Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands


The Galapagos Islands, unique in every way

Galapagos Islands

Ever since they appeared out of nowhere several million years ago, the Galapagos Islands seem to be out to prove just how special they are. Not only were they born of a fortuitous volcanic bubbling beneath the ocean floor, virtually every interaction between these islands and those who’ve washed up on their shores has been special. Home to extraordinary creatures, land of pirates, murder mysteries and mysterious curses, Galapagos, today, fascinates those who visit in ways so inexplicable that one could easily argue there isn’t a place like it on the planet.

The Galapagos Islands continue to hold a foreboding relevance, as we strive to preserve their fragile environments. They should no longer be viewed exclusively as a laboratory of life on earth, but a laboratory of human conduct, where Man is confronted with his will to give back to nature all He’s reaped. And as the Galapagos community works hard to keep the uniqueness of these islands alive, the hope of a healthier tomorrow can continue to shine.

The Galapagos Islands are a world treasure. Help us keep them so.



Galapagos History

Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are the result of a two-fold geological phenomenon: the volcanic hotspot from which they've risen and on which they sit and an ongoing tectonic movement that slowly shifts the older islands towards the southeast, giving way to newer ones. Today, the most westerly island, Fernandina, is the youngest.

The first islands to be created on this hotspot are not technically considered Galapagos Islands, and the first of which is considered a Galapagos Island has currently disappeared into the sea. Today, 19 so-called major islands and more than 100 islets make up the Galapagos Archipelago.

Pre-Columbian visits have been confirmed from artefacts of Incan and pre-Incan periods, yet it is believed that the Galapagos was more a shipwreck destination than a stopover on an actual trading route. Description of an expedition to the islands during Inca Tupak Yupanqui's reign have been considered a figment of early colonial imagination, whereby abundant gold and silver was supposedly collected and brought back to the mainland. These are the first legendary recounts of the Galapagos, which soon took the name of Encantadas because of their ability to appear out of nowhere from the misty waters of the frightful Pacific Ocean.

From whalers to pirates

First discovered for the Western World by Tomás de Berlanga, as his vessel fortuitously lost course and ended up in the dragon-ridden volcanic headlands -the dragons were none but harmless marine iguanas! -the Galapagos Islands were quickly considered evil in the eyes of the highly superstitious Conquistadors, and avoided as much as humanly possible. This proved quite convenient for the thieving pirates who kept an ideal lair from where to attack Castilian ships taking gold and silver from their mining exploits in South America. Another gold was discovered when whalers took heed of the nutrient upwelling on the western side of the Galapagos Archipelago. For some strange reason, the Galapagos Islands, quite a sterile, dry and inhospitable place, seemed to have a dorado effect, as a strategic site for rugrats to get rich, and dragged in some of the most infamous cats in history, including Captain Cook, Captain Morgan and Hermann Melville, the world's most literary whaler of them all.

From legends to murder mysteries.

The face of an iguana: Primitive, monstrous, rugged, fierce? an omen if you ever saw one. In reality, as Karl Angermeyer would prove back in the day, there couldn't be more of a harmless, even friendly a creature as an iguana, but to those who didn't care to know them any better, they represented the evils of the new found land. Legend has it that Spaniards who fell upon the islands would shoot at them with canyons from the shore, fearing their dragon tongues and premonitory gaze. What were these islands ruled by dinosaurs, appearing out of nowhere, what spell were they casting upon those who lost their way and washed up on their shore?

The discovery of Evolution

It is common knowledge that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection was inspired by his short stay in the Galapagos Islands, the last stop the HMS Beagle made before leaving the Americas. As he dismissed the many clues that most of the animals where providing him while sluggishly treading through the inhospitable, scorching volcanic terrain, home to what he himself called unpleasant plants and hideous creatures, a drab set of birds struck his curiosity just at the time his crew was preparing to head across to Australia. It wasn't the finches with beak shapes adapted to the food source of each individual island; not the remarks of Governor Nicholas Lawson who could tell which tortoise came from which island just by looking at the shape of their shell; it wasn't the behavioural distinctions between marine and land iguanas, it wasn't the cormorant's weakling wings... it turned out that a simpleton group of similar-looking mockingbirds made him ponder.

