Ecuador // The Galápagos Islands //

Punta Suárez and Gardner Bay

Española’s two visitor sites offer very different experiences. At Punta Suárez, on the western end of the island, noisy sea lions welcome visitors landing on a small beach. On the rocks, marine iguanas, unusual for rusty colourations that erupt into turquoise and red during the mating season, bask in the sun. Hood mockingbirds, even more gregarious than their relatives on other islands, will hop to your feet and tug at your shoelaces. From the beach, a long, looped trail heads up to a large plateau covered in muyuyo, croton, lycium and atriplex (salt sage), a scrubby costume of plants that bursts into green during the rainy season. The waved albatrosses nests among these bushes from April to December; it’s a giant of a bird that flies alone above the seas for three months, before returning to the island to find its lifelong mate, perform its alluring courtship dance and breed (see Waved albatrosses). When it’s time to hunt, the adults waddle to the high cliffs at the southern end of the island to launch themselves off, unfurling their 2.5-metre wings. Along the cliffs you’ll also find Nazca boobies, swallow-tailed gulls and red-billed tropicbirds; in the west, a blowhole sends a tall jet of spray gushing through a fissure in the lava. The trail then heads back across the plateau, through a field of blue-footed boobies, high-stepping and sky-pointing at each other in a cacophony of whistling and honking.

The second visitor site, Gardner Bay, on the northeast side of the island, holds one of the most spectacular beaches in the archipelago, a lightly curling strip of soft, white, coral sand, lapped by a dazzling blue sea. Bull sea lions energetically patrol the water while their many consorts doze on the sand. As an open site, you can walk the length of the beach without the rest of your group or the guide. It’s a good spot for some swimming, but snorkelling is better around the offshore islets nearby, especially Isla Tortuga, where eagle rays, white-tipped reef and hammerhead sharks can be seen.