Our Espanola Island Day Trip : Boobies Albatrosses and Sealions

Created by Colleen Sims | Updated : 3 March 2024 |

We island hopped our way around Galapagos and when searching for day tours we discovered that we could visit Espanola during the Waved Albatross nesting season. This meant that a day trip to the island was a must.

During our unforgettable full-day trip, we were greeted by a diverse array of wildlife, including blue-footed boobies, waved albatrosses and sea lions, as well as a stunning landscape and a unique glimpse into the wonders of the evolution of the Galapagos. 

We had an incredible day, walking in the footsteps of Sir David Attenborough.  Read on to learn how you too can encounter these majestic birds with their unique mating dance and explore the landscape and pristine waters of Espanola Island.

beautiful waved albatross on espanola island on the galapagos

Espanola Island History and Geology

Espanola covers an area of around 60 km2 and has a maximum altitude of 206 m.  The island is uninhabited and very much protected. It is the southernmost of the Galapagos Islands and one of the oldest; estimated to be around four million years old.  Espanola Island was nick-named Hood Island by early British sailors due to its resemblance to a monk’s hood.

The island was formed by a classic shield volcano, long since extinct.  Over millions of years erosion has resulted in Espanola being one of the flattest islands in the Galapagos.  However, you’ll still get to glimpse the rugged cliffs used as the runway by the island’s famous albatross residents. 

Charles Darwin visited Espanola during his famous voyage on HMS Beagle and his observations here contributed significantly to the development of his theory of evolution.  And the island has been featured in several documentaries, including the iconic Life on Earth by Sir David Attenborough.

Gerry sat on the rocky shoreline of Espanola Island during our day trip to the island

Why Is Espanola Island So Special?

As one of the oldest islands, its isolation has fostered the evolution of endemic species including the Española mockingbird, the Española lava lizard, and the famous waved albatross, which are found nowhere else on Earth.

Espanola Island’s unique habitat and array of wildlife, flora and fauna makes the two sites that you can explore here, some of the most popular visitor sites across the Galapagos Islands.   

Our Incredible Espanola Island Day Trip from San Cristobal

When initially planning our DIY Galapagos trip, I was surprised at how expensive the day tours were.  In the end we decided that we would just go for it and book them as we would only have one chance to visit these islands. 

Looking back, the experiences across the Galapagos were so amazing that we now feel the day tours offer incredible value for money and we wished we stayed longer and taken a few more.

sea lions sunbathing on the beach at Espanola Island in the Galapagos

How To Get To Espanola Island?

There are only two ways that you can reach Española.  If your Galapagos cruise includes it within the itinerary or, like us, you take a full day trip from San Cristobal Island.   Regardless of whether you are travelling on a cruise or a day trip, you will visit the same places and do the same activities.

Top Tip : Day trips to Espanola are limited in an effort to control visitor numbers. Only a few boats are licensed to land and tours do not run every day.  If you wish to visit Espanola, we recommend that you book in advance and plan the day into your Galapagos itinerary.

What’s Included in the Espanola Island Day Trip from San Cristobal?

Like all the trips that we took on the Galapagos this tour was pretty inclusive, except we had to make our way to the boarding point in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.  To be fair San Cristobal is so small this only involved a 5 minute walk.

We met in the office the previous evening for wetsuits, flippers and snorkel equipment; this is pretty standard.  We travelled with our own snorkelling gear and rash-suits but they are provided if needed. One lady on our tour opted for a scuba diving instead of snorkelling and she was provided with full diving equipment and her own dive guide.

There were only 10 other passengers onboard and a crew of 3 in addition to 2 guides; and today those crew members would be amazing.

Meals, drinks and all activities were included.  Basically, once you book your Galapagos tour everything is included for your day.

★★★★★

WE LOVED OUR ESPANOLA ISLAND DAY TRIP

  • Incredible array of wildlife
  • We loved the hiking experience
  • Great snorkelling and diving opportunities

How Long Are Day Trips To Espanola Island?

Plan for a long full day and an early start.  We met at the landing dock in San Cristobal at 6:30 am and we returned close to 7:30pm.  Although we were an hour late arriving back after problems with our boat, you should still anticipate a 10-12 hour day.

The sea voyage takes at least 2 hours and 15 minutes although the journey seemed to go quickly as we were served snacks and drinks and our naturalist guide talked about our itinerary.

