The Galapagos Islands are viewed as one of the worlds natural paradises and a place were wildlife roams freely and unafraid of humans. Charles Darwin's exploration visit in the mid 1800's made the archipleago famous. Since Darwin's original visit, thousands of visitors have walked along the volcanic shores in search of unique animal encounters. Over 400 species of fish and rich wildlife in Galapagos, it is a naturalits dream. With so many things to see, we rounded down to 21 facts we find fascinating about these Enchanted Isles.
1. 97% of the Galapagos Islands are a National Park
The Galapagos Islands are part of the country of Ecuador, they are actually a province. Ecuador has declared 97% of the Galapagos territory a national park and protected area. The islands are also a UNESCO world heritage site and an important Biosphere Reserve. Visitors to the park areas need to be accompanied by a guide that is park-certified. At the entry point, either San Cristobal or Baltra airport, visitors are required to pay the National Park entrance fee $100 USD for adults and $50 USD for children, there is a 50% discount for Andean pact (Colombia, Peru) citizens and local residents of Ecuador pay $20 USD. The remaining 3% of the archipelago is made up of the town settlements located on San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela and Floreana Islands. There are an aproximate 28,000 people residing in these areas.
2. The Galapagos Islands are volcanic and are still active
Each island is the summit of a suboceanic volcano. The last eruptions were as recent as 2018, both Fernandina island and the Sierra Negra volcano on Isabela island became active. Still in the western side of the archipelago, Isabela island, actually in May 2015 presenced eruptions from the Wolf Volcano. The lava flow went down the souteast and eastern slopes of the mountain. No species we endangered by this eruption, there was a particular concern for the pink iguanas that are native to this part of the island, but fortunately they mainly inhabit the northwest side of the volcano. Many visitors have been taken by surprise and have had the unusual luck of witnessing a volcanic eruption from their expedition ships. For an opportunity to explore the more volcanice side of the archipelago, consider a full 8 day Galapagos north and west islands cruise
3. The archipelago has new islands in the making
The Galapagos Islands are located at an aprox. 580 mi (930 km) off the coast of South America, to the East of mainland Ecuador in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. There are 20 main islands, most of volcanic origin, about 42 minor islets and about 600 oceanic rocks in the entire archipelago.
4. There are 3 different species of Booby Birds
The Sulidae family of birds was nicknamed bobos - dum in Spanish - for their clumsy walk on land. These sea birds are amazing flyers, so don't be fooled by their ground folies. The Galapagos is home to three types of boobies. The most photographed are the blue-footed boobies, the easiest to spot are the Masked or Nazca boobies and the unbelievably most numerous are red-footed boobies. Although they have many things in common, they look different and each behave in their own way. An amazing scene is to watch the blue footed boobies dance their mating ritual or taking plunge dives into the sea as they fish for food.
For an itinerary that allows you to spot all 3 types of Boobies check out the 3 night Central Galapagos Islands cruise itinerary
5. There are tropical penguins living here
The smallest penguin in the world is the one endemic to the Galapagos Islands.
Bizarre as it seems, the Galapagos penguin lives at the Equator and swims in tropical waters. Don't be fooled by the tropical location, water is cooled by the humboldt current, which creates a micro climate where the penguins can survive and even strive. 2020 has been one of their best years with a 20% increase in populations. They can be found in the central islands (Bartolome) and in larger numbers on the western side of Isabela as well as on Fernandina island. There is a small colony on Floreana island too.
If Penguins are your thing we recommend a Galapagos West Islands cruise program
6. Galapagos Marine Iguanas: Eat Algae, Sun Bathe and Spit Salt
They are constantly fighting to keep their self estime up, Charles Darwin called them "imps of darkness" , nowadays they are compared with Godzilla. The truth is they are the only ocean going lizard in the world. The marine iguanas are fascinating and one of several endemic species that inhabit the islands. They are mainly found on land, but are considered a marine creature too. This is due to their incredible adaptation to a diet that is restricted to seaweed, which they cook inside their stomachs when they lie on lava fields under the equatorial sun and spit out the salt through their noses. They feed under water, therefore they are incredible swimmes and their claws can withstand the pull of the currents.