Charles Darwin was to be a clergyman upon his return to England, much to his father's liking. He had graduated in Theology and had ventured to participate in the Beagle's Second Survey Voyage around the world because of his burgeoning interest in nature and geology. Religion and Science still went very much hand in hand in the early 1800s, at least there was no clear movement that contradicted the general belief that all creatures where created as they were since God created them. At least not until 1859, when a cautious, proof-ridden document shared with humanity the inkling that Darwin had observed in those Galapagos mockingbirds, which would later be confirmed in the finches, the land and marine iguanas, the tortoises and the Flightless Cormorant. The simple observation: Nature is change.

Ecuador claims the Galapagos Islands

It somehow makes sense that islands situated off the equator would belong to a country named Ecuador. It somehow feels like it was meant to be that way? But it could very well not have been so. It was only 1832 and tiny Ecuador was taking the scraps that were being left behind from territorial repartition of the larger, more economically prominent Bolivarian nations. Ecuador got very little out of the deal, and was further reduced to the 256,000 km2 it is today when Peru invaded during World War II. But one can say, in this case, that good can come from evil. Ecuador is today one of the most convenient travel destinations in the world, a country whose small size makes for wonderful vacations, where everything (and all very different indeed) is situated at close distances and can be visited in virtually no-time. And not only is being small an interesting asset, but some of the scraps were in fact a gift in disguise. What better good could have come from claiming the inhospitable pirate den of the Galapagos Islands? The land that nobody could care less about in 1832 would be visited by Charles Darwin only three years later. Fast-forward to today. The Galapagos Islands are not only a prime source of income for the country, but the country's way into headline news.

Now, the road to making something out of a true No-Man's land has not been easy. Ecuadorians ventured to make these islands everything from mining emporiums to secluded kingdoms, and so little did the islands produce, that they were even rented off to the United States, as a strategic outpost to protect North America from Japanese insurgence, in exchange for extra cash during World War II. But times changed, a shift was experienced throughout the industrialised world upon the end of the tragic World War, and little by little other world priorities began to pop up, one of those being environmental awareness. Bizarrely enough, the Galapagos Islands suddenly stood at the forefront of this change in attitude, and as tourism grew stronger within the so-called first world countries, a series of circumstances came together and created a reason to be for these unfertile islands, which in 1959 were declared the first Ecuadorian National Park ever. Fifteen years later an entire system of National Parks was implemented throughout mainland Ecuador, and only very recently have national authorities began to understand the importance of preserving the natural world and supporting environmental efforts. What a story, and what a journey it has been.

Galapagos National Park

Galapagos National Park

Galapagos Islands

Much like Darwin's publication On the Origin of Species marks the beginning of a new era in human thought, the creation of the Galapagos National Park in 1959, precisely a century after this monumental piece of literature was first published, represents a most crucial attitude shift in human culture.

By no means was the Galapagos National Park the first of its kind in the world, but it was one of the first sites internationally recognized as a natural sanctuary in need of conservation. Thanks to what Darwin witnessed in these very islands, we could now question Man's constant pursuit of setting himself apart from nature. And since the foundation of the Galapagos National Park, the international community's preoccupation to protecting a place where whalers and poachers massacred fur seals and giant tortoises without thinking twice about their actions, shows just how much our sensibility has evolved throughout the years.

With the many ongoing difficulties the Park has faced in their whole-hearted efforts to reach a truly ambitious goal -that of preserving the fragile and deeply impacted ecosystems of each and every island in the archipelago -the Galapagos, in a broad sense, represents a challenge for mankind. The Galapagos National Park is today a living experiment of Man's long overdue reconciliation with nature.

The environmentalist attitude

The moment you set foot on the Galapagos Islands, you become part of a fragile ecosystem unlike any other. You enter a natural world where all creatures are oblivious to your presence and thus vulnerable to careless behaviour. The park demands strict adherence to specific regulations and a general care for the overall environment that should be taken into consideration if you are planning to visit the Islands.

Park Rules

To visit the Galapagos National Park you must always be accompanied by a certified Galapagos National Park guide. Galapagos is unique and fragile environment. Take only photographs and video. Professional shooting needs authorization from the Galapagos National Park.

