The Galápagos Islands (official name: Archipiélago de Colón; other Spanish names: Islas de Colón or Islas Galápagos) are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed around the equator in the Pacific Ocean, 972 km (525 nmi) west of continental Ecuador, of which they are a part. Wildlife is its most notable feature.
The Galápagos Islands and its surrounding waters form an Ecuadorian province, a national park, and a biological marine reserve. The principal language on the islands is Spanish. The islands have a population of around 23,000.
The islands are geologically young and famed for their vast number of endemic species, which were studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle. His observations and collections contributed to the inception of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.
We are land based tours, travellling by speed boat between islands (optional plane is avalable) We visit San Cristobal, with it´s beach of sealions, unique volcanic lake in the highlands, colourful seafood market with restaurants, lava tunnels, Tortuga Bay Lonesome George on Santa Cruz, the Wall of Tears, Tintoreras, Sierra Negra on Isabela among other sites. View the complete itinerary for more information.
European discovery of the Galápagos Islands occurred when Spaniard Fray Tomás de Berlanga, the fourth Bishop of Panama, sailed to Peru to settle a dispute between Francisco Pizarro and his lieutenants. De Berlanga's vessel drifted off course when the winds diminished, and his party reached the islands on 10 March 1535. According to a 1952 study by Thor Heyerdahl and Arne Skjølsvold, remains of potsherds and other artifacts from several sites on the islands suggest visitation by South American peoples prior to the arrival of the Spanish. However, no remains of graves, ceremonial vessels and constructions have ever been found, suggesting no permanent settlement occurred at the time.
The Galápagos Islands first appeared on the maps, of Gerardus Mercator and Abraham Ortelius, in about 1570.The islands were named "Insulae de los Galopegos" (Islands of the Tortoises) in reference to the giant tortoises found there.
The first English captain to visit the Galápagos Islands was Richard Hawkins, in 1593. Until the early 19th century, the archipelago was often used as a hideout by mostly English pirates who pilfered Spanish galleons carrying gold and silver from South America to Spain.
As described in 1684. In 1793, James Colnett described the flora and fauna of Galápagos, and suggested the islands could be used as base for the whalers operating in the Pacific Ocean. He drew the first accurate navigation charts of the islands. Whalers and maritime fur trader killed and captured thousands of the Galápagos tortoises to extract their fat. The tortoises could be kept on board ship as a means of providing of fresh protein, as these animals could survive for several months on board without any food or water. The hunting of the tortoises was responsible for greatly diminishing, and in some cases eliminating, certain species. Along with whalers came the fur-seal hunters, who brought the population of this animal close to extinction.
The first known permanent human resident on Galapagos was Patrick Watkins, an Irish sailor who was marooned on the Island Floreana from 1807–1809. According to later accounts, Watkins managed to survive by hunting, growing vegetables and trading with visiting whalers, before finally stealing an open boat and navigating to Guayaquil.
In 1818 the Nantucket whaleship "Globe", Captain George Washington Gardner, had discovered a "mother lode" of sperm whales some thousand miles west of the South American coast approximately at the equator. He returned to Nantucket in 1820 with more than 2000 barrels of sperm whale oil and the news of his discovery. This led to an influx of whale ships to exploit the new whaling ground and the Galapagos Islands became a frequent stop for the whalers both before and after visiting what came to be known as the Offshore Grounds. This led to the establishment in the Galapagos Islands of a kind of unofficial "post office" where whaleships stopped to pick up and drop off letters as well as for purposes of reprovisioning and repairs.
In October 1820, the whaleship Essex, out of Nantucket, stopped at the Galapagos for these purposes on its way to the Offshore Grounds. On what was then known as Charles Island, while most of the crew were hunting tortoises one crewmember, English boatsteerer Thomas Chappel, for reasons still unclear, lit a fire which quickly burned out of control. Some of the tortoise hunters had a narrow escape and had to run a gauntlet of fire to get back to the ship. Soon almost the entire island was in flames. Crewmembers reported that after a day of sailing away they could still see the flames against the horizon. One crewmember who returned to the Galapagos several years afterward described the entire island as still a blackened wasteland.
