Espanola Island Galapagos (Isla Española)
Española Island is one of the very top Galapagos visitor highlights, and for good reason! Espanola Island is home to two of our very favorite Galapagos visitor sites. Gardner Bay is a long stretch of pristine white coral sand, where visitors sunbathe alongside sleepy sea lions. Suarez Point in contrast is a black lava cliff with large marine bird colonies.
Espanola Island Galapagos is the only place on the planet where huge Waved Albatrosses come each year to nest and breed. You’ll also find large colonies of boobies and other sea birds, as well as the famous ‘Soplador’ blowhole. The waters around Espanola island are also teeming with marine life, and perfect for snorkeling or sea kayaking. Without a doubt, Espanola Island is a must-see destination on your Galapagos itinerary!
Keep reading for everything you need to know to plan your visit to Espanola Island Galapagos. What wildlife to spot there? Which activities and visitor sites await? How to plan your visit to Espanola? Also, learn about the interesting geology of the island.
Espanola Galapagos Wildlife Highlights:
Which animals are on Espanola Island Galapagos?
• Espanola Island’s biggest wildlife pull is the Galapagos Waved Albatross. Espanola is the only island where you can find this magnificent seabird nesting. The colony comes home to Espanola Galapagos each year between April and December to nest on the high cliffs.
• Keep a lookout for the endemic Española Mockingbird – the most daring and bold of the Galapagos mockingbird species.
• The Espanola Island marine iguana is the only species that is red and green in color, hence their nickname: the Christmas iguana.
• Share a pristine white sand beach with lazy sea lions at Gardner Bay.
• Check out the largest lava lizards at Galapagos challenging one another to push-up competitions.
About Espanola Island Galapagos
English Name: Hood
Ecuadorian Name: Española
Total Area: 23 sq miles
Population: zero (uninhabited)
Espanola Island has played a very important role in the natural history of the Galapagos islands. It is one of the oldest islands, estimated to be between 4 and 4 and 1/2 million years old. Espanola was possibly the first island to see plant life, and to receive animals that drifted on currents from the mainland. So Espanola island may well have been home to the very first Galapagos arrivals – the ancestors of many species that we find in the archipelago today.
Espanola Island Geology
Espanola is a great example of the full lifecycle of a volcanic island in Galapagos, from explosive origin to slow decline.
The island originally formed on the Galapagos volcanic hotspot, close to where Fernandina Island is today, in the west of the archipelago. Successive underwater eruptions and uplift led to the volcano emerging from the surface of the ocean. Tectonic drift then moved Espanola Island slowly eastwards, away from the active hotspot, causing the volcano to become extinct.
Over hundreds of thousands of years, Espanola Island was slowly colonized by vegetation and transformed into a suitable home for land animals. Today, Espanola island is dying – her rock and land gradually eroding at the mercy of wind and sea. The island’s flat and low-lying appearance is evidence of its gradual submergence back into the ocean from where it came. This is the fate that eventually awaits all islands in the Galapagos, while new islands will continue to be created at the hotspot.
Espanola Island Habitat
Espanola is the driest island in the Galapagos, the habitat is, therefore, a mix of arid and transitional zones. Here you’ll find mostly flat terrain with some small hills and vegetation of thorny plants.
Espanola Island History
The English name for Espanola island is Hood, named after Viscount Samuel Hood. The Viscount was a decorated British Royal Navy officer in the 1800’s.
Fun Española Galapagos Facts
Back in the 1960’s the Española Giant Tortoise was close to extinction. Only 15 individuals remained – 2 males and 13 females. So, the Charles Darwin Station and the Galapagos National Park sprung to action to save them.
The tortoises were moved to a safe location in Santa Cruz, away from the invasive rats that threatened their existence on Espanola island. Then began an intense breeding program. Diego, a 100-year-old male tortoise, is believed to have fathered an impressive 800 baby tortoises in captivity. When old enough to fend for themselves those babies were successfully reintroduced to Espanola Island. Today Española Galapagos is home to a healthy population of 1500+ tortoises. There was even a happy ending to the story for Diego – he was returned to his native island in 2020, to enjoy a more restful retirement together with generations of his offspring.
Where is Espanola Island in the Galapagos?
How to visit Española Island?
Espanola is located in the southeast of the Galapagos archipelago. It is possible to book an Espanola island day trip from San Cristobal which is about a 2-hour bumpy navigation each way. The Espanola tour can easily be included in a multi-day Galapagos Land Tour itinerary.
A better idea though is to visit as part of a Galapagos Cruise itinerary. This gives you much more time to enjoy your visit and give Espanola the dedication it deserves. Not all cruises visit Espanola Island, so be sure to plan your trip carefully and check the details of the visits your cruise will make.
Contact us for a FREE TOUR QUOTE, or for more information to plan your Galapagos vacation to visit Española Island.
Espanola Island Galapagos Visitor Sites
1. Suarez Point (Punta Suarez)
Landing Type: Dry
Trail length: 1.9 miles (3km) trail on a circular route. This trek takes approx 2 and 1/2 hours when walking slowly with a guide.
Terrain: Moderate / Difficult trail from sea level up to rocky cliffs. The terrain is challenging due to uneven volcanic rocks.
