About Galapagos Islands
- You are here:
- Home / About Galapagos Islands
- Declared an endangered World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
- From Warm to Dry Season, the islands provide great weather all year round.
- Wildlife remains tame to this day, animals have little instinctive fear of man.
- 970 km West of the Ecuadorian coast, The islands are accessed by Ecuador only.
- The Galapagos Islands are moving south-east, at a rate of 5 cm per year.
- Originated by Hotspots, newer islands continue to form in the West, while the oldest ones can be found in the East.
- Strategically located in the Pacific Ocean, the merging of currents in the islands provide a huge diversity in sea life.
- With over 60 visit points throughout the islands, visitors can appreciate their surroundings-within defined trails, and minimize impact in these fragile environments.
Galapagos Islands species varies per island, as recognized by Charles Darwin. The Archipelago has never been connected with the continent, thus the majority of the willdlife, plants & shore fish are endemic & unique to the islands.
SAIL YACHTS, CRUISES, CATAMARANS & SHIPS
Cruise your way through the islands, live-aboards offer you the best Galapagos experience, taking you to the most remote locations in the archipelago, otherwise not accessible via other methods, and make the most of your visit. With different itineraries across a wide variety of ships, you will surely find something that adjusts to your budget and needs.ALL CRUISES
HOTEL PACKAGES & ISLAND HOPPING
Land based tours are a great approach to the islands, with Hotels strategically located in the main islands, (Isabela, Santa Cruz, Floreana & San Cristobal) many activities are arranged in the surroundings of the Hotels such as biking, horseback riding, snorkeling & kayaking. Island Hopping will connect you through different Hotels for a more in depth and adventurous tour.ALL LAND BASED
LIVE-ABOARDS, LANDBASED, DAILY DIVES & COMBINED TOURS
Among the top favorite diving destinations in the world. The Galapagos is home to a huge variety of sealife, going from reef fish to whalesharks, hammerheads, dolphins, flocks of different species of manta rays,and much more! Approaches to diving in the islands are limited to daily dives or live-aboards, what are you waiting for, come experience a unique diving experience.ALL DIVING
Introduction To The Archipelago
The natural history of this archipelago is very remarkable: it seems to be a little world within itself.
The natural history of these islands is eminently curious, and well deserves attention.
The different islands to a considerable extent are inhabited by a different set of beings.
I never dreamed that islands, about fifty or sixty miles apart, and most of them in sight of each other, formed of precisely the same rocks, placed under a quite similar climate, rising to a nearly equal height, would have been differently tenanted.
– Charles Darwin
The Galapagos Islands are a trip of a lifetime, Worldwide known for its vast amount of endemic species, with a variety of islands and islets, the archipelago comprises a surreal paradise with white sand beaches, amazing volcanic sceneries & crystal clear waters, come snorkel among sea lions, and walk along Giant tortoises and land Iguanas, the islands are waiting to enchant you!
One of the main attractions to the islands is the fascinating wildlife that doesn’t cease to amaze its visitors. Environmental fluctuations between terrestrial and marine environments due to its volcanic origins have created the perfect conditions for evolution to blossom. Many species have adapted to the harsh environments and have evolved into a different species all together, while others have barricaded themselves to endemic species unique to the islands.
Marine life in the Galapagos has set the bar high for what a diving and a snorkeling experience should be like. An abundance of species distinctive to the seas of the archipelago make the islands a coveted destination. Different currents that cross through the islands, such as the Humboldt that brings colder currents, and with it seasonal marine life. Snorkel amidst marine iguanas, the only lizard to forage and live in the sea, and the one and only tropical penguin.
Surreal Volcanic Landscapes & Scenaries
The islands formed in its entirety by volcanic activitiy, continue to form in the north-west part of the archipelago, with the latest volcanic eruption dating back to 2009 in Fernandina. Older islands present a wider diversity in wildlife and more lush thick vegetation, while younger islands display more arid zones and endemic species. As a result the islands recreate surreal scenaries, Fernandina is a clear example where visitors can walk over lava formations and rocky surfaces.
Fictional Drawing to Recreate Events
Coming from the earths core, the islands once thought to be a wasteland are now conisdered to be a natural laboratory, with millions of year in the making, the islands still have along way to go.
