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by on February 10, 2020

Do people live on the Galapagos Islands?

For millions of years, the Galapagos islands evolved with nothing on its volcanic landscapes aside from the unique endemic creatures. Find out the fascinating answer to the question “Do people live on the Galapagos Islands?” below.

A Brief History – Do people live on the Galapagos Islands?

Wall of Tears Galapagos

The wall of tears site on Isabela

Humans first set foot on the islands in 1535 by the Bishop of Panama, Tomas de Berlanga, after being blown off course on a trip to Peru. It wasn’t until about 50 years later that the islands actually became part of a map when Abraham Ortelius and Gerardus Mercator named the islands Insulae de los Galapegos, or Islands of the Tortoises. Despite not being on the map, for centuries the Islands were a getaway for Buccaneers and pirates to raid Spanish transport gallies and make a quick escape to a hidden island, hence the Galapagos Becuneer cove. The very first island dweller that made Galapagos his home was the marooned sailor, Patrick Watkins, an Irish sailor who made a living in the Islands in 1807 by selling vegetables to whalers until he managed to steal a vessel and head to the Ecuadorian mainland

Fast forward to the 19th century, whale fat was discovered to be a valuable alternative to kerasine for fuel. After Captain Washington Gardner returned with 2,000 barrels full of sperm whale oil, whalers came to the islands in droves. During their sailing ventures, the whalers needed access to freshwater and food. It was during these times their eyes directed toward the Islands, in which they used the Goliath Galapagos tortoises as a crucial source of protein along with the freshwater sources. Not only could these creatures live up to a year on end without food or water, but they also could push 500 pounds. This allowed for long voyages around the world to sell their product.

The First Galapagos Settlers – Do people live on the Galapagos Islands?


                   The father of Evolution

In 1832, Ecuador annexed the Galapagos Islands. The first migrants? General Jose de Villamil brought prisoners to Floreana Island, putting them to work. If you visit the islands, you will see a remnant call the wall of tears on Isabela Island. 

Along with this assortment of shady fellows, a group of artisans and farmers came along to make their living. During this time, the Galapagos Islands became a hotbed of science and due to the travels and studies Charles Darwin.

However, it wouldn’t be until the 1920s and 1930s that the Islands became more permanently settled, as small waves of European settlers came to the islands. The Ecuadorian government enacted a law similar to the homestead act, in which the settlers could receive 20 hectares of land, citizenship, fishing rights, and no taxes tax for 10 years.

The first settlers were Norwegians, which settled on both Floreana, San Cristobal, and Santa Cruz islands. After the Norwegians came various colonists from Europe, America, and Ecuador. The descendants of German and Norweigan families still exist on the islands to this day!

The Galapagos Population Today – Do people live on the Galapagos Islands

 Currently, four islands are inhabited, with a total of around 30,000 inhabitants. The largest ethnic group is Ecuadorian Mestizos. In 1959, only 1,000 to 2,000 people lived on the islands, growing to 15,000 by the 1980s. There are currently two airports in the Galapagos islands, where over 150,000 – 200,000 tourists visit each year. Puerto Ayora of Santa Cruz island is the town with the largest population, holding 10,000 people.

What is life like in the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands have a beautiful island vibe, where people move more slowly, the environment is more relaxed, and people are friendly and outgoing. There is snorkeling right off many of the islands, restaurants serving exceptional seafood, and small stores to get supplies. There are many schools for children and visitors teaching English. The local inhabitants play soccer games, relax at local bars, and run restaurants and shops.


Fresh catch of the day on Puerto Ayora

However, living on this small island comes with its challenges. Locals must learn to live on local resources, as cargo ships do not carry sufficient produce to the islands. The food is often from local farmers and fishermen. Products from the mainland are often luxury items, with considerable markup. When I was on the islands, a bottle of liquor on the mainland costing 12 dollars cost 28, a steep hike in pricing. However, the sacrifice made by locals affords them the life on one of the most unique places in the planet full of wildlife that has been evolving for millions of years.  

Want to Visit the Galapagos Islands?

There are numerous ways to visit the islands, from cruises to land-based tours.  See how to get the Galapagos Islands, and speak with the GreenGo travel agents to find out the current deals running. Make sure to book far in advance during the busy months, or you might not get your first choice!

About Keenan Ennis

Keenan Ennis studied Conservation and wildlife biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. This eventually lead him to a program in Ecuador studying hummingbirds and their keystone nutritional species in the Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve. Since, he has worked with the critically endangered Bandurria Andina, or black-faced Ibis of the Andean Páramo. Through his ecological background, he provides an in depth insight into the conservation processes of the Galapagos Islands.

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