Galápagos Islands - Iguanas, sea lions, giant tortoises, and flocks of flamingos (31 May)
Interesting Facts about Galápagos Islands
IN THE EASTERN PACIFIC, about 620 miles (997 km) from mainland Ecuador, lies the Galápagos archipelago, known for its abundant wildlife and renowned as the place that helped Charles Darwin formulate his theories of natural selection and evolution.
Lava fields and live volcanoes, giant sea cliffs, and white-sand strands are significant geological attractions. But wildlife is the main reason the islands are a bucket list item for world travelers. Conservation efforts date back to the 1950s, so many of the animals have little or no fear of humans. This translates into close-up sightings of birds, sea lions, marine and land iguanas, penguins, giant tortoises, and the other creatures that inhabit the Galápagos and surrounding waters.
The archipelago was formed over millions of years by volcanic activity and plate tectonics, and comprises 20 islands and more than 100 smaller bits and bobs. Nearly the entire land area lies inside Galápagos National Park, and the surrounding waters are protected within a massive marine reserve that extends 40 nautical miles offshore. The 30,000 human inhabitants are spread across four islands and occupy only 3 percent of the land area.
The islands were uninhabited when Bishop Tomás de Berlanga (the bishop of Panama) and his maritime party came across them by accident during a 1535 voyage between Panama and Peru. Ecuador claimed the islands in 1832. Three years later, the naturalist and biologist Darwin stepped ashore on a visit that would revolutionize natural science and spark ongoing religious debate about the origins of life. In 1978, the Galápagos archipelago was designated one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites, owing to its unique geology, flora, and fauna.
Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz; Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal; Puerto Villamil on Isabela; and Puerto Velasco Ibarra on Santa María are the archipelago’s only towns. With nearby airfields and busy seaports, they have evolved into tourist hubs that cater to the 200,000 or so visitors who arrive each year. But the landscape of the islands is really much more intriguing than the towns.
Isla Isabela is by far the largest island in the Galápagos archipelago. Six volcanoes joined to create this jagged landmass; one of these is the massive Volcán Wolf, which last erupted in 2015. With its own active volcano, Fernandina Island is a massive lava field, with a shoreline populated by seabirds, crabs, and marine and land iguanas. Genovesa Island formed around a collapsed caldera and provides a nesting spot for thousands of seabirds, while Wolf and Darwin Islands are renowned for their bountiful shark populations.