Top Tip : The journey is across open waters and the sea is choppy. If you suffer from motion or sea sickness you will need medication for this journey.

What Is The Cost of the Espanola Island Tour?

The cost of the Espanola Island day trip will depend on the boat, the tour operator and what’s included.  And with limited choice, your boat is determined by the day of the week that you wish to visit.

We never paid attention to the days of the trips when we booked our fights to Galapagos, so we were limited by the day that we could travel to Espanola; but we have no complaints or regrets about our day.

Expect to pay between 250€ and 350€ per person.

Pelican on the beach at Espanola Island

Will You Have A Guide On An Espanola Day Tour?

Yes.  We had two expert bi-lingual guides during our tour and like our guides on North Seymour, Bartolome and Sierra Negra, our guides were graduates in their field and Galapagos natives. 

Island trips are always guided, ensuring your safety and to protect habitats and wildlife.  Lucky for us our guide was an ornithologist and we learned so much from this chap!

What To Expect in Your Espanola Island Itinerary

I know I may be repeating myself but do expect a day filled with awe-inspiring wildlife encounters, breath-taking scenery and an incredible guided exploration across the island.  I believe that all trips visit the same sites but the order of events may be dictated by tides and landings.  But do expect to make wet landings from a Zodiac and even snorkel from the boat.

The Espanola Island Hike

For us we landed at Suarez Point first for a two hour hike around the island. I cannot express how much we loved this hike.  We spotted so much wildlife.  Before we left home we had watched Life on Earth the David Attenborough documentary about Galapagos, and we literally followed in his footsteps. 

Lazy sea lions will probably greet you at the landing site, and you’ll probably have to step over or around them on the beach. Keep an eye out for the brightly-coloured red and green marine iguanas; they are the only marine iguanas that remain brightly coloured throughout the year.

The trail passes grassy stretches and rocky inlets with more sea lions and Española Lava Lizards. You’ll cut through saltbush, where you may spot Galapagos Hawks, Española Mockingbirds, or one of the three species of Darwin’s finches. 

We sat for a while watching the nesting colonies of Blue-footed and Nazca boobies, who make their nests right along the visitor trail.  Gerry loved watching the Swallow-tailed Gulls and Tropical birds flying across the skies.  And of course, spotting the albatross was just incredible.   

The guide led us to perhaps one of the highlights of our entire Galapagos Island adventure;  strolling through the Waved Albatross breeding colony. Nearly the entire population of the world’s adult birds can be found here on Española between April and December. They mate for life and perform an elaborate mating dance, which we managed to capture on film! 

As with our walk around North Seymour the animals ignore you.  You can get within 2 metres and they simply treat you like the rocks on the beach.   And the thrill of spotting so many of the worlds largest seabirds up close and personal was incredible.   We loved all of our day trips but today was special.

IMPORTANT : Today is not a difficult hike but you are under the hot sun for a couple of hours. Sadly one of our group became exhausted from the heat and was unable to continue.  Our incredible crew took over and the lady was very quickly stretchered back to the boat and quickly recovered.  But this is an important lesson in how strong the sun is on the Galapagos Islands.

blue footed booby spotted during our hike around Espanola Island

Beautiful Gardner Bay

After lunch we moved to our second site and spent time at Gardner bay.  This glorious beach of pristine white sand is one of the longest in Galapagos with crystal-clear waters.  The beach is littered with an array of sea birds and sea lions who were totally oblivious of us.  

The sea around Espanola is rich in marine life.  Our boat anchored and we were able to snorkel from the boat.  Spotting schools of colourful fish, sea turtles and we got to swim with a rather playful sea lion.

I’m a strong swimmer but Gerry was pretty tired; the currents here are strong.  One of the things I love about these tours, is that just hold up your hand, if you’re feeling tired and the small zodiac will come and pull you aboard.  Safety is paramount and we were so impressed by this.

Can I swim with the Sea Lions on Espanola Island?

Swimming with sea lions is not part of the tour.  Indeed there are no planned interactions with animals on any tour.  However, it is possible to encounter them while snorkelling as happened with us. 

You must remember the rules; respect the 2-metre rule, only observe them from a safe distance to never disturb their natural behaviour.  And remember that these are wild animals and their behaviour can be unpredictable.

Beautiful coast around Espanola Island with pale sand, a few rocks and beautiful crystal clear water

What Wildlife Can be Seen on Espanola?