Ecuador annexed the Galápagos Islands on 12 February 1832, naming them the Archipelago of Ecuador. This new name added to several names that had been, and are still, used to refer to the archipelago. The first governor of Galápagos, General José de Villamil, brought a group of convicts to populate the island of Floreana, and in October 1832, some artisans and farmers joined them.
The voyage of the Beagle brought the survey ship HMS Beagle, under captain Robert FitzRoy, to the Galápagos on 15 September 1835 to survey approaches to harbours. The captain and others on board, including his companion, the young naturalist Charles Darwin, made observations on the geology and biology on Chatham, Charles, Albemarle and James islands before they left on 20 October to continue on their round-the-world expedition. Primarily a geologist at the time, Darwin was impressed by the quantity of volcanic craters they saw, later referring to the archipelago as "that land of craters." His study of several volcanic formations over the 5 weeks he stayed in the islands, led to several important geological discoveries, including the first, correct explanation for how volcanic tuff is formed. Darwin noticed the mockingbirds differed between islands, though he thought the birds now known as Darwin's finches were unrelated to each other, and did not bother labelling them by island. The Englishman Nicolas Lawson, acting Governor of Galápagos for the Republic of the Equator, met them on Charles Island, and as they walked to the prison colony, told Darwin the tortoises differed from island to island. Towards the end of the voyage, Darwin speculated that the distribution of the mockingbirds and the tortoises might "undermine the stability of Species". When specimens of birds were analysed on his return to England, it was found that many apparently different kinds of birds were species of finches, which were unique to islands. These facts were crucial in Darwin's development of his theory of natural selection explaining evolution, which was presented in The Origin of Species.
José Valdizán and Manuel Julián Cobos tried a new colonization, beginning the exploitation of a type of lichen found in the islands (Roccella portentosa) used as a coloring agent. After the assassination of Valdizán by some of his workers, Cobos brought from the continent a group of more than a hundred workers to San Cristóbal Island, and tried his luck at planting sugar cane. He ruled his plantation with an iron hand, which led to his assassination in 1904. In 1897, Antonio Gil began another plantation on Isabela Island.
Over the course of a whole year, from September 1904, an expedition of the Academy of Sciences of California, led by Rollo Beck, stayed in the Galápagos collecting scientific material on geology, entomology, ornithology, botany, zoology and herpetology. Another expedition from that Academy was done in 1932 (Templeton Crocker Expedition) to collect insects, fish, shells, fossils, birds and plants.
In 1920's and 30's, a small wave of European settlers arrived in the islands. Ecuadorian laws provided all colonists with the possibility of receiving twenty hectares each of free land, the right to maintain their citizenship, freedom from taxation for the first ten years in Galapagos, and the right to hunt and fish freely on all uninhabited islands where they might settle. The first European colonists to arrive were Norwegians who settled briefly on Floreana, before moving on to San Cristobal and Santa Cruz. A few years later, other colonists from Europe, America and Ecuador started arriving on the islands, seeking a simpler life. Descendants of the Norwegian Kastdalen family and the German Angermeyer still live on the islands.
During World War II, Ecuador authorized the United States to establish a naval base in Baltra Island, and radar stations in other strategic locations. Baltra was established as a US Air Force base. Crews stationed at Baltra patrolled the Pacific for enemy submarines, as well as provided protection for the Panama Canal. After the war, the facilities were given to the government of Ecuador. Today, the island continues as an official Ecuadorian military base. The foundations and other remains of the US base can still be seen as one crosses the island. In 1946, a penal colony was established in Isabela Island, but it was suspended in 1959.
The Galápagos became a national park in 1959, and tourism started in the 1960s, imposing several restrictions upon the human population already living on the island. However, opportunities in the tourism, fishing and farming industries attracted a mass of poor fishermen and farmers from mainland Ecuador. In the 1990s and 2000s, violent confrontations between parts of the local population and the Galapagos National Park Service occurred, including capturing and killing giant tortoises and holding staff of the Galapagos National Park Service hostage to obtain higher annual sea cucumber quotas.