Rábida Island, Galápagos

A few miles south of Santiago Island is Isla Rábida. Although physically small, its stunning red beach and surrounding rainbow landscape may be one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises of your trip to the Galápagos.

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1 Introduction to Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

Rábida Island is in the center of the Galápagos archipelago and about three miles south of Santiago Island. Isla Rábida is small – less than two square miles – and uninhabited except for a thrilling array of land and sea birds plus marine life. The islet’s namesake is the Friary of La Rábida in Palos de la Frontera, Spain. Christopher Columbus stayed at this Franciscan monastery from 1490 until 1492 before his first voyage. It is also called Jervis Island in honor of John Jervis, a former admiral in the UK’s Royal Navy. To prepare for arriving passengers, this crewmember is headed toward the beach near the island’s 1,204 foot peak, a former cinder cone.

Rábida Island, Ecuador
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2 Incredible Scenery of Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

You will be awed by the landscape after your wet landing at the northeast side of Rábida Island. You may be so engrossed by the forest of white trees encircling the reds, oranges, pinks and greens that you might not notice the sea lions sleeping on the maroon beach. Some people call this “moon on earth.” Another nickname is the Red Island. This travel guide shows some highlights of your 60 to 90 minute hike. The .7 mile trail is easy. The experience is unforgettable.

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3 Darwin’s Finches on Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

Rábida Island is home to nine of the 14 finch species endemic to the Galápagos. They are collectively called Darwin’s finches because they contributed to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. He collected bird specimens during his five weeks in the Galápagos in 1835. But he was unaware of their genetic differences until 1837 when John Gould from the Zoological Society of London identified 12 unique types of finches. Each species had adapted to the conditions of their habitat. This is a female common cactus finch. The ground bird’s name stems from its propensity to feed on prickly pear cactus (Opuntia). The Geospiza scandens is found on 13 islands in the Galápagos.

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4 Galápagos Lava Lizard on Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

As you walk along the trail on Rábida Island, your peripheral vison will detect something small scurrying by your feet. This five to six inch critter will either disappear in seconds or raise its scaly head in curiosity. Say hello to a Galápagos lava lizard. This is one of seven species of lava lizards endemic to the Galápagos. Although they are located on most of the islands, their coloring is unique to each. You might also spot a colony of black marine iguanas sunning on rocks along the shore. They are the only iguana in the world that lives and nests on land yet feeds in the sea.

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5 Flora of Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

The harsh, arid and volcanic surface of Rábida Island is not conducive to diverse vegetation. The three main plants are shown here. On the left is Galápagos Opuntia echios. Although prickly pear cactus grows across the Americas, this species is exclusive to the Galápagos. There are also five varieties. The Opuntia galapageia profusa only germinates on Rábida. Growing on the island’s hillsides are ghostly trees. These seemingly dead white branches are Bursera graveolens. Their common name of palo santo means “holy stick.” Finally, along the shore and the lagoon are dense green thickets of saltbrush. Scientists classify them as Cryptocarpus pyriformis.

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6 Female Galápagos Dove on Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

Another bird endemic to the Ecuadorian archipelago is the Galápagos dove. The adult Zenaida galapagoensis measures seven to nine inches. This female is smaller and less colorful than the male. Yet they share the red feet and bright blue eye rings. Do not expect to see this dove perching in a tree or flying off when you approach. They are rarely airborne. Instead, most of their time is spent foraging along the red terrain near prickly pear cactus in search of seeds and an occasional insect.

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7 Galápagos Mockingbird on Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

Finches are often believed to be the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Although they contributed to his breakthrough discovery, the various finch species were not identified until two years after his Galápagos visit. Yet Darwin did observe uniqueness among mockingbirds. He called them mocking-thrushes. An entry in his extensive journal aboard HMS Beagle exclaimed he was astonished to see different species even from neighboring islands. There are four species of mockingbirds endemic to the Galápagos and six subspecies. The type living on Isla Rábida and three other islands is Mimus parvulus personatus. Part of the bird’s diet is eating fruit. The seeds pass through the feces and germinate elsewhere.

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8 Eastern Coastline of Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

The walking trail on Rábida Island winds up and across a small peninsula. You will be delighted when you reach the eastern coast. This shoreline is steep and dramatic. Rows of green prickly pear cactus and white palo santo trees are sharp contrasts to the red and orange cliffline. The blue-green sea turns a frothy white as it slaps hidden and exposed rocks. In the crevices or in the air, you may see blue-footed and Nazca boobies.