Of course the main event on Espanola is the majestic waved albatross, but there are many, many more animals to be seen on this island both on land and in the skies and under the water.

As we walked around the island we saw so many different types of birds and were able to sit beside one Blue-footed Booby for some time just watching her.

You may be lucky enough to spot :

  • Waved Albatrosses
  • Blue-footed Boobies
  • Nazca Boobies
  • Galapagos Hawks
  • Espanola Mockingbirds (Endemic)
  • Espanola Lava Lizards (Endemic)
  • Espanola Racer Snakes (Endemic)
  • Marine Iguanas
  • Land Iguanas
  • Galapagos Giant Tortoises (although very unlikely as they live in the middle of the island)
  • Sally Lightfoot Crabs
  • Darwin’s Finches (Various species)
  • Galapagos Doves
  • Galapagos Mockingbirds
  • Yellow Warblers

If you go snorkelling or swimming you may see :

  • Sea Lions
  • Green Sea Turtles
  • White-tipped Reef Sharks
  • Yellow-tailed Surgeon fish
  • King Angelfish
  • Bump-head Parrotfish
  • Galapagos Fur Seals
  • Manta Rays
  • Stingrays
  • Galapagos Sea Cucumbers

We spotted large schools of fish and a few turtles swam by but a highlight was when a young seal came to investigate our group and swam amongst us.

a gathering of Espanola Iguana, they remain colourful year round and are unique to this island

Are There Any Dangerous Animals on Espanola Island?

While wildlife encounters are a highlight, it’s important to maintain a safe distance from all animals. Marine iguanas may appear sluggish but can bite if provoked. Follow your guide’s instructions and avoid approaching wildlife too closely.

Sea lions too can be grumpy, as we saw on our Bartolome Island Tour, although encounters are rare. Visitors should always exercise caution and maintain the minimum 2m safe distance from wildlife at all times. 

Galapagos is home to unique wildlife, but there are no dangerous animals or insects posing a threat to visitors, although sea urchins may be present and they can sting if stood on.

Best Time of Year To See Wildlife on Espanola

If you want to see the Waved Albatross you will need to visit between April and December and if you wish to see their chicks you’ll spot then from late July.

  • Blue-footed boobies nest year round but peak activity is from May to January.
  • For snorkelling the waters are said to be warmer between January and April. 
a pair of boobies performing a mating dance on Espanola Island

Española Island Weather : What to Expect

In terms of weather, there is no particular best time to visit Espanola Island. The island is quite arid and tends to be dry most of the year. The Galapagos islands experience two main seasons; dry and wet.

  • The dry season (June to November) offers sunnier skies and calmer seas which are ideal for the longer sea journeys.
  • The hot season (December to May) is slightly warmer but you should expect more rain showers.

We had heard that when the weather is poor, it is more difficult to navigate and sometimes the sea conditions make landing impossible.

Regardless of the season, pack for sun protection as temperatures can be high year-round.

What Do I Need to Pack For a Trip to Espanola Island?

This is a long day with no opportunity to replenish supplies so you need to take everything you need for personal use.  We have a small rucksack which is ideal for carrying around when hiking and for jumping on and off the boats.

  • Sun protection (hat, sunglasses, sunscreen) : I cannot stress enough how hot it was on the island.  There is virtually no shade and you will be walking for 2 hours.
  • Comfortable shoes for hiking : the ground is uneven and I would recommend a covered shoe for this.  We took trail runners and they were perfect.
  • Swimsuit: towels were provided on board
  • Camera : Take an underwater sleeve if you hope to catch some of the incredible underwater wildlife.  One chap on our boat had rented an underwater go-pro for the day from San Cristobal and his footage was amazing.
  • Water and snacks : food and drink is provided but we always take extra (especially for me needing gluten free)  And take water with you on the hike as you will need it.
  • Sea sickness medication (if prone to seasickness) : the sea is choppy and if you suffer with motion sickness this is a must
  • Bug spray : The ever present horse-fly lives here along with a few other biting insects.  Do spray before leaving the boat

We wore swimwear but you can change on the boat.  I would also recommend rash suits because you do not realise how much sun exposure you have when snorkelling and it’s very easy to burn.

What Level Of Fitness Do You Need?

This is not a difficult hike and there is very little elevation, but you are walking in the sun for two hours on rocky terrain.  As I mentioned one poor lady on our trip was exhausted from the heat and thankfully the crew were amazing, and she was quickly stretchered off and returned to the boat.  But do not underestimate the hot sun.