Please stay within the limits of the walking trails, for your safety and that of the flora and fauna. To avoid affecting the wildlife's natural behaviour please avoid getting closer than two metres to the animals. Camping is only allowed in specific sites. If you wish to camp, you must first obtain a permit from the Galapagos National Park. Help conservation by cooperating with the authorities in their inspection, monitoring and control duties. Report any anomalies to the Galapagos National Park.

Do not introduce foreign organisms to the islands, as these can have a negative impact on the ecosystem. Please do not buy souvenirs which are made from black coral, sea shells, sea lion teeth, tortoise shell, volcanic rock or endemic woods.

Galapagos animals have their own feeding behaviour. Never feed the animals. Feeding them can be detrimental to their health. Galapagos landscapes are beautiful and unique. Do not spoil them by writing or etching rocks or trees. Smoking or making camp fires in the Galapagos National Park areas is forbidden and can cause devastating fires. Fishing is strictly forbidden, except on those boats specifically authorised by the Galapagos National Park for that purpose only. Jet skiing, submarines, water skiing and aerial tourism are all forbidden.

Marine Reserve

Marine Reserve

Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Marine Reserve protects an area of over 130,000 square kilometres from a major threat: Man. It wasn't until 1998 that the Galapagos Marine Reserve came into existence, founded precisely to help put a stop to illegal fishing and poaching in Galapagos waters. The Galapagos Marine Reserve is currently responsible for the protection of countless species of sea creatures that gather from all around the world in these abundant waters, whose presence here affects the entire food chain of the Galapagos fragile ecosystem.

A total of five ocean currents crash their waves onto Galapagos shores, creating a series of natural phenomena, including varying water temperatures and a spectacular nutrient-rich upwelling that makes these seas a favourite among open water creatures that would otherwise be difficult to encounter together in one place.

During whaling times, the entire area's marine wildlife was ravished by seamen who filled their pockets from the growing demand in oil. Today, a similar situation occurs with the Asian markets' interest in shark fins, tuna and sea cucumber. Having a Marine Reserve has helped tremendously in the Galapagos community's efforts to halt industrial fishing practices. More than 3,000 species of underwater organisms have been recorded here.

Galapagos Fauna

Galapagos Fauna

Galapagos Islands

How many of you have ever been inspired to photograph the common birds, let alone lizards, in your neighbourhood? Well, in this neighbourhood every member of the community is a star and you will become an instant paparazzi.

Disclaimer: Though nature never guarantees a particular species will be present and viewable, on the Galapagos Islands this rule is often broken.


Galapagos Penguin Nobody in their right mind would ever equate Penguins with the tropics. Of the 16 species known worldwide, the Galapagos Penguin is the only one to reside on the equator, with even a few records north of it. A playful fellow that might even join you for a swim on islands Isabela, Fernandina, Bartolomé, Sombrero Chino, Santiago and Floreana.


Flightless Cormorant Another quintessential phenomenon of the Galapagos Islands, the Flightless Cormorant is perhaps the most obvious example of evolution in process. Unique among the cormorants, it has chosen to abandon the ability to fly and can be admired at its nesting sites, drying off its odd withered wings.


Blue-footed Booby A charming symbol of the Galapagos, the Blue-footed Booby, with its sociable demeanour and blinding sky blue feet, quickly becomes a favourite. He is a Kamikaze skydiver that also dazzles with smart courtship dancing.



Nazca Booby An elegant seabird whose snowy white plumage contrasts against the dramatic rocky shorelines of Española, Genovesa, Isabela, Fernandina and Daphne Major. On its nesting grounds, it can be bold and inquisitive, and some individuals can be a hurdle for tourists as they sometimes nest right on a trail.


Red-footed Booby This red-footed species, the smallest of the boobies, has adapted to nesting in trees as a survival strategy. With healthy populations in the Galapagos, one can encounter Red-footed Booby during its breeding cycles, especially on Genovesa Island, preparing raggedy twig nests or caring for young on low Palo Santo trees along the trails or in mangroves.


Waved Albatross A pelagic wanderer that arrives in numbers on Española Island to initiate one of the most romantic and spectacular breeding cycles of all the Galapagos Islands, the Waved Albatross performs an elaborate courtship display where partners for life dance and fence with their beaks.



