Las Tintoreras is one of the more popular and well-known tourist destinations on the Isla Isabella in the Galapagos Islands. And it is worthy of such attention. Its name means “The Chasms” or the “The Rifts” and comes from the multiple lava formations that make small underwater canyons as well as nooks and crannies across the landscape. The place is a haven for wildlife because the lava formations create unique habitats for many animals.
View of Lava Fields, Las Tintoreras, Isla Isabela, The Galapagos
For example, even before setting foot on Las Tintoreras, the small launch that takes you across the water will pass a nesting ground of the Galapagos Penguin. Depending on the time of year, you will see penguins at play, penguins nesting, or penguins just hanging out. Our visit took place in August and we saw newly fledged birds, their new feathers very apparent drying in the breeze, acting like the adolescents they are, pushing and shoving each other into the water… while their parents were off in the deep ocean replenishing their layers of fat for the next year’s egg laying. Nesting starts in May so your best chance of seeing birds (and baby birds) are about 6 weeks later though it should be possible to see some activity year round. Las Tintoreras is probably the easiest place to see Galapagos Penguins while you are visiting the island. Populations of penguins also live on Fernandina Island and small populations have been seen on Floreana, Santiago, Bartolomé, and even Santa Cruz though in less visited locations. If the Galapagos Penguin is on your life list, then make Isla Isabella a day trip at the very least.
View of Lava Fields, Las Tintoreras, Isla Isabela, The Galapagos
Marine Iguanas, Las Tintoreras, Isla Isabela, the Galapagos

The beloved Blue-footed Booby also can be found on the same rocks as the nesting penguins. These distinctive birds are easily spotted by their bright blue feet. If you are a keen observer, you will notice that some birds have sky blue feet and others are more purple blue. One guide told me that this is a way to tell the difference between male and female birds. However, scientific studies say that the foot color serves as a mating guide to let birds know who is the healthiest mate. Birds with brighter feet have higher levels of lipids and lipoproteins and are therefore healthier. Studies show that males prefer females with brighter feet and visa versa.

Blue-footed Booby found at Las Tintoreras, Isla Isabela, The Galapagos.
Marine Iguana, Las Tintoreras, Isla Isabela, the Galapagos

Upon arrival to Las Tintoreras, it would be easy to think that this area has no wildlife at all. The landscape is stark with hardly any vegetation to be seen. The ground is covered with ancient lava, some of it folded into strange shapes. It makes for a hot hike during most times of the year. Make sure to bring protection from the sun and plenty of water.

But there is plenty to see, even if well-camouflaged. Take Marine Iguanas for example. As their name suggests, these reptiles can survive short amounts of time in the water where they forage on marine algae. Because they are cold-blooded, their time in the water must be limited and it is common to see animals sunning among the dark rocks. They are often well-hidden as their own skin coloring blends very well with the dark tones of the lava rock. But the camouflage is necessary as the animals are very slow to move when cold. That is one reason humans are asked to limit their approach. If you want great photos, invest in a zoom lens before arriving.

Surprisingly, White-tip Reef Sharks can be seen from land. These sedentary sharks love the still water found in the canyons formed by ancient volcanic activity. They spend most of the day resting on the sandy bottoms of these canyons and wait until dark for their nightly hunt. That means the best possibility of seeing them is from a high point above the canyon looking down into the water. If by chance you see a white-tip reef shark while snorkeling, don’t panic. The only recorded attacks on humans have involved hunters with spearguns who have gone after the shark’s intended prey. Otherwise, these sharks are considered perfect eco-tourist subjects.

White-tip Reef Sharks seen at Las Tintoreras, Isla Isabela, the Galapagos.

For the keen-eyed oberserver, there are many small animals among the rocks themselves. The easiest to spot are the crabs. One species is easy to identify, the Sally Lightfoot Crab. Bright orange red with markings in golden orange and light blue, this crab is distinctive, especially when seen against black volcanic rock. The juveniles are less easily seen because their shells are mottled with color, the background blending well with the native rock.

A juvenile Sally Lightfoot Crab, Las Tintoreras, Isla Isabela, the Galapagos
Sally Lightfoot Crab, Las Tintoreras, Isla Isabela, the Galapagos
If your tour includes snorkeling, then the list of species you can observe will grow exponentially. If you’re lucky, you might see a Galapagos Green Turtle or two resting on the sandy bottom, Galapagos penguins swimming underwater, a marine iguana foraging for algae, or the occasional shark. You are guaranteed to see several species of sea urchins and sea stars and colorful fish beyond count.

This trip was part of an overall day trip which began and ended on Santa Cruz island. This tiny part of our entire made me realize that Isla Isabella is well worth visiting overnight, perhaps for several nights. At the very least, we highly recommend the day trip if that is all the time that you have.

Sea Turtle, Los Tuneles, Isla Isabela, The Galapagos
Sea Urchins, Las Tintoreras, Isla Isabela, the Galapagos

Los Tintoreras, Isla Isabela, The Galapagos