The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed on either side of the Equator in the Pacific Ocean west of Ecuador. The population is approximately 25,000 Spanish speaking people. The islands are known for their vast number of endemic species unique to the island and were studied by Charles Darwin. His observations and collections contributed to the inception of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. The group consists of 18 main islands, 3 smaller islands, and 107 rocks and islets. Although located on the Equator, the Humboldt Current brings cold water to the islands, causing frequent drizzles during most of the year.
The first recorded visit to the islands happened by chance in 1535, when de Berlanga, the Bishop of Panamá, was blown off course during a voyage to Peru. De Berlanga eventually returned to the Spanish Empire and described the conditions of the islands and the animals that inhabited them. The first crude map of the islands was made in 1684 by the buccaneer, Cowley, who named the individual islands after some of his fellow pirates or after British royalty and noblemen. In 1832, the new Republic of Ecuador took the island from Spanish ownership and gave the islands Spanish names. The older names remained in use in English publications including Herman Melville’s, the Encantadas.
But when you think of the Galapagos Islands, you think of the giant tortoises and the unique wildlife. Species such as:
- TheBlue Footed Booby, which shows off its feet during courtship
- Marine Iguana, the only iguana which feeds in the sea
- Galapagos Penguin, the only living tropical penguin
- Waved Albatross, the only member of the family located in the tropics. When they forage, they follow a straight path to a single site off the coast of Peru
- Sea Cucumbers are used in fresh or dried form in various cuisines. In some cultural contexts the sea cucumber is thought to have medicinal value
- Galapagos hawk, the islands’ main scavenger and “environmental police”
- Galapagos Red Rock Crab, one of the most common crabs along the western coast of the Americas
- Bottle nose dolphins, second only to humans in intelligence
- Galapagos Pelican, one of only two species that feed by diving into the water
And of course…the Galapagos Tortoise, which can weigh up to 990 pounds.
Several cruise lines offer the Galapagos on their itineraries and that’s the way to go. Interested?