Suarez Point on Espanola Island is one of the most popular Galapagos visitor sites and a real treat for visitors.
On arrival, your panga (zodiac) will drop you onto a small concrete dock close to a small lighthouse. Even taking your first steps you’ll find yourself straight into the heart of the action. Colorful Sally Lightfoot crabs cling to the black lava rocks. Baby sea lions play in the shallows. See if you can spot an Espanola Marine Iguana (Christmas Iguana), with their unique red and green skin coloring. Tourists often cluster here to take photos, but the best is yet to come further up the trail.
Leaving the beach behind the trail leads along the coast. Expect to be harassed by Espanola Mockingbirds; they are bold little birds for sure and are attracted by the hope of a swig of water from a tourist’s bottle. This is a wonderfully close wildlife encounter, but please resist the temptation to give them your water.
Now the going starts to get a little tougher. Your guide will lead you through a maze of volcanic boulders over difficult terrain. Keep your eyes on the ground for safe footing, but don’t forget to look up occasionally – this is a good spot to find Galapagos doves or hawks. Your reward for navigating this tough trail can be found when you reach the cliff plateau – into the middle of the waved albatross nesting grounds. Albatross couples arrive at Espanola Island to breed and nest in April each year. It is a true delight to watch the albatross mating dance and witness the loving behavior between couples who mate for life. Fluffy white hatchlings usually appear from June onwards. While the Galapagos waved albatross is enviably graceful in the air, they are famous for clumsy takeoffs and spectacular crash landings on land. In December the albatross colony departs Espanola Island to better hunting grounds in the open ocean, so be sure to time your visit correctly if you wish to see them.
Continuing along the cliffs, enjoy the wonderful views of the ocean, and the famous Punta Suarez blowhole (el Soplador). When waves hit a hole in the rocks below, water shoots spectacularly high into the air like a geyser. A large wave can launch the water as high as 23m (75ft).
As the trail descends back to sea level it passes through a large blue-footed booby colony. These amusing birds are the clowns of the Galapagos – if you are lucky enough to see their funny mating dance then you’ll understand why. Nazca boobies also nest here, and Red-billed Tropic birds can sometimes be spotted flying around the cliff face. This is the final stretch of the path, leading back to the lighthouse beach.
2. Gardner Bay (Bahia Gardner)
Landing Type: Wet.
Trail length: 0.6 Miles (1km). This optional trek takes about 1 hour to walk slowly.
Terrain: Easy and flat path.
Gardner Bay was voted as one of the top 20 beaches in the world by CNN, and it’s not hard to see why.
A wet beach landing drops you straight onto a stretch of gorgeous white coral sand, with turquoise waters lapping at the shore. But before you even have time to appreciate this amazing view, your attention turns to your unexpected beach companions – a colony of lazy sea lions. Many snooze or sunbathe together in groups, while others swim playfully in the crystal clear waters. Welcome to our favorite Galapagos Islands beach!
Are you ready for more good news? Your guide will give you free time to explore and enjoy this breathtaking destination to your heart’s content. Your first option is to enjoy the beach, sunbathe, and take cheeky snaps of sea lions. You’ll also likely come across Espanola mockingbirds here. They are fearless and often come right up to tourists. We’ve even spotted them jump on top of a bottle, tapping it to encourage you to share your water! Other highlights from the beach can include marine iguanas, diving blue-footed boobies, Sally light-foot crabs, and wading birds like Wandering tattlers and Turnstones.
The crystal clear Gardner Bay water is also surely too inviting to resist. This is one of the very best spots in the Galapagos to swim with curious sea lions. It is also a great snorkeling spot, so remember to bring a mask and tube from your cruise ship. Swim out to the semi-submerged tuff cone located in front of the beach. It is known locally as Turtle Rock as it resembles a Green Sea Turtle coming up for air. Experienced snorkelers and strong swimmers will find the best of the action on the far side of Turtle Rock. Look out for whitetip reef sharks, manta rays, and many colorful Galapagos reef fish like Surgeonfish, Parrotfish, Wrasse, and Scorpionfish.
3. Gardner & Osborn Islets
Located close to Espanola Island Galapagos, Gardner, and Osborn islets are wonderful snorkeling sites that your cruise ship might visit.
Sea depths of 80ft descend along coral walls to underwater caves. Eagle rays, manta rays, jacks, Galapagos sharks, white-tip reef sharks, and occasionally hammerheads use these areas as a cleaning and feeding station. Huge schools of vibrant reef fish dart back and forth amid sea lions and sea turtles. Try to spot the unique red-lipped batfish on the sandy sea bed.
In conclusion, Espanola Island at Galapagos is guaranteed to blow you away! If you can include Espanola Island in your Galapagos itinerary then don’t hesitate, you will not regret it. The black cliff and white sand beach landscapes are magnificent. The wildlife is more abundant and diverse than pretty much any other Galapagos island. You can find unique species here, like the beautiful Waved Albatross, and colorful Christmas Iguana. The action is literally non-stop, on land and in the sea. Espanola Island will be ingrained in your best Galapagos trip memories and photos long after you return home.