Likewise, we snorkelled for some time and the currents here are strong.  Gerry asked for a boat pickup as he was tired.  You’ll need to be a reasonable swimmer and in good health.

This isn’t a difficult day but I would say a moderate level of fitness is recommended.

Colleen and Gerry back on the boat after snorkelling around Espanola Island

Conservation Efforts To Protect The Fragile Ecosystem

The Galapagos National Park strictly regulates visitor numbers on Espanola to protect its delicate ecosystem. The island is home to a variety of conservation efforts from habitat restoration projects to sustainable tourism.  When visiting the island it important to 100% respect the rules and the advice of the crew and guides.

There are two projects in particular :

Española Giant Tortoise Reintroduction: This success story involved bringing back the Española giant tortoise from the brink of extinction. The easy access to the island resulted in the majority of tortoises being removed by whalers for meat.  Wild goats too once overran the island competing with the tortoise for food and destroying much of their habitat.  

Just 14 individuals remained in the 1960s, but a breeding program was started and through a combination of research and egg management nearly 1,500 young tortoises have been repatriated to Española. And goats were finally removed from Española in 1978.  Thankfully today there is a much healthier population on the islands, although it’s unlikely you will spot them as they live deep in the centre of Española.

Waved Albatross Colony: The Waved Albatross stands at nearly 1 meter tall with an impressive wingspan of up to 2.5 meters, and they can live for up to 40 years. They are a truly awe-inspiring sight during the breeding season.

However, the Waved Albatross is classified as Critically Endangered. Pollution, climate change, oil spills and large net fishing imperils their survival.

The Charles Darwin centre on the islands is working with many agencies and undertaking meticulous surveys and monitoring to help conserve this species for future generations.

a pelican, a black marine iguana and a colourful espanola land iguana sunbathing on the rocks beside the sea

Expect The Unexpected On Galapagos

We always found the crew and the guides on our tours to be very professional. This could not have been better demonstrated than by the actions of our crew twice on this day-trip. 

We had a lady suffering from heat exhaustion and the crew immediately jumped into action and dealt with the situation.  And on our return journey to San Cristobal, our boat experienced engine problems.

I want to stress that the boat was in perfect condition.  This issue was not from neglect but just one of those things.  The fuel pump stopped working and one of our crew sat for over 2 hours manually pumping the fuel to the engine. 

The guides explained what had happened. They assured us that Rescue Services had been informed of our location and that they were tracking us and assured us that we were in no danger.

In the end we arrived back on San Cristobal an hour or so later than expected but in good spirits. Rest assured when you book the island tours, you are indeed in the hands of professionals!

stunning rocky coastline and blue blue sea, seen from our hike during our Espanola Island day trip

Is Espanola Island Worth Visiting?

Absolutely! Espanola Island offered us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the unique biodiversity and more of the natural beauty of the Galapagos Islands.

Every tour that we took during our stay on the islands offered us something different; North Seymour with the Magnificent Frigate Birds and Bartolome Island with the icon views.  Our hike on the Sierra Negra was a totally different experience and this day trip to Espanola was simply incredible.  To have the opportunity to sit with one of the worlds most majestic sea birds was a moment that we’ll treasure.

If you are visiting San Cristobal and have the time to visit Española Island then don’t hesitate.  Book this tour and you too will be creating memories to be cherished.

★★★★★

WE LOVED OUR ESPANOLA ISLAND DAY TRIP

  • Incredible array of wildlife
  • We loved the hiking experience
  • Great snorkelling and diving opportunities

Are You Visiting The Galapagos Islands?

I have a series of posts that may be of interest to you and help with your Galapagos Island planning :

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Whenever you travel, you should have a great travel and medical insurance policy.  None of us expect anything bad to happen, but in the event of an incident, you want to be sure that your insurance will be there for you.

I’ve ended up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal, Japan and Ireland! Every time my insurance took care of everything. I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.

TrueTraveller : We have this policy and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions.

Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.

Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.

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Colleen in Salamanca on the Via de la Plata

Hey I’m Colleen. I’m married to Gerry, we’ve three fabulous kids and been living in France for almost two decades. I fell in love with Spain in the 1980s and I’ve walked 1000s of miles along the Camino de Santiago. Now we’re exploring and walking the world and I can’t wait to share what we’ve learned!

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