If you’re planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands, perhaps on our land tours or our Galapagos cruises, you will want to do a little background reading. To help you out, Gulliver Expeditions has put together this brief introduction to the Galapagos Islands.
Around 70,000 tourists visit the Galapagos Islands every year, making them Ecuador’s most popular tourist destination. Of the 21 islands only 4 are inhabited by people and only eight are considered major islands. Due to the islands’ climate, it is possible to see the many animal species unique to the Galapagos Islands throughout the year. However, there are still two seasons caused by the currents around the islands. In the cool season (July to December), the weather is fresh due to the southeast winds and the Peru Current. The waters can get quite cold and it can also be quite misty.
However, the cool season is also the dry season. The warm and wet season is from January to June, when the warmer currents from Panama cause a water temperature between 20 and 26 degrees centigrade. Air temperature can be 30 degrees centigrade or more.
The first map of the Galapagos Islands was made in 1685 by Ambrose Cowely, who also named the individual islands. Despite this map, however, sailors still had difficulty locating the islands due to strong ocean currents. The islands became known as Las Encantadas because sailors were convinced that the islands changed position. William Dampier and Woodes Rogers made the archipelago better known to other European seamen who ventured into the Pacific in the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, our first-class and luxury Galapagos cruises have the most high-tech equipment, making navigation as safe and comfortable as possible.
Whaling was a big business in the first half of the 19th century. The demand for oil, especially in British industry, meant that whalers had no regard for the preservation of the natural life of the Galapagos, and the constant hunting decimated the whale population. The fascination with giant tortoises, seen for the first time by many people, meant that almost 200,000 giant tortoises left the islands on the many ships that began to frequent the Galapagos.
Charles Darwin arrived in 1835. Here he began his research into his Theory of Evolution, which led to the publication of his controversial book ‘The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection’. He spent five weeks on the islands in 1835, collecting and documenting species for his studies, but he didn’t publish the book until 1859. For many scientists, a trip to the Galapagos Islands is the vacation of a lifetime; to walk where Darwin walked and see what he saw as he formulated one of the most important scientific theories in history.
In the 1930’s several mysterious deaths and disappearances among the European community on the island of Floreana put Galapagos in the news. A book by John Treherne about these events contributed to making the Galagapagos Islands famous and a popular tourist destination.
In 1959, Ecuador declared 97% of the land area of the Galapagos Islands as
national park. They also introduced the Galapagos Marine Resources Reserve in 1986 to protect the waters around the island. The islands were also internationally recognized as a Man and Biosphere Reserve and as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in December 2001
The Galapagos Islands contain the most active volcanoes in the world and eruptions have taken place on Fernandina, Isabela, Pinta, Marchena, Santiago and Floreana. Now the most active volcanoes are found on Fernandina, Isabela, Pinta and Marchena, and volcanic activity may be seen occasionally on each of these islands.
If botany is your thing, then Galapagos is a dream come true, as the plants are as fascinating as the animals. In the highlands you can find many native species such as the Scalesia (‘tree daisies’), tree ferns, bromeliads and orchids. If you wander along the coasts, you won’t be disappointed; there are vivid morning glories, mats of bright red sesuvium, giant prickly pear and candelabra cacti. You can also find tiny Brachycereus cacti growing on the barren lava flows. To the surprise of many tourists, Galapagos also has its own species of cotton, tomato, pepper, guava and passion flower.
This area boasts one of the most impressive and varied colonies of sea birds in the Galápagos. Along its southern shore, high cliffs rise up from the sea affording the visitor spectacular views of soaring birds and the blow hole, where water spouts up to 50-75 feet into the air according to the intensity of the surf.
Birds, such as the red-billed tropicbird, frigate and brown pelicans, like to glide past the cliff. Swimming or snorkelling is almost impossible at Plaza Sur due to the very territorial sea lions who can be quite aggressive.
Independent travelling gives you the opportunity to visit the Galapagos Islands without a guide. It is possible to do by using inter-island flights and ferries. You will, however, generally be confined to the colonized areas. If this type of trip is chosen, it is possible to arrange day-trips from the larger towns, especially from Puerto Ayora. These day excursions cost about $60 per person and mostly include the guide, the visit and a lunch. It is easy to organise these tours, as there are many travel agencies in the area.
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Gulliver Expeditions is a tour operator that offers unique Ecuador and Peru tours. Specialized in adventure travel such as climbing, mountain biking and horseback riding. We offer both pre-planned packages as well as tailor-made tours that can include the Amazon rainforest, once-in-a-lifetime Galapagos cruises and expeditions to Machu Picchu.