Technically part of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are so unique, we thought they deserved a page of their own. Situated roughly 600 miles west of Ecuador, these islands were discovered in 1535 by the Spanish, and later claimed by Ecuador in 1832. But the first visitors to the Galapagos–the fauna that’s protected there today–arrived millions of years before.
The archipelago is made up of 13 major islands, 8 smaller islands, and 40 islets. Man’s history in the Galapagos is an interesting one. The earliest human residents were pirates, followed by whalers, who found they could gather food and water there on the long journeys across the Pacific. Made famous by the English naturalist Charles Darwin in the mid-1800s, who’s examination of local wildlife contributed to his famous theory of natural selection, the Galapagos eventually became the site of the Darwin Station, a research organization dedicated to understanding and protecting the Galapagos environment.
The islands became Ecuador’s first national park, and were declared a World Heritage site in 1978.
Wildlife in the Galapagos
The Galapagos Islands are most famous for their amazing wildlife. Mostly sheltered from the evolutionary forces that have helped to shape the rest of the world (namely the influence of man), the creatures of the Galapagos have evolved some very unique traits, helping them survive in their own different environment. Most famous are the Galapagos tortoise, the terrestrial and marine inguanas, lava lizards, and sea turtles. There are also a number of different types of dolphin in the seas around the islands, as well as whales, sea lions, and a wide variety of crustaceans.
The Galapagos are a birder’s paradise, offering sightings of such otherworldly species as the blue- and red-footed, and masked boobie; the many types of Darwin’s finches; and the unusual Galapagos penguins–the northernmost branch of the species.
Traveling in the Galapagos
Most people who visit the Galapagos do so via cruise ship, which they board once they arrive on the islands. There are many flights that will take you, first internationally, to Quito or Guayaquil on the mainland, then to one of the two island airports in the Galapagos.
In terms of comfort and accomodations, the most important aspect of touring the islands is the cruise you book. Do your research and be sure to find one of acceptable price, comfort, and one that offers the various activities you’re most interested in.
Both land and sea activities are popular on the Galapagos. Many people like to snorkel with seals, dolphins, hammerhead sharks, and other aquatic life. Birders have some of the most exciting opportunities to see species not found anywhere else on earth. And hikes and walks are often full of wildlife spotting, as well as beautiful landscapes and flora.
Weather in the Galapagos
Much of the year the temperatures stay cool [typically around 20¡C (68¡F)]. If you plan on snorkeling, the warmer rainy season, from January to April, is the best time. El Ni–o hits hard about one winter every decade, making for very unpleasant and inconvenient travel conditions.
The high season in the Gal‡pagos tends to be mid-December through January and June to August, when most of the vacationing foreign visitors arrive.
Galapagos Islands (Archipelago de Colón) Information:
4,897 sq. miles (7,880 sq. km)
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (pop 2,800)
Spanish (English used widely)