7. The Galapagos Islands are available to visit anytime of the year
When can I visit the Galapagos Islands? a popular question with 1 answer: Anytime. They archipelago is located on the equator line and the climate is similar year round. There are two seasons, the wet / hot season which begins in December and lasts through May - characterized by 1 hour showers of rain (once a day) and lots of humidity, the other season known as the cool / dry season lasting from June through November - during this period the islands become misty and a light garua is present throughout. Average temparatures vary and during the hot season water is warmer and more comfortable for snorkeling - 79°F (26°C) in average. In contrast, the more arid cool season coincides with tradewinds and the humboldt current bringing more vivid ocean life.
8. 12 hours of sun every day
This also constant daylight year round. Being at the middle of the world on the equator allows the islands to enjoy 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of star filled skies. The sunrises and sunsets are breathtaking, if you take a cruise and begin the day at a different island and end it at another you are sure to have the golden hours at your side all the time.
9. Galapagos Giant Tortoises can live over 100 years!
These peaceful giants have been spectators if they could talk... they are longevous and are the oldest living reptiles on earth. There are several breeding centers and reserves where the tortoises roam freely. You can spot them on all inhabited islands (Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana). The sub species of Galapagos giant tortoises are different from one island to another, they have adapted to the environment and evolved in order to survive in the environs of each island.
10. If Green sea turtles could talk, they would tell you about dinosaurs!
Sea turtles return to the beach they were born to lay their eggs. They can swim around the world but will always find their way back to their origins. It is common to spot these gentle swimmers in several snorkeling and diving sites around the waters of the Galapagos marine reserve. They have been around for a long time and it is scientific belief they shared the ocean with megalodons and other prehistoric giants.
11. The Galapagos Archipelago sits on the ring of fire where tectonic plates cross
When tectonic plates clash earths crust breaks and lava flows forming islands. This is the story of Galapagos making them one of a kind. The archipelago is located where the Nazca, Coco and Pacific plates meet. The landscape of the Galapagos is made up of lava fields, colorful sand (volcanic minerals) and diferent outworldly formations all this thanks to the volcanic eruptions that formed the islands.
12. The Theory of Evolution was inspired by Galapagos Islands wildlife adaptation
When young Charles Darwin set foot on these islands he was taken aback at first, little by little he noticed diferences between similar animals that had adapted to the hostile environment of these volcanic uplifts. His observations and notes later on inspired the "theory of evolution by natural selection". The basis of his theory lies on the fact that animals needed to adapt in order to survive, living samples of this can be observed by visitors in the beaks of finches, tortoise shells and the most evident flightless cormorant. The Charles Darwin station bares the name of the famouse scientist and is one of the most important visitor sites on Santa Cruz island.
13. Almost 1000 molusks and hundreds of fish species ply the Galapagos waters
The Galapagos marine reserve is home to the most unique oysters, canchalagua (endemic molusk found in many Galapagos dishes), squid, snails, octopus and cuttlefish. There are also more than 400 species of fish in the Galapagos Islands waters, this makes snorkeling a dream and outworldy experience.
The ocean waters surrounding the islands of the archipelago teem with an enormous variety of snails, octopus, cuttlefish, oysters, and squid, along with a remarkable and colorful variety of fish species, many of which can be spotted while snorkeling in the Galapagos National Park.
14. Did you know that "Galapago" means saddle?
It is also a fact that Charles Darwin tried to ride a tortoise, we are confident he was not the only one. The saddleback shelled tortoises impressed Fray Tomas de Berlanga and his Spanish crew and they refered to the archipelago as the islands of the "Galapago" tortoises, due to the similarity of the shells to a riding saddle. Although the official name was "Archipelago de Colon" it was always known as the Galapagos.
15. Island visitors enjoy mild weather year round
Thanks to the cold humboldt current the temperature of the islands is regulated and does not make justic to its Equatorial location. Many would think it would be humid and extremely hot, yet the average hot season weather is between 80° – 87°F (27° – 31°C) and in the cooler time of the year it can descend to 69° F (69° C). Water temperatures vary between 62°F (16°C) from June-November to around 74°F (23°C) from December - May.