Great and Magnificent Frigatebirds Expert food thieves and cunning opportunists, frigatebirds have long been associated with sailing ships, their jagged silhouette flying high over above the world’s oceans. Few are the places where you can actually come face-to-face with the intimate beauty of this otherwise foreboding and parasitic predator, as males of the two species balloon their scarlet-red throat pouches to attract their mate.


Greater/American Flamingo Like so many other Galapagos mysteries, how this basically Caribbean species ended up with viable populations on the archipelago remains unknown. They are an elegant addition to the coastal fauna , and a thrill for those lucky enough to get to witness their synchronized courtship display.


White-cheeked Pintail So few species have been able to adapt to the inhospitable living conditions on these isolated islands so far from any mainland, its noteworthy that this is the only species of duck (here as tame as other Galapagos dwellers) that has managed to become a resident. There is a possibility that it could be a separate species.


Swallow-tailed Gull Arguably the most beautiful gull in the world, with a sexy scarlet eye-ring and silky patterned plumage, the Swallow-tailed Gull is also the only nocturnal member of its family, feeding on squid over open ocean. Here on the Islands you have the opportunity to stand within inches of them.



Lava Gull This endemic species, the rarest of all the world’s gulls, is extremely threatened; a handsome seabird that camouflages against the volcanic rocks.




Darwin’s Finches Often overlooked (though they will come to within inches of you!), fascinating and probably the most complicated of the Galapagos species to get a handle on, the secret to the famous Darwin’s finches and their identification is in the shape of their beaks. It is an interesting challenge and it can be enjoyable to actually figure out what species you have in front of you… Darwin’s finches are an undeniable ‘pièce de resistance’ of evolution.


The Mockingbirds The Mockingbirds of the Galapagos bear a very particular importance in our modern conception of the world, since they were the first to have caught Darwin’s imagination back in 1835. They hop along the beaches with their dapper striped plumage and look quite similar from island to island. Yet their subtle differences make all the difference. Some are bold as can be, and might actually pose on you and ask to be your friend… others will be more aloof… but they are all a permanent fixture of the Galapagos faunal community.


Galapagos Dove With pink eyeliner and soft silky plumage, scuttling through the low vegetation, foraging on the ground like a quail, or hanging out with the marine iguanas on the shore, the Galapagos Dove is not your ordinary pigeon (and when did pigeons get so adorable, anyway! Evolution?)


Galapagos Flycatcher This delightful and unpretentious little bird goes about its day quietly snapping up insects for a living, with absolutely no regard to human presence, and prone to even sit on a hand-held stick if you have enough patience to wait him out.



Short-eared Owl This owl is not the furtive nocturnal creature you may have imagined… he can be found eyes wide open in the afternoon, hunting placidly on other birds with a strangley placid demeanour. It is no secret affair; he is the king of his domain.



Galapagos Hawk The king of Galapagos Islands and the only resident member of its extensive family, this impressive hawk is an unchallenged predator, who does not seem to fret about choosing a menu to dine on. As with all ‘card-holding members’ of the top of the food chain, the Galapagos Hawk is not common, but can be found throughout the islands, soaring overhead or perching confidently with decided indifference to human presence.


Galapagos Fur Sea Lion The smallest sea lion in the world is an endemic of the Galapagos Islands, an adorable furry creature is not a true seal, although its small size and thick fur would lead you to believe so. Fur Seals use their frontal fins as feet and have ears, and that makes all the difference. Many get to see these nocturnal hunters in Santiago Island as the tamely rest amidst the rocks of the volcanic shoreline.


Galapagos Sea Lion Sea lions are a fixture of the islands, at first can seem like lazy “beach bums” that are always sleeping, but in reality they are energetic swimmers that love to play. They are lively, boisterous, approachable and friendly, sometimes even joining you for an afternoon swim!



Galapagos Tortoise These giant reptiles—the Galapagos—for which this archipelago gets its name, that can live up to 200 years, used to serve as an important food supply for pirates and other navigators who would stop by the islands to fuel up on tortoise meat. What seemed an inexhaustible resource is today gravely threatened, and all efforts are being made by the National Park to secure tortoise populations throughout the islands.


