Also known as Hood Island after the English Viscount Samuel Hood, Española Island is the southernmost island of the Galapagos and is one of the most secluded of all the archipelagos. Some 778 miles from Ecuador’s capital of Quito, this small Galapagos Island covers an area of just 23 sq. miles making it about two-thirds the size of Manhattan.
The spectacular Island of Española is regarded as one of the oldest islands that make up the Galapagos, with geologists estimating it to be about 4 million years old!
Created by a single caldera in the center of Española and following millions of years of erosion, the island has become one of the flattest and lowest in terms of elevation with the highest point being just 675ft. a.s.l. Although Española Island has become more barren with time, it has gained a reputation amongst those who visit the Galapagos as having the widest variety and the highest quantity of wildlife and endemic species. Along with its stunning beaches at Gardner Bay, Hood Island is one of the most popular and attractive Galapagos archipelagos to explore.
♦ Nature galore on Española Island
Being one of the most isolated islands of the Galapagos has resulted in the wildlife adapting to Española’s habitat in unique and spectacular ways. This has created a wide range of endemic species from the marine iguana that is the only one to change color during the breeding season to the Hood Mockingbird which is the largest mockingbird in the Galapagos and is the only carnivorous one of the species.
As well as travelers seeking to explore Española, it is particularly popular with birdlife providing what is arguably the best display of birds in all of the Galapagos.
On Española Island you can encounter masked and blue-footed boobies, Galapagos doves, red-billed tropicbird, albatrosses and the most important waved albatross. The huge waved albatross nests on the island at the beginning of March before returning to the coastal mainland of Ecuador in December. Aside from birdlife, there are the Española saddle-back turtles which at one time were near to extinction with only 12 females and 2 males but as a result of the tireless work of the Charles Darwin Research Foundation, their numbers on the island are beginning to increase.
♦ Incredible wildlife at Punta Suarez
Punta Suarez which is located on the western tip is one of the best places to spot Galapagos wildlife due to its sheer range and quantity. The cliffs on this side of Española Island provide the nesting grounds for the Waved Albatrosses and several other species of birds. Visiting Punta Suarez and the island while the Waved Albatross is nesting there between March and December is a highlight of the Galapagos.
Performing an elaborate and clumsy mating dance, the Waved Albatross will stumble, honk and partake in some beak-fencing which is in stark contrast to their grace in the air.
Near to the shore and at the landing site of the boats visiting the Galapagos Island, you’ll need to watch your step as sea lions bask in the sun with little or no interest in moving out of the way. Having researched the Galapagos you probably came across adorable images of baby sea lions, and towards the water’s edge, you’ll be able to see them waiting for their mothers to return with food. Similar to the other Galapagos Isles, Española’s volcanic history creates a spectacle during high tide as the powerful waves crash into the lava cracks; water is thrown nearly 100ft. into the air through a blowhole.
♦ Paradise at Gardner Bay
One of the best beach experiences in the Galapagos, Gardner Bay is situated on the northeast side of Española Island and is the perfect place to sit back and relax. The white sandy beach runs for more than a mile and glistens in the sun attracting napping sea lions, and who could blame them? Before you travel to the Island of Española it is important to point out that some of the wildlife is more fearless than others and while soaking up the beauty of Gardner Bay, you may find a Darwin Finch or Española Mockingbird decide to perch on you head or shoulder…it’s all part of the Galapagos experience! Having shooed away or accommodated the visiting finch or mockingbird, the just as vibrant underwater world is waiting for you. Snorkeling or swimming at this beach is an experience like no other as green sea turtles glide through the clear, azure waters.
If you visit the island between January and March and are disappointed about not being able to see a Waved Albatross, don’t worry as you’ll be able to witness the Green Sea Turtles nesting during this period.
Further out towards Tortugas Rock and Gardner Island, you’ll enter a tropical, marine paradise as Yellow-tailed Surgeon fish, King Angelfish and Bump-head Parrotfish dart about. Watch as the elegant Manta and Spotted-Eagle Rays glide through the water with Hammerhead Sharks while the White-tipped Reef Sharks take a nap on the ocean floor. Don’t worry about the Hammerhead Sharks or White-tipped Reef Sharks; they just want to be left alone and to enjoy their ‘siesta’. You also won’t be alone as you enjoy the playful company of baby sea lions as you explore the magical underwater world of Española Island in the Galapagos.