Most likely discovered and inhabited by chance, the archipelago is best known as the site of Charles Darwin’s 1835 voyage aboard the HMS Beagle. It was here that Darwin noted small differences between near-identical species on different islands - a discovery which led to his theory of evolution. His theories on natural selection were detailed in the famous publication On the Origin of Species.
Now protected for their unique value and numerous endemic species, the Ecuadorian islands and their waters comprise the Galápagos National Park and the Galápagos Marine Reserve. Strict control of visitors enables the continued conservation of the environment so any chance to explore this special place is a treasured opportunity.
The Galápagos is formed of 18 main islands, 3 smaller islands and 107 rocks and islets. Isabela Island is the largest in the archipelago and is bigger than all of the islands combined. It’s the third most populated island and the only one in the group to have the equator running through it. Santa Cruz Island is the second largest island and the most populated. Puerto Ayora is the main town on Santa Cruz and its restaurants, hotels, shops, hospitals and schools provide the best infrastructure on the Galápagos. Charles Darwin first came ashore on San Cristobal Island in 1835. The island has a small lake which is the only freshwater source in the Galápagos.
Not all of the islands and additional islets are accessible to the public, though each of the 100+ official visitor sites offers unparalleled experiences to intrepid explorers. Trek across barren landscapes and recent lava flows, explore mangrove forests, visit cliffside colonies of endangered birds and snorkel through crystalline waters teeming with marine life. Lay on black sand beaches with nonchalant sea lions, watch vibrant marine iguanas swim and come face-to-face with courting blue-footed booby’s.
The Galápagos Islands unique ecosystems are home to some truly remarkable species. One of the main reasons wildlife is thriving on the islands today is because of work undertaken by organisations such as the Galápagos Conservation Trust. Thanks to these efforts the Galápagos Islands remains one of the world’s most pristine and unspoiled UNESCO World Heritage sites, with a remarkable array of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and bird species.
One of the island's most distinctive birds, the blue-footed booby is easy to spot thanks to its vibrant yet clumsy-looking feet. Their name derives from the Spanish word ‘bobo,’ meaning foolish or clown. Although not so elegant on land, the blue-footed booby soars comfortably in search for food. The waved albatross is hard to miss. With an average wingspan of 2.2 metres, these beautiful birds are the largest in the Galápagos and get their name from the wave-like pattern on their wings.
Native to the Galápagos, marine iguanas are the only lizard in the world able to live and forage at sea. The colours of the iguanas vary from island to island with the reptiles on Española and Floreana islands being the most colourful. Perhaps the most iconic creature on the archipelago, the Galápagos giant tortoise can grow up to 1.8 metres long. These friendly giants arrived from mainland South America approximately 2-3 million years ago. They spend around 16 hours a day resting and grazing on grasses, fruits and cactus pads.
It’s easy to spot Galápagos sea lions sprawled on the beaches or swimming by the shore. Although they can dive to depths of 350 metres and stay underwater for 10 minutes, these cheerful seals spend a lot of time resting on the beach. The Galápagos Islands are home to the northernmost colony of penguins, the Galápagos penguin. They are one of the smallest in the world, despite being related to the African, Humboldt and Magellanic penguin.
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