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9 Color Variations of Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

As if dissected by a geologist, this eroded cliff displays successive lava flows from a scoria cone over one million years ago. The rock nearest the swirling eddy is black. Then the colors morph into reddish-brown tones followed by bright shades of orange near the top. The cause of this palette’s variations is twofold. One is the concentration of iron and magnesium. The second is the lava rocks contact with air. The minerals oxidize with extended exposure to the elements. In short, they literally rust. This process gives Rábida Island its surreal colorization.

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10 Panoramic View of Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

As you descend down the trail toward the end of your hike, you will be presented with another panoramic view of the island’s stunning chromatic ribbons. The ghostly vegetation clinging to the arid hills. A circle of white outlining the saltwater lagoon. The incredible red beach. And the Pacific Ocean’s gradations of blue mixing with the layered clouds above the horizon. Spectacular!

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11 Saltwater Lagoon on Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

The hike is nearly finished as you follow the white stakes to the saltwater lagoon. Remain vigilant. This small pond is a very busy neighborhood. Brown pelicans nest in the saltbrush. Other residents are finches, common stilts, herons, white-cheeked pintail ducks plus Galápagos hawks and mockingbirds. Until recently, this lagoon also delighted tourists with a colony of pink flamingoes. Unfortunately, they have recently left. Perhaps they will return if the pink shrimp larva increases again.

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12 Mockingbird Territory Encroachment on Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

As our tour group admired the saltwater lagoon, a community of Galápagos mockingbirds scurried and hopped along the water’s edge in search of food. These birds breed in a group of two to five adults, often protected by an alpha male. Presumably, this was him on the left playing kissy-bill with an attractive female. Suddenly, an interloper boldly ran up to the pair and raised his tail feathers in defiance. This was obvious trouble.

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Confrontation of Mockingbirds on Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

When the preoccupied male spotted his challenger, he swirled around, spread his legs, raised his tail and aimed his black angled beak toward the enemy. Within seconds, the female cowered behind her man. At first, the two males stood rigid in a stare down. Then they made short hops in unison as if two boxers dancing in a ring while sizing each other up.

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Attempted Intimidation of Mockingbirds at Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

Mockingbirds are often aggressive, especially during mating season. When one crosses into a community’s territory, they are usually run off without incidence. The males chase the males and the females repel the females. Yet this confrontation was not going to be that easy. You could sense the pending battle as these birds squared off. Each puffed up their feathers, pressed their tails into the sand and rose up to appear bigger and menacing. Neither was about to back down.

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Mockingbirds Fighting on Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

Then the action began. The birds sparred with their claws. They beat each other with their wings. Their bills landed repeated body blows while also pecking at each other’s head and neck. The challenger stumbled. He fell defenseless to the sand. The alpha male prepared to pounce.

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Mockingbirds Fighting Midair on Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

The challenger rolled away before the alpha male could pin him down. Then the war became airborne. While the rest of the bird community watched, the two birds lunged and clawed among fluttering wings. One would fall. The other would pursue. Then the dogfight would resume. Surprisingly, neither bird made a sound during this violent fight. Finally, the challenger dropped for the last time. He was briefly pounded into submission before running off. This amazing show ended in a technical knockdown for the community’s defender. The other birds encircled him with congratulations.

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13 Red Beach on Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

World travelers are accustomed to enjoying different colors of sand along tropical beaches. Rarely red. The color comes from volcanic ash and eroded lava rock rich in iron that has rusted during oxidation. The grains are coarse and tightly packed. This makes your stroll along this crimson rarity easy and memorable.

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14 Side Adventures at Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

Most ships visiting Rábida Island offer two optional excursions. One is kayaking. The waters along the northeast shore are typically calm. These conditions mean minimal effort while paddling, allowing you to admire the abundant seabirds nesting among the red cliffs. Another elective is snorkeling. Below the waterline is a fascinating world waiting to be explored. In addition to countless fish of every color, you may encounter sea turtles, stingrays, starfish, eels and sharks while playful sea lions act as your tour guides. The temperature is not very cold, but a wetsuit is recommended.

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15 Parting View of Rábida Island in Galápagos, EC

Back aboard ship, you will sit along the deck, admire this signature red cliff and replay all of the things you saw and did at Rábida Island. It will be hard to believe you packed all of these adventures into a half day. Then you will see the last dingy be lifted followed by the sound of the rising anchor. Your ship begins sailing toward the next enchanting island in the Galápagos.

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