ESPAÑOLA Island, GALAPAGOS
The southernmost island in the Galapagos chain, Española is home to several species that can’t be found outside of the Galapagos, including the Española mockingbird and the Española lava lizard. Española Island is also famous as it is the only place the waved albatross breeds and nests. Like its feathered brethren the blue-footed booby, the waved albatross engages in an unusual courtship dance, this one involving a sequence of bows, honks, and beak clacking. The females lay only one egg, and parenting duties are shared with the males. Once they hatch, the fuzzy chicks stay together in nurseries eagerly awaiting their parents’ return from hunting. Later in the year, they’ll shed their down and start to stretch their wings. Lucky visitors may get to see a young albatross take off for his first flight—many of them for the very first time in December or January. The young albatrosses stay at sea for about five years before returning to Española to mate.
Each year from April to December, Punta Suarez hosts more than 25,000 waved albatrosses, making it one of the most popular sites for visitors to the Galapagos. Their intricate courtship dance, involving bill circling, head bobbing, and an exaggerated walk, is also quite a spectacle to behold. Surprisingly, though they appear to be a tad ungainly on foot, these birds are incredibly graceful in flight.
A trail takes you past a small beach. Along the way, look for Española lava lizards (whom you can thank for controlling the fly and mosquito populations on the island). They’re relatively diminutive, with the females distinguished by their red throats. Further afield you’ll find blue-footed and Nazca booby nesting colonies. Eventually, the trail leads to cliffs overlooking the Pacific and a photo-worthy blowhole that sprays water nearly 100 feet into the sky at high tide.
With its long white expanse of sand, Gardner Bay boasts one of the best beaches in the Galapagos. Though there’s no inland trail to explore, this is an excellent location for lounging or a stroll along the shore. You might see marine iguanas or green sea turtles resting on the sand while Española mockingbirds, blue-footed boobies, and Galapagos hawks patrol overhead. If you’re in the mood for a swim, the snorkeling here is outstanding. Below the surface is the second largest marine preserve in the world and you’ll see rays, sea turtles, tropical fish, and even white tip reef sharks.