White-sand beaches and a large population of waved albatrosses have made this southern island (also called Hood Island) a frequent stop for visitors. It is one of the oldest islands (3.3 million years) and is considered to have formed from an uplift caused by submarine lava.

Most excursions on this island head first to Punta Suarez, a challenging hike that involves walking over rugged volcanic rocks to see colonies of sea lions and throngs of marine iguanas sunning themselves. (Visitors should look for the Christmas iguanas, whose name comes from their red and green markings during mating season.) On the trail to the overlook, many sea birds are visible, including fork-tail frigate birds, hawks and mockingbirds. Lurking farther inland and thus rarely seen by tourists are saddleback tortoises native to the island. Unique to the island of Espanola is the Espanola mockingbird.

The stars of this island, however, are the waved albatrosses, the largest birds in the Galapagos. Their landings and takeoffs aren't particularly graceful, but once they're airborne, they're majestic. Those who visit late March-December can usually watch the birds' elaborate courtship ritual: They bow, click their bright yellow bills, circle and honk at one another before mating for life. After raising their young, the birds head out to sea, where they often spend three or four months without touching land. Between January and early March, waved albatrosses follow the cooler waters back to the west coast of South America and the South Pacific.

The beautiful white-sand beach at Gardner Bay is another popular stop. The sea lions are so comfortable with visitors that it's a good place to snap photos of them and observe their behavior. Lava lizards, another endemic island species, linger nearby. The swimming is good, and visitors can snorkel in the bay near Gardner Rock to see a variety of colorful fish, rays, baby sea lions, starfish and an occasional whitetip reef shark.

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