The Galapagos Archipelago is a group of 13 volcanic Islands and a series of islets and rocks located right under the equator.
The Galapagos are a living museum of evolutionary changes; these Islands have a huge variety of exotic species like birds, land animals and plants not seen anywhere else.
The archipelago has been known by many different names, one of them been the Enchanted Islands because they seem to appear and disappear as you approach to them in the sea. See the Galapagos Archipelago Map
The Galapagos Islands gain fame when a young naturalist from England named Charles Darwin landed in 1835. Darwin arrived on the Islands aboard the HMS Beagle of the British Admiralty.
During the voyage of the Beagle, Darwin collected and observed wild plants and animals, and increasingly pondered their origins and their immutability.
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By the time he reached the Galapagos Archipelago, the ideas of the theory of evolution, the process of natural selection, and the survival of the fittest, had already begun to formulate in his mind.
He was fascinated by the geographical isolation and distribution of species. In his book Voyage of the Beagle, published in 1845, Darwin documented his natural history journey.
His thinking on the subject of evolution was not published until 1859, when the first edition of the Origin of Species emerged in England and forever changed the study of evolutionary biology.
In 1535, Tomas de Berlanga, the then Bishop of Panama, sailed to Peru to settle a dispute between Francisco Pizarro and his lieutenants after the conquest of the Incas. After six days of drifting in the Pacific he arrived to Galapagos by chance.
He gave it the same name as the giant tortoises he encountered there: Galapagos. Berlanga and his crew found no fresh water on the first few Islands, and in fact, found only water saltier than the sea.
In his account of the adventure, he described the harsh, desert-like condition of the Islands and their trademark giant tortoises. He wrote about the marine iguanas, the sea lions and the many types of birds.
He also noted the remarkable tameness of the animals that continue to thrill and delight modern visitors.
Following the bishop, the Islands were rarely visited and became the refuge for pirates preying on Spanish galleons and coastal towns. Subsequently they became the haunts of whalers and sealers.
The biggest attractions to these visitors were the fur seals and the giant tortoises. Tortoises could be kept alive in the hold of ships for up to a year with no food or water so, needless to say, the tortoise populations were decimated.
Each Island has its own unique variety of tortoise and the depredations caused the extinction of several species and placed most of the others on the endangered list. Today, the Pinta Island tortoise specie survives as a single male, named Lonesome George.
According to Peruvian legend, the Inca ruler Tupac Yupanqui either sent an expedition out to sea or made the journey himself in search of distant lands.
On this voyage, the Inca reached the Galapagos Islands somewhere between 1475 and 1485.
Evidence of an Inca stopover in the Galapagos Archipelago is very limited. However, in 1947, the Danish explorer Thor Heyerdahl sailed a reed raft from Puerto Callao, Peru, to the Galapagos and beyond to the Polynesian Islands.
This proved that such distances were within the range of such vessels. The Inca, therefore, may have indeed set foot on the Galapagos Islands, but nobody knows it for sure yet.
The four larger Islands (Isabela, Floreana, Santa Cruz, and San Cristobal) are the only inhabited Islands in Galapagos.
These people, largely from the Ecuadorian mainland, combine cattle ranching, tourism, fishing, and farming to earn a living.
Today, groups of scientists and travelers from Ecuador and all over the world visit the Galapagos Archipelago.
To minimize the effects of tourism on the wildlife and unique environments, the park has established strict rules, including no camping on the Islands. See the Galapagos Islands National Park Rules
The Galapagos Archipelago is owned by Ecuador and are maintained as part of that nation's national park system.
About 97% of the Islands are part of the park, with the remainder being inhabited by about 24,000 people in four major communities.
The Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Research Station jointly operate the Islands. The Park Service provides rangers and guides, and is responsible for overseeing the many tourists who visit each year.
The Darwin Station conducts scientific research and conservation programs. It is currently breeding and releasing captive tortoises and iguanas.
In a effort to preserve the Islands as they were centuries ago, the Galapagos have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Our recommended Galapagos Islands Cruise offers much to the inquisitive visitor. Investigate Charles Darwin's favorite field site, where the wildlife wanders freely and without fear.
Go face to face with the tame Galapagos marine iguanas. Witness the feeding frenzy of blue-footed boobies. Snorkel with Galapagos Sea Lions and schools of colorful tropical fish.
See Magnificent Frigatebirds wild orchids and stunning volcanic lava formations. Travel to Galapagos, it will be the most amazing trip of your life.