16. Less than 79,999 people visit the Galapagos Islands on a liveaboard cruise each year
In general the numbers are low, at it's peak point the Galapagos received a little over 200,000 visitors in 2019, and in 2020 an all time low has been registered to about 1000 passengers per month between August (re-openning) through November, it is estimated there will be less than 10000 visitor sin December. This is the all around tourism movement, if we consider liveaboard travel it is much less. Travelers that explore the archipelago on a motor vessel (mainly small yachts and expedition ships) are 30% of all visitors. If you would like to put this in contrast, the islands have received less visitors in 10 years than what places like Venice recieve in 1 day.
The Galapagos are never crowded, making the islands a perfect getaway in times of the pandemic and beyond. A great place to escape the hustle and bustle and be surrounded by pristine nature. An important detail is that each guide can only travel with 16 guests, allowing for personalized service and of course supporting conservation. This is part of 12 Galapagos National park rules to protect the islands and ensure a unique wildlife experience for all guests. All guides need to be certified by the GNP.
The Galapagos Legend is a 100 passenger expedition ship, there are also smaller Galapagos yacht cruise options.
17. The archipelago is in constant evolution
Continous volcanic activity, allow new islands to form in the western side of the archipelago, Fernadina being the youngest as older islands start sinking back into the sea, Española island is the oldest - of course this process will take a few million years. The islands are in constant change. It is interesting to know that the Galapagos Island chain is around 4 million years old while its older sister Hawaii is bordering 90 million years.
18. The meeting of ocean currents create unforseen events
The warm el Niño current raises havock in the islands and acts as a regulator, hundreds of sea animals die as they cannot resist the warm waters, while in contrast the rich and cold Humbold current brings nutrients and allows for species to strive. Fortunately for the wildlife the el Niño event is not as common as the yearly Humboldt current or La Niña. Other currents that intersect in the Galapagos waters are the Equatorial, Cromwell and Panama. Although the islands are located at the equator and there are no strong coreolis forces (centifugal) making the islands hurricane free, the waves can be unpredictable and at some times this can rock the smaller yachts a bit and make underwater visibility unpredictable for divers and snorkelers.
19. Galapagos animals do not fear the presence of human beings!
If you want to enjoy a close animal encounter, the Galapagos is the place. You are required to keep 2 meter distance due to the fact that wildlife in Galapagos are extremely tame and fearless. Do not be fooled, touching animals is not allowed, although they may seem friendly the sea lions are still wild animals and the price of the fines is extremely high - two good reasons to play by the rules.
Most Galapagos animals do not have land predators, and behave unconcerned amongst human visitors. Wildlife has been left alone and been observed passively, plus they feel no threat from people visiting explains this unique behavious, usually not found anywhere else around the planet.
One of our favourite Wildlife Cruise itineraries covers both the Central and Southern Islands of the archipelago
20. The 200 year old Post Office Barrel
For visitors visiting the southern island of Floreana, either by cruise or staying at Puerto Velasco Ibarra town, be sure to bring postcards. You will have the opportunity to stop at the post office bay and put your cards in the barrel, be sure to take home the postcards of people who live nearby you. This form of communication still works up to the present day as letters are delivered by travelers who visit from all over the world. It may take up to a year but for sure you will receive your mail. This system was implemented by whaling ships in the 18th century and was the only way to communicate with family and friends back in the day. This an interesting part of human history of the islands that tourists still love as it allows to feel nostalgia and escape the speed of modern times.
21. The first habitants of the islands arrived floating on plants
Theoretically most animals of the islands like iguanas and other small animals arrived floating on tree trunks and other ocean debree, the currents took them to the islands and they adapted to the harsh volcanic setting. In regards to giant tortoises it is possible they arrived floating, driven by the same ocean currents.
A Galapagos cruise on board the Legend is not just another vacation. The Galapagos are a of grand importance in natural history, not only attached to scientific theories and contributions to the evolution of humans, but due to the magnificence of its plant and animal life that never cease to amaze visitors and the modest life scientest in all of us, both kids and adults the same, who return changed and touched to the heart by the transforming power of these Enchanted Isles.