Galapagos Islands National
- In a country of incredible diversity,
the Galapagos stands out. Strangely we didn't visit the islands
for the first time until the end of 2003, when we spent a splendid
time on the MV Ambassador I on her penultimate voyage.
Islands are located some 600 miles away from the Pacific Coast
of Ecuador. They present a natural environment with truly astonishing
flora and fauna in a sub tropical climate. It was here that Darwin
first conceived his ideas for 'Origin of the Species' in 1835
when the Beagle visited. It was by observing small evolutionary
differences on the finches in each island that he became aware
of the process of natural selection.
- The Islands were designated
as a national park in 1959 and became the the first ever UNESCO
World Heritage Site in 1978. The UNESCO inscription describes
them as a "unique living museum and showcase of evolution".
The relatively young geological age of the islands, ongoing volcanic
activity and their remoteness have all combined to give the unique
animal life found here -including land and sea iguanas, giant
tortoise and a variety of sea birds including Albatross, Boobies
and Frigate Birds.
landscape you can see here is made up of beaches of white sand,
with volcanic lava evident everywhere. Inland from the coast
the landscape can be bleak at times, especially in the dry seasons,
somewhat reminiscent of Lord of the Rings. The outstanding charateristic
is that everywhere you look seems to teem with life.
- The animals are noted for their
tameness, which is great for the visitor but has over the years
resulted in severe conservation problems. Idigenous species have
suffered both at the hands of humans and as a result of introduced
species such as rats, donkeys, dogs and goats, which threaten
both the animals and their habitat.
- There is a strict code of behaviour
on the national park -it may seem restrictive, but it is by following
the code that is possible to get such close contact with the
animals. Broadly, you must have a guide to explore the islands,
and when leaving your boat you should take no food with you -in
fact you should take nothing to or from the islands -the idea
is to have a zero ecological footprint. You must not feed or
touch the animals in any way. This includes not using flashlight
to take photographs -so make sure you know how to turn your automatic
flash off. I do urge you to look at the national park rules in full, together with
an explanation for the reasons behind each rule.
to the Galapagos Islands is restricted -unless you come by sea
you can only fly in from Quito or Guayaquil with Aerogal or Tame,
ariving in either Baltra or San Cristobal. Flights are not cheap,
but there are considerable reductions for nationals. You will
be asked to pay $100 National Park entry fee on arrival.
- The archipelago is made up of
13 larger and 6 smaller islands, each with its own character,
plus numerous other rocks and islets. They are volcanic in origin
and some are still active. Five of the islands are occupied,
being home to some 18,000 people.
- The main islands:
- Santiago (San Salvador) -the most volcanic of
the islands. Sites include a 500m diameter salt lake in the crater
of a volcano.
- Santa Cruz (Indefatigable)-contains Puerto Ayora,
the largest town, and the Charles Darwin Research Station. It is also
has the main airport at Baltra.
- Floreana (Santa Maria) -the southernmost island,
most noted for Post Office Barrel, where seafarers are supposed
to drop off mail, and pick up any addressed to ports where they
- San Cristobal (Chatham) -holds the capital Puerto
Baquerizo Moreno and has the second of the two airports on the
Islands. Also known for the spectacular rock formation called
Kicker Rock or the Sleeping Lion.
- Española (Hood) -smaller uninhabited island,
home to the largest colony of waved albatrosses.
- Genovesa (Tower Island) -small island made up
of a single low volcano, home to many seabirds -masked boobies,
red-footed boobies, Galapagos owls, frigates, swallow-tail gulls,
lava herons, and lava gulls.
- Santa Fe (Barrington Islan) -the oldest of the
islands, not volcanically active and low in altitude. The lack
of fresh water here has meant is is relatively unspoilt by human
- Isabela -the largest of the islands
- Fernandina (Narborough Island) -the second largest
island, made up of a single volcano with a large central caldera.
- Pinta (Abington Island)-a small island, to the north.
The most famous native of the island is Lonesome George, a Pinta
tortoise who is the last known example of his species, and currently
lives at the Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz
- Marchena, also known as Bindloe.
- Rabida (Jervis Island) -small island to the west of Santa
Cruz, one of the isalands with a colony of flamingos.
- Wolf and Darwin Islands (Wenman and Culpepper)
-two remote eroded volcanoes to the north of the other islands.
Home only to sea birds they are noted as being good places to
scuba dive or snorkel.
- You really cannot see the islands
properly without a boat -you should consider it more as your
floating hotel and choose it accordingly -see Yachts
and Cruises for details of boats serving the islands. For
divers, the islands are one of the best dive locations in the
world -see Scuba diving for more information.
- Useful information:
- Capturgal -the Galapagos Chamber of Tourism -extensive
list of hotels, bars and restaurants, plus interactive map.
- Charles Darwin Foundation -Founded in 1959, under the auspices of UNESCO
and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural
Resources (previously World Conservation Union), the Charles
Darwin Foundation is dedicated to the conservation of the Galapagos
ecosystems. The Foundation operates the Charles Darwin Research
Station to conduct scientific research and environmental education
Books -a listing of some
of the books and DVDs currently available on the Galapagos Islands
and their wildlife.
Conservation Trust -a
UK registered charity set up to raise funds for, and awareness
of, the conservation needs of the Galapagos Islands.
History and Cartography
-a rather wonderful site with loads of old texts and maps about
the islands. Also has a complete table of all the islands and
the many variant names for each.
- Galapagos Island Profiles -brief description of the islands from
- Galapagaguide -excellent online guide to the islands.
- Galapagos Coalition
-a group of biologists, other scientists, and lawyers with expertise
in environmental and international law, many of whom have done
research in the Galápagos.
- Galapagos Geology -excellent description of the Geology of the islands
from Department of Geological Sciences at Cornell University.
- Charles Darwin
-full text of The Origin of Species, Voyage of the Beagle and
many other writings from the Gutenberg Project.
Galapagos Tour Operators Association -a nonprofit association of travel companies,
conservation organizations, and other groups who seek a lasting
protection of the Galapagos Islands. They lobby for conservation,
fund projects, and promote and practice sustainable tourism.
- Imax Galapagos
-not the same as actually visiting the islands but this site
tells all about the making of the film and where it is currently
Encantadas -a human and
cartographic history of the islands.
- Margaret Wittmer
-story of the German settlers who arrived in Floreana in 1932,
Margaret Wittmer was author of 'Postlagernd Floreana: A Robinson
family in the Galapagos Island'.
- National Science Teachers Association -useful educational background to the
- Natural history of the Galapagos -useful guide by Dr. Robert H. Rothman
of Rochester Institute of Technology.
-the place for information if you are intending to arrive at
the islands by boat.
- Tortoise Trust -arcticle on Lonesome George and the Galapagos
-inscription of the Galapagos as world heritage site in 1978.
in the Galapagos -although
limited in number, here is a listing of hotels on the islands.
in the Galapagos -budget
accommodation on San Cristobal.
in the Galapagos -our
listing of the boats operating in the islands.
- Search this site with Google:
- -handpicked holidays from
the Amazonian Rainforest to the Galapagos from the specialists
in sustainable and ethical travel.
- You can see these extraordinary
creatures close up at the Darwin Research Station. The Station
is dedicated to research and conservation of the islands.
- The centre is also the home
of Lonesome George. At 70-80 years old, he is
the last known Pinta Tortoise -the centre has been trying to
get him to breed with another species close to his, so far without