A volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean situated 1,000 km (620 mi) off the coast of Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands are a wild landscape with arguably some of the most fascinating wildlife on the planet. Many of its animal species are found nowhere else in the world. The islands that make up the Galápagos vary in their landscapes, from rocky and barren to lush and tropical. What type of landscape you get depends on when the island you’re on was formed: younger islands on the Galápagos’ east are rocky, while older ones to the west — where vegetation has taken hold and broken down the hard, volcanic rock — are more green.

The Galápagos are one of the world’s most remote, unique and remarkable destinations. For travellers visiting these islands, there are two main options for itineraries to choose between: the eastern islands, or the western ones.

The eastern route visits more areas with human habitation, while the western route is more remote. Here's a brief overview of what you might encounter in both directions:

Galápagos itinerary A: The eastern route

Baltra Island: Nearly all itineraries start on this island as it is the location of one of two international airports in the Galápagos.

Santa Cruz Island: This is one of the two main inhabited islands of the Galápagos. It includes places such as the town Puerto Ayora, Bachas Beach, the forested Highlands, and also the well-known Charles Darwin Research Station.

A juvenile sea lion on the beaches of Floreana

San Cristobal: This island includes Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Punta Pitt, the San Cristobal Interpretation Center, Tijeretas Bay and Leon Dormido rock.

Floreana Island: Sites include the famous Punta Cormorant, the Highlands, the Post Office Bay, Devil’s Crown and the inlets of Enderby, Champion, and Watson, the Gardner Islets, and The Bottle.

Espanola Island: The island includes the spectacular Punta Suarez, Gardner Bay, Waved Albatross Colony, a tortoise repatriation site and Tortuga Rock.

Some itineraries include stops at Santa Fe (for sea lions, sea turtles and shark spotting), Bartolome for a short hike, or North Seymour for more wildlife viewing.

Galápagos itinerary B: The western route

Baltra Island: Nearly all itineraries start on this island as it is the location of one of two international airports in the Galápagos.

Genovesa Island: Also called “the bird island,” Genovesa is an extinct shield volcano whose caldera is now flooded by the sea. It is home to some of the most extraordinary birds in the Galápagos. Sites include Darwin Bay and the Prince Phillips Steps. Bartolome: Most boats stop here to hike to a lookout, or for a snorkel around Pinnacle Rock.

Santiago Island: A stop on this island may include visits to James Bay, Sullivan Bay, Chinese Hat, Buccaneer Cove, and Rabida Island.

A pair of Nazca Boobies cleaning each other on Genovesa Island.

Isabela Island: Isabela is the largest island in the Galápagos and includes sites such as Elizabeth Bay, Punta Vicente Roca, Urbina Bay, and Tagus Cove. Visitors can hike to the rim of the massive Sierra Negra volcano’s caldera, and visit the Tortoise Breeding Centre.

Fernandina Island: The youngest islands in the Galapagos, boats are able to make a landing here to see the lava fields of Puna Espinoza, which are teeming with marine iguanas and sea lions.

On these two itineraries you'll see mostly the same animals with one major exception: the eastern route gets the waived albatross, while the western route gets the flightless cormorant. Plus, going east offers more chances to walk on pristine beaches and snorkel with sea lions, while taking the western way features some of the Galápagos’ more geologically interesting islands. So which one is best? Ultimately, it’s a very personal choice. No matter which route you chose the Galápagos Islands will surely result in a lifetime of memories.

Originally published Sept. 11, 2017. Updated on Dec. 30, 2020.

Getting there

Interested in visiting the Galápagos — but not sure which route to take? G Adventures offers tours to the region comprising both the eastern and western islands. Check out our small group tours to the Galápagos Islands.