Though its not completely clear at what point did the islands start taking their shape, one thing is for sure, the archipelago is in constant evolution, and to some extent they are still in the early phase of their development. While many islands have disappeared over the years, the oldest one being Española, newer ones continue to form in the west part of the archipelago, (Fernandina island with an approximate of 200.000 years) and show great promise in understanding the evolution and origin of the unique animals that occur in the Galapagos.
Volcanic Formations – Million of Years Ago
With the formation of the Galapagos Islands dating back millions of years ago, some scientists even speculate the islands could of been formed in the Cretaceous age, which would be over 90 million years ago, the archipelago boosts a unique location directly over a Hot Spot, as opposed to almost all volcanic areas in the world that are located in its boundary lines (Margins). The islands are thought to be formed in its entirety by Mantle Plumes, (huge columns of rock that rise from deep within the earths core.)
The Galapagos Islands
There is a lot of technicality involving how the islands were formed, and how they have evolved over the years, which is a fascinating yet lengthy topic. In essence the Galapagos consists of 18 main islands, and a little over 100 Islets and rock formations, that have witnessed evolution arguably like no other place in the world. All islands have been formed by volcanic activity, Isabela being a lava welded formation of 6 volcanoes, some of them going extinct, allowing wildlife to blossom (Española & Santa Fe), while other islands display a variety of volcanic sceneries, from small gentle slopes to majestic Calderas (Pit Craters) and incredible rock formations, the islands were and continue to be born from fire.
Fictional Drawing to Recreate Events
Oficially known as: Archipielago De Colon, the islands first recorded discovery took place in 1535, by the Spaniard Fray Tomas De Berlanga, the 4rth Bishop of Panama. Having been drifted off course on a becalmed sea, the island were unintentionally found.
Tomas De Berlanga – 1535
On a set course to help settle a dispute between Pizarro and his lieutenants in Peru, recently conquered by the aforementioned, his vessel was marooned by the lack of wind, and was led by the seas currents to the accidental discovery of the islands. With no water and the unforgiving scenary displayed by the islands he wrote: most of it is full of very big stones, so much so, that it seems as though some time God had showered stones; and the earth that there is, is like dross, worthless, because it has not the power of raising a little grass, but only some thistles. In his report to the King of Spain, de Berlanga did not refer to the islands by name, but they appear on Ortelius’s 1570 world map as “Insulae de los Galopegos”In reference to the giant tortoises found there.
Spanish Soldiers – 1546
A group of Spanish soldiers were forced to flee South America for been in conflict with the ruthless and barbarous ways of Francisco Pizarro. Drifting to the unknown with no set direction, the wind and currents led them to the Galapagos. With little to no experience or nautical training, they failed on several landing attempts, been pushed out of sight, and thwarted by the swirling currents. They concluded the islands were bewitched (enchanted), drifting through the sea, obfuscating their landing, hence the name, The Enchanted Islands. “Las Islas Encantadas”
Fictional Drawings to Recreate Events
The early human history of the islands was not kind with its resources, buccaneers and whalers had little regard for the exceptional wildlife and fauna the archipelago held, leading some races of giant tortoises to extinction, and introduced species largely affecting the native flora, its accelerated reproduction remains one of the greatest threat to the Galapagos to this day.
Gerardus Mercator & Abraham Ortelius -1570
The Galapagos made it’s first official appearance on a map approximately in the 1570’s by Gerardus Mercator and Abraham Ortlelius, both recognized cartographers. Having the elusive and bewitched islands in drawing would catapult the islands as an operation base for buccaneers. During the cold war between Great Britain and Spain, from the 1500’s to the 1600’s, the islands served as a haven where buccaneers would repair their vessels, recover and stock up on food. This would be the beginning of the slaughter of the giant tortoises as a food resource.
Ambrose Cowley – 1684
William Ambrose Cowley would be the first one to draw a navigational map of the islands, naming each of the islands mainly after English kings and nobleman that helped his cause, a few examples would be, King Charles (Floreana), King James (Santiago), Duke Albermarle (Isabela) and Admiral Narborough (Fernandina). A few of the islands were also named after some of his fellow buccaneers. Most of these names have been replaced with spanish official names, yet their old english names are still mentioned in current maps and widely used among ecological researchers.
