Galapagos Islands Facts: The Ultimate Resource

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Galapagos islands facts

The Galapagos Islands are famous as the place that first captured Charle's Darwin's imagination. 

It's no wonder as the archipelago's incredible eco-system and landscape is one of the most diverse on earth. Over the last 50 years the islands have risen to become one of the most popular tourists destinations in the world. 

Because it's so unique, the Galapagos Islands are bursting with incredible facts! Whether you're thinking of taking a cruise here, or simply want to learn more, this page provides a comprehensive Galapagos Islands facts list. From geology and history, to wildlife and geography, we've listed it all! 

Please use the quicklinks provided to jump to a certain section. 

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Galapagos Islands History Facts

Galapagos islands facts - history

A great book

Charles Darwin famously gained much of his research and inspiration for his ground-breaking book - On The Origin Of Species - from his trips to the Galapagos.

The book was published 24 years after Darwin first visited the Galapagos. He famously stated that ‘the natural history of this archipelago is very remarkable: it seems to be a little world within itself ’. 

The name

Where does the Galapagos get its name from? Because the giant tortoise is such a prominent figure on the islands, "galapago" actually means "tortoise" in Spanish!

The coat of arms

The Galapagos coat of arms is separated into four sections that represent the island. There is the iconic Galapagos tortoise, a sail boat, a volcanic cone, and the blue sea.  

UNESCO

Although there are now over a 1000 UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Galapagos was the first (with 11 others) to be named as such in 1978! 

In 1984, the Galapagos region also became a Biosphere Reserve, and in 2001, the Galapagos Marine Reserve also became part of the UNESCO site. 

Discovery

The Galapagos Islands were discovered in 1535 by Panamanian Archbishop Fray Tomás de Berlanga, who was on his way to Peru. The Archbishop was apparently surprised to learn they hadn't been discovered previously and called them 'enchanted' due to the fog and rise of the tide that made them disappear. 

A strange post office

The very first post office in the Galapagos can be found on Floreana Island. It used to be a simple barrel that passing sailors could drop their letters into. If sailors were heading in the same direction as another letter in the barrel, they would take and deliver the letter in return.

The tradition is still ongoing to day. It is the only post office where you can leave a letter without a stamp. The post office asks only that you deliver a letter in return - assuming you're going somewhere that one is addressed to.  

Pirates ahoy!

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Galapagos Islands actually had quite a reputation for pirates! In fact, the first rough map of the islands was made in 1684 by the buccaneer Ambrose Cowley.

He named the islands after some of his fellow pirates and some English aristocracy. However, when Ecuador claimed the archipelago later on, the names were changed to what they are today.

Free land

In order to colonise the islands, the Ecuadorian government offered incredible insentives during the 1920s and 30s. If you caught a fish from an uninhabited area, you could claim 20 hectares of free land, full citizenship, and free taxation for 10 years! 

Going once, going twice... 

It may sound absurd, but in the early 1900s, Ecuador actually attempted to sell the Galapagos Islands! They were in extreme debt and thought that selling the islands would alleviate this. 

One of the most interested parties was America. Because of its strategic location guarding the Panama Canal, they planned to put military bases on the island. Thank goodness that never happened! 

History is a killer

Thanks to the introduction of humans who hunted animals for meat and products, 50% of all vertebrate species in the Galapagos are still endangered. Conservation effort are ongoing to restore numbers, but it's a slow process. 

Moby Dick

Author Herman Melville famously included a recorded event of the Essex ship being sunk by a sperm whale off the coast of the Galapagos. This later became part of his inspiration for the novel Moby Dick. 

Coffee anyone?

The Galapagos is actually quite well known for its organic coffee. In 1869, some of the first settlers began using the local coffee plants to produce an arabica typica bean that is still produced today and sold worldwide. 

Galapagos Islands Geography Facts

Galapagos islands facts - geography

A treasure

Because of it's unique eco-system and diverse range of landscapes, 97% of the Galapagos is classed as a National Park. This status is to protect the environment and there are strict park guidelines that all land and cruise visitors and guides must follow. 

Day and night

Unusually, because of its location on the Equator, the Galapagos has an even amount of light and dark throughout the year. No matter when you visit, there will be 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. 

All summer long

One of the main attractions of the Galapagos is its lovely weather. Because of its location on either side of the Equator Line, the entire year seems like summer! 

A young land

Although there is some speculation over when the Galapagos Islands were formed exactly, it's appears that they are somewhere between 3 and 4 million years old. This is quite young in terms of the earth which is roughly 4.45 billion years old!  

Volcanic birth

Lying on the intersection of three tectonic plates, the Galapagos islands have been born from volcanic eruptions - 13 of which have occurred in the last 100 years! The islands are still forming today - the last eruption was in 2009! 

That's a strong current!

The Galapagos is known for its strange currents and varied water temperatures. This is because the Equatorial, Panama, Humboldt, and Cromwell ocean currents all converge here! 