Galapagos Snake Strange to think of finding snakes halfway across the Pacific Ocean, but a few harmless species have managed to survive and colonize this archipelago. You may never have jumped for joy before, when spotting a snake, but you just might here on these islands . . . maybe just to acknowledge yet another of the many Galapagos survival success stories.


Green Sea Turtle The Green Sea Turtle is quite a happy camper on the Galapagos Islands, thanks to the conservation efforts of the National Park and Marine Reserve, whereby this seriously endangered species reaches the healthiest populations worldwide. It is a large, meditative creature that takes snorkelling throughout the Galapagos to a whole new level.


Land Iguanas Land iguanas are something in between a small dragon and a large lizard. Their scaly, beautifully textured skin can be observed at a metres distance on several islands, and usually sport a variety of yellows and oranges which make them even more attractive. On Santa Fe, there is a paler version, with more pronounced spikes down its back, meanwhile Isabela is home to the amazing, newly discovered pink species.


The Marine Iguana The only truly aquatic lizard, the marine iguana is the only reptile that can hold its breath underwater for more than an hour! Through natural selection, marine iguanas have adopted an organic strategy to overcome the lack of oxygen they experience when feeding on their prime food source: sea algae that grow on the ocean floor. There are also striking differences between the iguanas in many of the islands; Fernandinan marine iguanas are slate black while from Española, during breeding season, sport shocking green and bright red.


Lava Lizards The tamest lizard you’ll ever come across, and an excellent model for photographers, Lava Lizards can even show some colour… but just be careful where you step!




Sally Lightfoot Crab A beautiful Galapagos native, impossible to miss because of its bright fire-red colour contrasting against the black volcanic rocks, the Sally Lightfoot Crab are common shoreline residents. Dull young crabs are also a highlight as a food source to many predators.



Whales and dolphins Whales and dolphins are exhilarating finds in the Galapagos. Usually difficult to come by in general, if by any chance you are blessed with the opportunity of seeing a “Cetacean”, it’ll most definitely make traveling time between islands a true blast. Such iconic species like the Blue Whale (the world’s largest living creature), the Fin Whale (the world’s second largest living creature), the Sperm, the Humpback, and the Orca, along with about 10 dolphin species all occur in the Galapagos. Crew and guides are always paying close attention to the movement of the waters in search of them, and when it comes to dolphins, they may just come right to the vessel and escort it along, playfully leaping out of the water for you to admire them in all their splendor.


Sharks One of the great and rare experiences you could only have nightmares of, is swimming with a shark. In the Galapagos Islands, this nightmare becomes a wonderful dream come true, as you learn to debunk the ill-reputed myths popular culture has beset over these amazing creatures. In the Galapagos you may even learn how to appreciate their beauty as they swim in crystal clear water next to your panga boat, or perhaps even while swimming with them as you snorkel and see for yourself how harmless they really are. Sharks are a fascinating addition to attractions in the Galapagos.


Rays Possibly possessing the most photogenic profile of the entire islands, rays are widespread throughout the archipelago and are most commonly seen as phantasmagorical triangular shadows floating just below the ocean’s surface. They also can be admired when snorkelling or from the sailboats as they leap and flip magnificently over the ocean, a sight to behold!


Tropical Fish Beautifully patterned and colourful, shiny, surprisingly large or bizarrely shaped, fish in the Galapagos Islands are a fascinating treat to the senses. Cornetfish look like floating clarinets, the Hieroglyphic Hawkfish’s dull colours are highlighted by glowing turquoise squiggles, bright-orange soldierfish parade in groups, parrotfish are glistening green and the rainbow wrasse shows off like a prism… Exciting waters where the world’s exotic fish live and thrive.


Other marine wildlife The Galapagos is a convergence of five different ocean currents, some warm, others cold, which guarantees the presence of a most unique array of underwater creatures including octopus, squid, many species of moray eels, snake eels, sea hares, seahorses, and a variety of beguiling starfish (of which the chocolate-chip is a rather common and very popular example). Lobster, sea cucumbers, glowing sea slugs, and much more, protected from Man’s industrial fishing, make the Galapagos Islands a prime destination for snorkelling and scuba diving.

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