James Colnett – 1793
James Colnet was a British officer for the royal navy, sent to investigate the possibility of whale fishery in the region. Reaching the Galapagos, he led the developing of whaling and the archipelago was set as a base for whalers who had their operation in the pacific ocean. In 1794 a “post office barrel” was set on Floreana, whalers would be away for years, so they would leave their letters in the barrel, and ships heading back to England would have them delivered to port. The barrel may still be seen to this day in Floreana. The islands also represented a source of fresh meat, once they learned the giant tortoises could be kept alive for months without food and water in ships. Whalers had the biggest footprint in the archipelago, the arrival of dozens of ships each year had a devastating effect on the tortoises, over 200,000 were taken, some races quickly became extinct.
David Porter – 1813
Commanding the U.S.S Essex, American Captain David Porter nearly destroyed the British whaling fleet which had set base in the Galapagos, in times when Britain, France and the U.S were at war with each other. Upon reaching the islands he kept a careful chronicle of the events that took place in his log, including the only recorded historic eruption of Floreana. He also noted the distinctive patterns of giant tortoises that originated from different islands, predominantly in the shape of their shells . According to history Porter released several goats to graze near shore when anchored in James Bay, after a few days the goats disappeared deep into the islands, although unintended by Porter, this would be the beginning of goats been deliberately introduced in the islands for the following years as a source of meat. The goats multiplied at an incredible pace reaching numbers over 100,000 on Santiago and other islands, which in return had a devastating effect in the native flora, the main food source for herbivores.
The Galapagos would be changed forever with the visit of Charles Darwin. Seeing the islands for what they truly were and captivated by the distinctive features of animals across different islands would lead him years later to formulate a ground breaking theory of Human Evolution, catapulting the islands to their recognition status as an evolving natural paradise.
H.M.S Beagle – 1831
Charles Robert Darwin, an English naturalist that originally had begun his studies as a medical student, showed an avid interest in Geology, and partook on a 4 year surveying mission under the command of Commander Robert Fitz Roy. The voyage had no financial gain and was rather an opportunity to visit different countries. After 3 years of sailing through the South American coast they reached San Cristobal. The Beagle spent 5 weeks in the Galapagos carefully charting the Archipelago.
Evolution Theory – 1835
Even though he was limited to landing on 4 islands only, (San Cristobal, Floreana, Santiago & Isabela), Darwin made careful observations about the islands geology and biology. One thing that particularly struck him was the difference between the inhabitants of the different islands, which are now known as subspecies. Upon his return to England he published several books about his voyage in the years to follow, but it would be 25 years later, when he had developed enough evidence to support his idea, that his best work would be published.
The Origin of Species – 1859
Darwin’s greatest contribution to science would be what he called: Natural Selection, solving the mystery of why and how evolution occurred. The idea sparked in him by 1839. The essence of his idea was that individuals born with certain characteristics which made them better suited for their environment were the ones most likely to survive and most likely to successfully reproduce. His book: (The Origin of species), was an immediate sensation, and created much debate among the scientific community, the issue was settled within 10 years in favor of evolution and natural selection, Darwin came to be a recognized and eminent scientist, with many species and locations named after him.
The Origin of Species – Extract
Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.
Fictional Drawings to Recreate Events
The Archipelago clearly portrays the complexity of humans throughout the history of colonization in the islands. Colonists originating from different parts of the world provides us with a different prospective of the islands,and adds an interesting layer of history to the enchanted islands.
Patrick Watkins- 1807
The first human settlement that took place in the islands was by an Irishman-Patrick Watkins, marooned in Floreana for about 8 years, His days in the islands went by raising vegetables and trading them with visiting whalers and hunting for a living. According to history, he left the islands by stealing an open boat and navigating to mainland in Guayaquil – Ecuador
Jose De Villamil – 1832
The General First Governer of Galapagos was Jose Villlamil, when the islands became oficiallly annexed by Ecuador. With the creation of a Prision Colony in Floreana primarily used for convicts, followed by political prisioners & common criminals, the settlement became a succesful project that lasted until mids of the twentieth century, due to its remote and desolate location.