It's not just the wildlife

Although the islands are known for their diverse and amazing wildlife, the Galapagos Islands are actually home to over 25,000 human inhabitants also!

This is nothing compared to the amount of tourist and cruise goers the region gets every year. Last year's estimate was 150,000! That's a big boost for the economy considering the costs of Galapagos cruises

The nameless one

Lying between Pinzón Island and Santa Cruz Island is an island called Nameless Island. There seems to be no reason for this, but the island is famed for its scuba diving. 

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Galapagos Islands Wildlife Facts

Galapagos islands facts - wildlife

Fearless animals!

one of the main attractions of visiting the Galapagos is witnessing the fearless animals. Most species on the island are perfectly happy for humans to stand right next to them. In fact, some species like seals are actively curious and will often play with snorkelers and divers in the water. 

Warm-weather penguin

The Galapagos penguin is the only species of penguin found north of the Equator. It also endangered with less than 2,000 individuals left. 

The booby dance

Blue-footed boobies are incredibly charismatic creatures and over half the world's population are found here. They're known for their funny mating dance which consists of the males lifting up one foot at a time and swaying from side to side. 

Interestingly, their blue feet is actually a sign of health. Because the blue colour comes from the pigments obtained from their fresh fish diet, the more blue the foot is, the healthier the bird is! 

The booby name

Blue-footed boobies were first named by Spanish sailors who visited the islands. After witnessing their strange courtship dance, the sailors called them “Bobo” which means 'silly'! The name has since evolved into booby. 

Snorkeler's paradise

With over 800 mollusks species and 400 species of fish, the Galapagos Islands are perfect for snorkelers! Some of the star species you're likely to see whilst snorkelling include reef sharks, sea turtles, rays, seals and marine iguanas. 

Friendly giants

Thanks to a lack of predators, the docile and friendly giant tortoise thrived throughout the Galapagos Islands with as many as 250,000 living there. However, being unused to predators made them easy targets for early settlers and sailors who used them for fresh meat aboard the ships.

The population was decimated to less than 20,000. Thanks to recent conservation efforts though, most of the tortoise species are on the incline once again. 

Magnificent is right!

The magnificent frigate bird is one of the most easily recognisable birds in the Galapagos. The bright red pouch that sits at its neck inflates like a large balloon when attracting a mate. The brighter the pouch is, the better chance they have of attracting a female! 

Although frigate birds are found in other places across the world, the Galapagos ones are thought to be distinct due to a lack of contact with other frigate bird colonies. 

Cornerstone species

Although finches are generally not at the top of birdwatcher's lists, the Galapagos finches are. This is largely thanks to the pivotal role they played in Darwin's theory of natural selection. 

Darwin's theory relied heavily on his research into the finches beaks. He noted how the beak of individual finches changed from island to island depending on their environment and food source. 

Mocking Darwin

Although finches were used as the prime example for Darwin's theories of evolution - it was actually the Galapagos mockingbird that first sparked them!

The Galapagos mockingbird was the first creature in which Darwin noticed distinct adaptive differences from island to island. 

Hear that seal?

The Galapagos fur seal is one of the few endemic mammals to the Galapagos. It is the smallest of all eared seals and is often seen (and heard) lazing about in public areas such as piers and beaches. 

Unlike other seal species, the Galapagos fur seal prefers land to water, spending at least 70% of its time on land. 

A big bird

The waved albatross is the largest of any bird found in the Galapagos Islands. Although it stays at sea for long periods of time, the waved albatross only ever breeds on the Galapagos. 

The waved albatross also have a lovely mating ritual in which both male and female clack their beaks together from side to side and making hooting noises upwards. 

A big tortoise

The giant tortoise is a fascinating species in its own right. These lovely giants can weigh up to 270kg, survive months without water or food, and live longer than any other creature on earth - up to 150 years! 

Good swimmers

The Galapagos marine iguana is the only modern lizard to swim! Not only do they swim, but they feed almost exclusively on algae found underwater. Their noses have developed specialized nasal glands that filter the salt from the algae. 

No more flying

The Galapagos cormorant is unique to its species in that it is the only cormorant that has lost the ability to fly. Instead, the flightless cormorant swims exceptionally well. 

Thanks to introduced species like cars and dogs, the flightless cormorant is an easy target and there are now less than 1,600 individuals left. 

The pink one

It wasn't until 1986 that the last known species of iguana was discovered in the Galapagos. Rangers spotted the unusually coloured iguana on Wolf Volcano in northern Isabela Island. However, it wasn't until 2000 that studies on the creature began. It is considered critically endangered as this is the only place on earth it is found.

Since the beginning

Although the Galapagos is famed for its wildlife, there are actually only 6 endemic land mammals found here. 4 of the species are rice rats, whilst the other two are bats. 

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To highlight some of the amazing wildlife, here is the incredible video of racer snakes attacking marine iguanas from BBC's Planet Earth II. 

​​FAQ

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Thank you and happy travels!

Expedition Cruise Team

About the Author Expedition Cruise

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