Genovesa island is one of the most popular sites to visit at Galapagos. Not all cruise ships go far enough north to make a visit, but it is well worth going the extra mile. Genovesa is known as the bird island. Here visitors find a great diversity of sea bird species, including the elusive red footed booby. Even if you are not usually so into birds, seeing so many together at Genovesa island is hard not to appreciate. At times they seem to cover the entire sky. Genovea's underwater action is right up there too. Darwin Bay Genovesa is one of the top Galapagos snorkeling sites, where you can share the sea with all kind of colorful fish and sharks.
Read on for everything you need to know to plan your visit to Genovesa island at Galapagos. What wildlife can you see there? Which activities and visitor sites await? And learn about the history and geology of the island.
• Nirvana for Galapagos bird watching – not only can you see a great diversity of bird species, but also a dizzying volume of birds flying all around you
• Home to the largest colony of red-footed boobies, on the planet, with a colony of over 140,000 breeding pairs.
• Observe short-eared owls hunting storm petrels as they emerge from their burrows.
• Enjoy amazing snorkeling in the calm waters of Darwin Bay, with Manta Rays, fish galore, and possible hammerhead shark sightings.
• Darwin Bay is also a pleasant spot for kayaking (if your cruise yacht carries kayaks).
English Name: Tower.
Ecuadorian Name: Genovesa.
Total Area:5.4 sq miles.
Population: zero (uninhabited)
Genovesa certainly lives up to it’s reputation as the Bird Island of Galapagos - both in diversity and numbers! The cold nutrient-rich Genovesa waters provide perfect conditions for sea birds to thrive. Visitors get up close to the nesting sites of large colonies. This is ideal to observe unique bird behavior in the nest and diving for food. So bird watchers, do try to include Genovesa Island into your itinerary – you won’t be disappointed!
Due to its remote location far to the north of the archipelago few land species ever arrived to Genovesa. But the sea birds and underwater marine life more than makes up for it.
The island of Genovesa is the remains of an old shield volcano. A long and flat crater was built up slowly by successive lava flows, until one side of the caldera collapsed letting sea water in. So what we see today is a pretty bay protected by horse-shoe shaped crater walls of the submerged volcano. The calm waters of the protected bay make for fabulous snorkeling or kayaking, cliff walls provide nesting sites for seabirds, and two visitor trails walk you through huge colonies of red footed boobies and frigates.
Genovesa's habitat is a bit of a mixed bag. Arid scrubland with low bushes is perfect for nesting red-footed boobies and Frigates. The large barren petrified lava flows are more suited to owl and petrel nesting. While steep cliffs are ideal for other sea bird species.
The sites of Genovesa are named in honor of several famous people. The name of the island itself comes from the Italian city of Genoa – birthplace of famous explorer Christopher Columbus. The two landing sites derive their names from Prince Philip (the British royal who visited the island in 1965 and 1981), and Charles Darwin (who of course needs no introduction).
The short-eared owl on Genovesa island is an incredibly skilled stealth predator. They use highly effective camouflage against the dark lava rocks, waiting for the right moment to strike. Swooping in silently their prey rarely knows what hit them. On Genovesa island they have also developed a unique technique to hunt storm petrels. Petrels are faster and more agile in flight than owls. So the cunning Short-eared owl has to adapt to stalk their prey. Petrels nest in protective tunnels in the lava. So the observant owl stakes them out, watching and learning where the petrels enter and leave their tunnels. The clever owl then waits patiently by the entrance, and catches the petrels unawares as they fly out.
How to visit Genovesa? This island is far away to the north of the archipelago, too far for a Genovesa island day trip. It is accessible only aboard Galapagos Cruise Itineraries that operate a loop of the northen islands.
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Visitors to Genovesa island can enjoy a wonderful variety of activities. There are two different visitor sites with treking trails. Plus free time for snorkeling or kayaing in the calm bay waters of the collapsed crater. Read on for more information about each Genovesa visitor site.
Landing Type: Dry, sometimes with choppy water.
Trail length:Aprox 2 hour hike (2km).
Terrain: The trail starts with steep, challenging, rocky steps, which level out to a flat plateau with sandy / rocky trail.
After landing at the dock, you are immediately faced with the toughest part of Prince Phillip’s Steps – the steep climb. Steps ascend 8 meters, with a handrail for balance – just take it slow, or ask your guide for assistance if this part worries you. At the top of the steps, a plateau opens out, straight into colonies of Red footed boobies and Nazca boobies. Genovesa is home to the largest colony of Red footed boobies on the planet, and is one of the few sites at Galapagos where you can find them. It’s easy to tell the nests apart – Nazca boobies nest on the ground, while their Red footed cousins build nests in the Palo Santo trees or shrubs. Keep an eye out for mockingbirds and finches here too.
Further along the trail we enter a different habitat of dark petrified lava flows – a harsh landscape, but home to more interesting bird species. This is the best spot at the Galapagos Islands to find Short-eared Owls, wonderfully camouflaged against the brown/black rocks. They hunt Storm Petrels by keen observation and stealth, waiting to catch Petrels unaware as they fly out from their burrows.
Impressive panoramic views can be enjoyed from this high point of Genovesa, where Wedge-rumped Storm Petrels swarm in their hundreds, together with Galapagos swallows and Galapagos doves.
Landing Type: Wet.
Trail length:1-2 hour hike (aprox 1.5 km).
Terrain:An easy trail along the beach.
Genovesa’s second visitor site is Darwin Bay. A beautiful white coral sand beach, home to sea lions, marine iguanas, sally lightfoot crabs, and great frigate birds. After a wet landing, a short trail heads inland to a todal pool, for our first view of beautiful Swallow-tailed gulls. These elegant and beautiful seabirds nest in lava cracks. They have developed night vision (unique for gull species) to be able to hunt squid and small fish nocturnally, without risk of predation. Endemic species of Lava Gull and Lava Heron are also common here, as are playful sealions swimming in the pools or shallows. Another curiosity of Genovesa island to look out for is the smallest marine iguana at Galapagos, the only reptile on the island.
The trail continues through Palo Santo and Opuntia forest – nesting sites for Great Frigatebirds and Red-footed Boobies. Frigate mating season begins in March, with males aiming to attract a mate to their nest by puffing out their red, balloon-like throat pouches. This is a very impressive spectacle to behold, and a must-see at Galapagos.
At the end of the trail, enjoy the picturesque cliff-top view. Keep your eyes on the skies here for the lovely red-billed tropic bird, flying with graceful tail streamers.
Finally, visitors can enjoy free time to relax on the beach, snorkel in the calm, clear waters, or kayak. Darwin Bay offers some of the best Galapagos snorkeling at the islands. Here you can share the bay with sea lions, green sea turtles, sharks, Manta rays, and schools of colorful fish such as surgeon fish, butterfly hogfish, unicorn fish, king angelfish & parrot fish. But the real bucket list highlight is the opportunity to cross paths with Hammerhead sharks that sometimes frequent this tranquil bay.
Note: All wildlife sightings are by their very nature unpredictable, and activities may be subject to change by your guide or the National Park Authority.
In conclusion, Genovesa island should definitely be on your Galapagos bucket list. Genovesa has a number of special visitor highlights that you will not find on other islands. This is especially true for bird lovers. Genovesa island also boasts one of the best Galapagos snorkel sites, and a rare chance to see hammerheads. Probably the top Genovesa pick though is the huge colony of red footed boobies - the largest colony on the planet. All things considered Genovesa is a highly recommended island to visit.