Island profile: Genovesa

Genovesa island is situated towards the north east of the Archipelago. Named after the Italian city of Genoa, in honour of Christopher Columbus, the island is a shield volcano, home to a salt water lake, a sandy bay and sheer cliff faces rising directly out of the sea. Approximately 2 million years old, the island is an unusual shape as the lava found on the slopes originated primarily from a crater found in the centre of the island, forming a shield volcano. The crater is circular, over 600m wide at the rim and 60m deep with a lake 350m across on its floor.

Genovesa Island © GCT


If you visit, you’ll anchor in a horse-shoe shaped bay named Darwin Bay is the anchorage point for the vessels and popular with marine life visiting the island as it shelters them from the open sea. Frequently spotted species include turtles, fur seals and jelly fish, but you might be lucky enough to see hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks and manta rays. 

A set of steps, known as Prince Phillips steps, are cut into the cliff face on the east of the bay, leading to a large sea bird colony based on the rocky, unprotected flat top of the island.

Often referred to as ‘bird island’, many species of birds live and breed on Genovesa in large numbers. The most common are frigatebirds, storm petrels, swallow-tailed gulls, noddy terns, mockingbirds, lava gulls, tropicbirds, Galapagos doves and Darwin’s finches, in particular, the large cactus finch.

Wildlife, tropicbird © Bill Hale

Tropicbird © Bill Hale

The vegetation on Genovesa island is sparse; scrub, mangroves and bushes make up most of the flora. This arid zone vegetation is the perfect nesting place for red-footed boobies, which are the only members of the gannet and booby family to nest in trees more than a metre above the ground. The highest concentration of red-footed boobies in Galapagos are found on Genovesa island so it’s a good place to go to see them.

Red-footed boobies and great frigatebirds like to perch in the fragrant branches of the Palo Santo trees along the pathway. The Galapagos short-eared owl is also a resident of Genovesa and can often be spotted amongst the bushes and the shrubs at dawn and dusk as it hunts close to its burrow. Galapagos short-eared owls have developed a unique hunting technique on Genovesa. Storm petrels nest deep in tunnels in the lava rock, and the owls have learnt to stalk nearby, watching the petrels as they enter and leave the tunnels. The owls have learned to hide in the entrance of the tunnel, and grab petrels with their talons as they fly in or out of their tunnels!