Manuel Cobos – 1869
“El Progreso” was a prison colony under the leadership of Manuel Cobos based in San Cristobal. Cobos established a sugar plantation & milling operation that was labored and operated by convicts under harsh and inhumane conditions. The slavery of prisoners eventually led to the mass mutiny and murder of Cobos and his men several years later. The Colony survived and San Cristobal is the governing island in the Archipelago today.
Antonio Gil – 1897
On the opposite side of the Archipelago, Antonio Gil formed two settlements on Isabela Island, Villamil on the coastline, and Santo Tomas 20 km inland on the slopes of the volcano now called Sierra Negra. Coffee plantation, sulfur mining, lime production by burning coral, fishing and cattle ranching were the common affairs of the towns that were founded. The better ways of Gil had no slavery involved, and the founding towns remain to this day.
Europe, America and Ecuador – 1924
Interest for the islands was in part triggered by William’s Beebe, an American naturalist that expeditioned the islands and published his chronicles, further supporting the theory of evolution by Charles Darwin in his booked titled, Galapagos: World’s End. Small waves of Europeans settlers arrived in the islands, the most notorious group were the Norwegians that settled in Floreana, but were quickly disappointed and returned to their homeland, others dispersed to settlements in San Cristobal & Santa Cruz. A few years later other settlers arrive to the islands, all seeking for a simpler life. Originating from Europe, America & Ecuador, among them the four Angermeyer brothers from Germany. These early settlers were provided with free land, the right to fish and hunt freely on all uninhabited islands in compliance with the governing laws of Ecuador at the time.
Floreana – 1930’s
Floreana witnessed events in the island that remained unexplained to this day. Among the first settlements are Dr. Friedrich Ritter and Dore Strauch from Germany, followed by the Wittmer family from Germany as well, and Austrian Baroness Wagner de Bosquet accompanied by her 3 lovers, (Robert Philippson, Rudolf Lorenz, and Felipe Valdiviseo). After the arrival of the self-proclaimed Baroness, tension grew with her presence among the other residents and disputes broke. The Governor of the Galapagos islands arrived to settle the reports of theft among other claims. A series of deaths took place that have been subject to much speculation ever since. The Baroness along with Philipson disappeared to never be found, shortly after Lorenz turned up dead in Marchena, later that year Ritter died of food poisoning, and many other unexplained deaths and disappearances followed, leaving Margaret Wittmer as the only survivor of the early colonist of Floreana
U.S Navy – 1942
During World War II, the U.S Navy was granted permission by the Ecuadorian government to set a Navel Base in Baltra, and a radar station on the north end of Isabela. The islands location provided a way to moniter any approach to the Panama Canal and to patrol the Pacific for enemy submarines. After the war ended, the airbase was given to the Ecuadorian government and eventually transformed into a commercial airport.
Charles Darwin Reproduction Center
Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the legacy that Darwin’s Voyage had generated for the Galapagos, a conservation effort was enacted in 1935 by the National Assembly of Ecuador, forming wildlife sanctuaries on some of the islands.
Protective Legislation – 1935
Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the legacy that Darwin’s Voyage had generated for the Galapagos, a conservation effort was enacted in 1935 by the National Assembly of Ecuador, forming wildlife sanctuaries on some of the islands.
Tourism Growth – 1960’s
The Islands world recognition by now would start generating potential revenue for the tourism industry. Puerto Ayora’s town, housing Darwin’s Station would become the center of tourism. In compliance with local laws that forbidded construction in Galapagos national park territory, boats would take over the islands to offer live-aboards throughout the islands. From an average of over 4,000 visitors per year in the early 1970’s, to over 160,000 in recent years.
Galapagos National Park – 1959
The need for effective controls and natural preservation was proposed on several occasions over the years by different characters including the expedition by the UNESCO which pointed out the need of a research station. International funding and cooperation by renown scientists and Ecuadorian conservationists led to the establishment of the Charles Darwin Foundation in 1959. Later that year, in cooperation with the Darwin Foundation, the Ecuadorian Government declares 97% of the Islands, land not already settled by man, part of the Galapagos national park.
