About Galapagos Islands
Considered one of the world’s preeminent destinations for wildlife viewing are The Galápagos Islands. Straddling the equator, this volcanic archipelago is a province of Ecuador and lies about 1,000 km off its coast in the Pacific Ocean.
The terrain harbors a diversity of plant and animal species. Known for their variety of local species, the islands were visited by Charles Darwin 1835. His study of Galápagos’ endemic species later inspired his theory of evolution and natural selection.
The Galápagos Islands and their surrounding waters form the Galápagos National Park. The principal language on the islands is Spanish. The islands have a population of slightly over 25,000.
One of the best-known is the Galápagos tortoise, which lives on seven of the islands. It has an average lifespan of more than 150 years. The marine iguana is also extremely unusual, since it is the only iguana adapted to life in the sea. Land iguanas, lava lizards, geckos and harmless snakes can also be found in the islands.
Around 56 species of birds live in the archipelago, of which 27 are found only in the Galápagos. The most outstanding are penguins, which live on the colder coasts, Darwin’s finches, frigatebirds, albatrosses, gulls, boobies, pelicans and Galápagos hawks, among others. The flightless cormorant, a peculiar bird which has lost the ability to fly, and the Galapagos crake, nearly flightless, are also part of this rich fauna.
Exotic fish, rays, sea lions, sea turtles, octopus, Hammerhead Sharks, Galapagos Bullhead Shark as well as other species of shark are prolific in the sparkling waters of the islands.
A variety of cruises exist to tour you around the islands, from small sailboats carrying 6 passengers to ships catering to 100 passengers. In addition, cruises utilize yachts of varying degrees of comfort, from budget to luxury. A cruise will take you from island to island, exploring the terra firma as well as allowing you to snorkel in the crystal blue deep waters. You will discover amazing aquatic and birdlife in just a few days of exploration.
Since a few of the islands are inhabited, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana, you have the opportunity to stay on land. Spending a few days on one of these islands allows you to take day trips to nearby islands to hike, kayak and snorkel or dive. There are a selection of specialized yachts meant for diving the Galapagos. These are specially equipped for divers and will allow you to explore many regions of the Galapagos Islands.
There are 18 main islands in the Galapagos archipelago, and here are some of the highlights.
Santa Cruz Island
This island hosts the largest human population in the archipelago. The Charles Darwin Research Station and the headquarters of the Galápagos National Park Service are located here. The Highlands of Santa Cruz offer exuberant flora, and are famous for the lava tunnels. Large tortoise populations are found here as well as sea turtles, rays and small sharks.
Bartolomé is a small island just east of Santiago is best known for Pinnacle Rock, the stark remains of an eroded tuff cone that juts like a large sail out into Bartolomé’s northern bay and which is easily one of the most familiar landmarks of the archipelago.
The most southerly island in the archipelago, dramatic Española is also one of the oldest and breathtaking. It plays host to several unique species and sub-species and is a great Galapagos environmental success story.
The third largest, youngest and westernmost of the islands that form the Galapagos archipelago, Fernandina’s 642 m2 is mostly barren black lava with La Cumbre Volcano dominating the landscape. Its massive domed cone continues to grumble, erupting on average every five years making Fernandina, alongside neighboring Isabela, one of the most volcanically active of the islands.
Several curiosities are associated with Floreana, the sixth largest island in the archipelago, not least the whiff of scandal and intrigue that surrounds three groups of German settlers who arrived on the island in the 1930’s and that, one by one, mysteriously began to die or disappear.
The horseshoe shaped island of Genovesa is one of the youngest in the archipelago, being a mere one million years old. As it is the only island north of the equator that allows visitors, this makes it an even more special destination.
By far the largest island in the archipelago at 4,588 km2 and measuring 130 km north to south and 70 km at its widest point and occupying over 58% of the Galapagos’ entire land mass.
Although the islands are located on the equator, the Humboldt Current brings cold water to them, causing frequent drizzles during most of the year.
From June to November the temperature by the sea is 22 °C. A steady and cold wind blows from south and southeast, frequent drizzles last most of the day, and dense fog conceals the islands. From December to May, during the warm season, the average sea and air temperature rises to 25 °C . Normally, there is no wind, though there can be sporadic rain to accompany the sunshine.