are no land iguanas on the island. Fun fact: With no land iguanas to eat them, the cacti on Genovesa Island have evolved, developing soft spines in place of stiff spines.

Prince Philip’s Steps

As our zodiac traveled to the area of the island called Prince Philip’s Steps, which were named after the monarch who visited the island in 1965 and 1981, we got a quick tour of the steep coastline of Genovesa Island, where we saw basking sea lions, hunting yellow-crowned night-herons, and a nesting swallow-tailed gull.

prince philip's steps galapagos

Travelers climb Prince Philip’s Steps on Genovesa Island in the Galapagos in Ecuador.

After a dry landing at the base of the steps, which are carved into the lava and have a handrail for safety, we climbed up to a scrubby, rocky bluff with a path leading through thin Palo Santo forest. Here we saw many red-footed boobies in various stages of courting, mating, nest building, and tending eggs.

red footed booby

A male red-footed booby presents a stick to a female in an attempt to woo her on Genovesa Island.

The flamboyant mating dance of blue-footed boobies gets a lot of attention. Mating rituals of the red-footed boobies may be more subdued, but they’re still amusing. Red-footed booby courting includes the male presenting his female of choice with a stick or small branch. This is the material they build their low tree nests out of and the female, apparently, can learn a lot about the male from the quality of the stick in his beak.

great frigatebird genovesa

A great frigatebird with an inflated chest pouch.

Great frigatebirds were engaged in their own amorous pursuits including showing off with their red neck balloons all puffed out. With all those birds around, it should have come as no surprise when Karen got pooped on.

Storm petrels are also common around Genovesa Island. Petrels are normally nocturnal, but here they’ve evolved to be active during the day. To avoid predators, namely the short-eared owls that also live on Genovesa, the petrels return to their nest holes in the ground at night.

short eared owl genovesa galapagos

Persistence paid off and we managed to see two short-eared owls on Genovesa Island.

Owls, of course, are nocturnal. So seeing them during a daytime visit is far from guaranteed. Factor in the owl’s brilliant camouflaged feathers and your odds drop even further. However, determination paid off with a sighting of two short-eared owls near their burrows in a shallow gulley.

We visited in: March and December

Activities: dry landing, hiking

Animal highlights: We saw Galapagos mockingbirds, courting and nesting red-footed boobies, Nazca boobies (some with chicks), courting great frigatebirds, red-billed tropicbirds, marine iguanas, storm-petrels, and two short-eared owls.

Part of: the northern group of islands

Here are more photos from Prince Philip’s Steps on Genovesa Island in the Galapagos.

marine iguana genovesa

A marine iguana strikes a pose.

nazca booby genovesa island

Nazca boobies are sometimes called masked boobies and you can see why.

Swallow tailed gull

A swallow-tailed gull nests in a niche in the steep shoreline around Genovesa Island.

nazca booby chick

A juvenile and adult Nazca booby.

yellow crowned night heron

A yellow-crested night heron hunts around Genovesa Island.

See more of what Genovesa Island has to offer in our Galapagos travel video, below.

Exploring Darwin Bay Beach

After exploring the bluff on foot, we got back in the zodiac and moved to the second area of exploration on Genovesa: Darwin Bay Beach.

darwin beach genovesa

An avian welcoming committee on Darwin Bay Beach.

During a wet landing on the sandy beach, we saw a Galapagos fur seal (which isn’t a true seal since its ears are visible). Our beach exploration included seeing an area with freshly dried blood where our guide told us a sea lion had likely given birth.

galapagos fur seal genovesa

Though not a true seal, the Galapagos fur seal is still an imposing creature.

We visited in: March and December

Activities: wet landing, beach walking

Animal highlights: We saw a Galapagos fur seal, Galapagos sea lions, Nazca boobies (some with chicks), red-footed boobies, Genovesa cactus finch, and Galapagos mockingbirds.

Part of: the northern group of islands

baby sea lion-darwin bay beach-genovesa

Never enough baby sea lions.

nazca booby flying

Nazca boobies take flight.

female magnificent frigatebird genovesa

A juvenile magnificent frigatebird points the way on Genovesa Island.

red footed booby colors

While the feet of red-footed boobies are spectacular, so is this species’ colorful beak.

genovesa cactus finch

The Genovesa cactus finch is only found here.

galapagos mockingbird

Galapagos mockingbirds in an Opuntia cactus.

nazca booby chicks

Nazca booby chicks.

Snorkeling in Darwin Bay

Our Genovesa adventures concluded with an eventful deep water snorkel in Darwin Bay over the collapsed and submerge caldera that formed it. Almost immediately we saw about a dozen hammerhead sharks which are always easy to identify thanks to their distinct silhouette.

giant hawkfish genovesa galapagos

We also saw spotted eagle rays, reef sharks, a Galapagos shark (which made our hearts race given their reputation for aggression), and many schools of fish including a giant hawkfish whose scrawled skin pattern made it look like it had been targetted by street artists.

Pro travel tip: The visibility in the water in Darwin Bay was okay during our visit in March and much murkier during our visit in December. This murkiness could have been seasonal, or the result of random tides and currents.

We visited in: March and December

Activities: snorkeling

Animal highlights: While snorkeling we saw about a dozen hammerhead sharks, spotted eagle rays, a giant hawkfish, and a Galapagos shark.

Part of: the northern group of islands

More Galapagos travel tips

Use our Galapagos Islands Travel Guide index post to quickly navigate through the entire series, or choose specific posts below.


Here’s more about travel in Ecuador

Here’s more about Island Travel

Here’s more about Galapagos Travel

Here’s more about Adventure Travel


Series Navigation:<< Highlights of Visiting Fernandina Island – Galapagos Islands, EcuadorHighlights of Visiting Santa Fe Island – Galapagos Islands, Ecuador >>

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