Marine Resources – 1986
Fishing activities in the archipelago is an ongoing problem that set restrictions by adding marine life and resources surrounding the islands as part of the Galapagos National Park in 1986. Under the name of: Galapagos Marine Resources Reserve, making it an integral part of the protected areas, and increasing the fishing restricted zone to 40 miles in 1998. Unfortunately there are still those that dont abide to these laws and continue to fish and deplete the unique marine species in the Galapagos.
Locals, Tourists, Introduced Species & Fishery – Today
The Islands have witnessed a massive growth in its population quota over the course of the past years, locals were attracted by the prospect of fishing & farming in the area, some even demanding the right to exploit it. Introduced species are having their toll on the delicate chain of food for animals in the area, and jeopardizing their survival. The strain of human population has placed its weight on the delicate resources of the archipelago. Local regulations have enforced laws in place to prevent the islands from been depleted from the very resources that sustain all locals in the islands, but more then laws – it will be the awareness of the delicate ecosystem the Galapagos represent, and our help by traveling responsibly in the islands, and support to conservation programs that will ensure our future generations will be able to enjoy and see the islands as we see them today.
When To Travel
Galapagos Land Iguana Amidst Vegetation In Warm Season
Galapagos Marine Turtle In Dry Season
The weather in the archipelago is another thing to behold and marvel about the enchanted islands. as Darwin himself said: “Considering that these islands are placed directly under the equator, the climate is far from being excessively hot” With great climate throughout the whole year, there is no such thing as a bad time to visit the islands.
Warm Season – January To June
Also known as the Hot or Wet season, warmer waters take over the archipelago, with the warm air rising to the point rain clouds are formed, and short afternoon rains become a common affair. With clear skies during the day, vegetation flourishes and there is an abundant food source for herbivore animals in the islands. This is also the nesting and breeding season for a lot of the wildlife in the Galapagos, well into the warm season around March and April the islands will be full of new wildlife. With calmer seas and warmer waters, snorkeling and diving are truly enjoyable, yet there is less marine life as opposed to the dry season.
Dry Season – July To December
The Garua Season, which refers to the common fog and mist on higher elevations displayed this time of the year in the islands is brought in by the great southern Polar current, now known as the Humboldt current, and the upwelling of the ocean that stirs the nutrients, stimulating the growth of algae, as a result rich marine life blossoms in the archipelago. As a cycle of life, many sea birds depend on the wellbeing of marine life in the islands to survive. The highlands receive more moisture this time of year then they do from the rain in the Warm season. Sea currents are colder and rougher; yet are considered to be the best for snorkeling.
Different events take place during the year that are governed by 2 seasons in the archipelago, the seasonal change is not an exact science and varies somewhat, often with transitional months when either type of weather can occur.
How To Get There
The islands can only be accessed by commercial airlines all 7 days of the week. With flights departing from Ecuador (Quito or Guayaquil) only, and arriving to either Baltra or San Cristobal in Galapagos. Flights usually depart early in the morning, passengers arrive late morning to the islands – (10h00 to 12h00). The islands time (UTC – 06:00) is one hour behind mainland Ecuador.
Transit Control Card
Very similar to a visa when traveling abroad, the transit control card became a necessity in controlling people entering and exiting the islands. TCT, the acronym for the Control Card in spanish, serves as a regulation mechanism to ensure only those that are residents of the islands can enter an exit freely, it regulates tourists from extending their stay from the allowed (90 Days) and controls non-compliant visitors from re-entering the islands. The card has a one time fee of $10, applicable for both locals and foreigners, paid at the airport of Quito or Guayaquil (Cash Only).
Currently only 3 airlines operate in the Galapagos, (Tame-Aerogal-Lan), all departing from either Quito or Guayaquil in Ecuador, there is no international flights entering the islands for the time being, although connecting flights can be arranged through Lan. In most cases clients who have booked a cruise are required to book their flight with the boat operator, (specific airline & flight) to ensure the smooth operation of their tour, and avoid long waits between flight arrivals. Almost all airlines have a scale in Guayaquil (30 minute stop), a total 3 hour flight from Quito, flights rarely get delayed or cancelled.
