Ten Quick (But Fascinating) Facts About the Galapagos Islands

We said it at the beginning of this week’s very cool episode, and it’s absolutely true. There’s simply no place else on planet earth quite like the Galapagos. It is truly one of a kind. And it’s spectacular in so many ways.

We’ve got lots of incredible video, lots of beautiful photos, and lots of great information to share with you from our Galapagos adventure over the next several weeks. But before we got too far in the series, we figured it’d be a good idea to share a few interesting facts about this place, to hopefully give you a better idea of why it’s so, so special. So check ’em out:

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The Galapagos is made up of a group of islands roughly 600-700 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. The island chain straddles the equator and is made up of 18 main islands, and more than 100 rocky islets.

The islands are all volcanic in origin, with the oldest of the main islands being the island of Espanola (3.5 million years)  and the youngest being the island of Fernandina (1 million years and still growing). The Galapagos is still one of the most active volcanic areas in the world, with the most recent eruption taking place just this year (the Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island).

The Volcanic Landscape of Isla Santiago, Galapagos
The volcanic, other-worldly landscape of Isla Santiago, Galapagos

Though it’s said that the Incas knew of the existence of the Galapagos for many generations before foreign explorers arrived, the islands were officially “discovered” by Spanish Bishop Tomas de Berlanga in 1535.

The islands were annexed by Ecuador in 1832. And today about 97% of the islands lie within the Galapagos National Park, which was established back in 1959. The remaining 3% is set aside for the islands’ populated areas.

Yes! That means that there are actually people living on the islands. As of 2010 there were around 25,000 legal residents in the Galapagos, spread across five islands: Baltra, Floreana, Isabela, San Cristobal and Santa Cruz.

The Town of Puerto Ayora, Island of Santa Cruz, Galapagos
The own of Puerto Ayora, Island of Santa Cruz, Galapagos

And as you probably know, the Galapagos is home to some of the most unique and fantastic creatures on the planet, many of which can only be found in the Galapagos and nowhere else. That includes giant tortoises, flightless cormorants, marine iguanas and many, many more species of animals and plants. And interestingly, even though the islands are all similar in their volcanic composition, each island has its own set of unique species living on it. So the giant turtles living on one island are different from the giant turtles on another island, and so forth. Far out, huh?

Galapagos Marine Iguanas.
Galapagos Marine Iguanas.

And yes, it’s absolutely true: most of the animals – whether they be on land or in the water – have little to no fear of humans. Which can make for some incredible (and sometimes unnerving) close encounters. Because of this, the national park strictly enforces a rule that tourists cannot get any closer to the wildlife than two meters (or about six feet). The animals can approach you… and you’re supposed to move away and keep your distance if they do… but you cannot approach them within that six-foot limit. Still, there are a lot of idiot, bone-headed tourists that insist on defying that rule, getting up close to the animals to try to touch them, or leaning in to take that oh-so-important selfie to show the folks back home. If your guide catches you doing that, he/she can kick your ass right off the islands and send you back home lickety-split. As well they should. Bye Felicia!

Our group admires a Galapagos tortoise from a respectful distance.
Our group admires a Galapagos tortoise from a respectful distance.

And of course you probably know that all the hubbub about the magical Galapagos way-back-when attracted the attention of one Charles Darwin, who visited the islands aboard the Beagle in 1835. And he used his experience in the Galapagos to (decades later) formulate his groundbreaking theory of evolution laid forth in his famous work On the Origin of Species.

Because it’s such a unique and special place, the islands were among the very first group of sites added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978. In 2007, UNESCO put the Galapagos on its “List of World Heritage in Danger,” primarily because of booming unregulated tourism, invasive species and over-fishing. But thanks to the intense conservation efforts that followed the islands were removed from that list a short three years later.

Our Group Walking at Sunset on Sombrero Chino, Galapagos
Our group walking at sunset on Sombrero Chino, Galapagos

Tourism is still booming in the Galapagos, which the government now regulates and limits to roughly 100,000 visitors a year. There are several places to stay on the islands, and it’s certainly possible to travel from island to island by boat and plane and spend as much time there as you’d like. But seeing the islands by cruise ship is still by far the preferred and most popular method. Many if not most of the ships are relatively small (our ship, the Seaman Journey, accommodates only 16 passengers at a time) and the places where you can actually land on any given island and go out exploring are specifically designated by the national park and strictly enforced. So you can’t just hop out of the boat and walk all over the place, thankfully.

There’s lots more to learn about the Galapagos, obviously. But we hope this gives you a primer as we continue with our journey, which we obviously hope you’ll continue to follow. So stay tuned!

Cheers y’all! And happy travels…
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Still have questions about the Galapagos? Leave your question in the comment area below, and we’ll be happy to answer!

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