Park Entrance Fee & Flight Chart
The Galapagos park entrance fee has a cost of $100 per person, a one-time fee that is paid upon arrival at the airport in Galapagos, some may find this as an excessive fee, but you can be sure that your money is put to good use, almost half of it goes to the park itself for its preservation and conservation, and the other half is distributed throughout the different entities that regulate and control the islands. Costs and schedules detailed below are only an average, and they fluctuate somewhat through they year, your flight details might vary when your tickets are issued, please only use the information below as an indicator.
Low season: 01 May to 14 Jun – 15 Sep to 31 Oct / High season: 01 Jan to 30 Apr – 15 Jun to 14 Sep – 01 Nov to 31 Dec
UIO = Quito / GPS = Galapagos / GYE = Guayaquil (All costs detailed above include a minimum $15 flight emission fee)
Branch & Sun rays
The islands have had quite the run over the years, and it’s our participation, awareness and involvement with its conservation which will ensure the archipelago will prevail over time. Some organizations are headed in the right direction and are worthy mentions of examples to follow, and we are proud to be able to support their efforts.
Galapagos Conservation Trust
The GCT is a non-profit organization that sets a great example of the many ways we can contribute to the various conservation needs of the Galapagos Islands. Working with key institutions in the islands, GCT is involved in projects to help save endangered species, training locals in the area with enviromental management, protection of fishing activities to protect the marine life, and many other remarkable ways of supporting the islands. You can be part of this support by visitng their site, they have many interesting and fun ways of getting you involved.
Based in Ecuador, and working closely with local communities, CanopyCo is a great initiative to carbon offset (neutralize the absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide – Climate Change & Global Warming) our negative impact and balance the scale. Their programs consist of reforestation, native trees will be planted with your donation, local manpower will be used in rural development projects that will benefit the local population, organic agricultural, and many other ways of making your visit in Ecuador a sustainable one. More information can be found in their website.
Part of what makes the islands so special is the unique and amazing wildlife the Archipelago holds. A fragile ecosystem that houses the most extraordinary creatures. Either flying, swimming or floating the animals that reached the islands at some point have evolved over time, and adjusted to the conditions dictated by terrestrial and marine environments. For the most part it could be said that animals in the Galapagos live in harmony, and they are known for being extremely tame, without a care in the world when humans are around.
Land: Reptiles, Birds, Sea Lions & More
Magestic Giant Tortoises found all year round can be spotted in a few islands, including the main ones, (San Cristobal & Santa Cruz), this is certainly a must when you visit the islands. Also found any time of the year is the Galapagos Land Iguana, a distinctive and endemic creature described as ugly by Charles D. The islands are filled with life with the many bird species flying around and found on land, Blue and Red footed boobies, and lets not forget the biggest of all boobies, the Nazca booby. One of the rarest birds in the world – the Flightless Cormorant, the great Flamingo found in lagoons, the proud Frigate birds, the long yellow beaked Albatross, and the amazing and cutest little thing, the Tropical Penguin. Often found in many shores or rocks taking sun are the Galapagos Sea Lions, tame and playful, you will be able to spot them frequently, as they are a healthy species that abound in the islands. To find more details of the many land species in the islands, visit our Multimedia Gallery.
Sea: Mammals, Fish, Marine Iguanas & More
The seas in the islands are wonderful throughout the year, but if you visit the islands the right time of the year, the marine life in the archipelago has in store some great spectacles for you, the magnificent humpback whales will be splashing their way though the islands, Green Sea Turtles and Reef Fishes that are colorful and varied in size and shapes will make snorkeling remarkable, and an experience out of the discovery channel. Marine iguanas are found in the islands for most of the year, this particular species is endemic to the islands, found in no other place, and holds the unique ability of living and foraging in the sea, usually spotted and easily confused with the rocky formations in the Galapagos shores. Groups of Manta Rays that can easily be spotted from panga rides, the amazing hammerhead shark, a bit more difficult to spot, the small white tipped Reef shark, and the amazing whale sharks. To find more details of the many Marine species in the islands, visit our Multimedia Gallery.
Young Girl reading in Bench
There is no better way of getting prepared and build up the excitement to your once in a lifetime dream holiday then researching and anticipating what will await for you in the Enchanted Islands. From documentaries to books, there is a wealth of information available about the Galapagos Islands, and we have listed some worthy mentions below.