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The Galapagos Islands are a world-famous, world-renowned and incredibly special place on planet Earth playing an incredibly important role in climate, ecology, evolution, and environmental research... and all of this is in addition to them truly beautiful travel destination.

The islands first came to universal attention after Charles Darwin's visit during the infamous Voyage of the Beagle, and Darwin's subsequent research on finches and the wildlife of the islands would eventually play a very significant role in the work for his Theory of Evolution publication.

Today the islands are one of the worlds top travel destinations, and any trip to this beautiful archipelago will be rewarded with famous wildlife and bird-watching opportunities, and stunning island scenery...

History

The Galapagos islands are a volcanic island archipelago formed over millions of years. The individual islands are of varying ages, with the youngest island being Fernandina, Darwin, Genovesa, Isabela and Santiago Islands - all of which are around 700,000 years old, and the oldest island being South Plaza Island - which is around 4.2 million years old from the time when the volcanic activitity pushed the rocky islands upwards and out of the ocean.

The islands were first visited by European travellers on the 10th March 1535 when the Bishop of Panama, Fray Thomas Berlanga - who was Spanish, travelled off course during a journey to Peru and accidentally discovered the islands. The original purpose of his journey was to travel to Peru to attempt to resolve the dispute between Diego de Almagro and Francisco Pizarro over control of Peru and Bolivia.

It is unclear whether there was earlier human settlement on the islands, although the famous adventurer Thor Heyerdahl did propose that certain finds from the islands at least suggested visits by Latin American cultures prior to the discovery of the islands by the Spanish, although no evidence of a permanent settlement has been found.

From the mid 16th century onwards the islands started to appear on maps dating from the time, and pirate ships used these maps to navigate to the islands to use them as a hideout between pirate raids.

In 1792 James Colnett, who had served under and sailed with James Cook on his second voyage of exploration, was employed as a private contractor for a whaling company, and travelled to the islands and played an influential role in setting up the Galapagos Islands as a base for whaling activities in the nearby oceans. This would have a negative effect on the wildlife of the islands, as whalers hunted Galapagos tortoises for their fat and meat, resulting in the threat of extinction or extinction of some species native to the islands. Whale hunting continued in the region for the next few decades, and due to the sheer number of whalers operating in the region a "post office" was set up on one of the islands to allow the whalers to post letters back home completely unique site can still be visited today on tours in the Galapagos.

It wasn't until 1832 that the Galapagos Islands came under the control of Ecuador, when Ecuador announced the islands as part of their territory and renamed them the "Archipelago of Ecuador". Floreana Island was used as a prison by the Ecuadorian government at the time.

The most famous event in the history of the Galapagos Islands occurred on the 15th September 1835 when the Voyage of the Beagle first arrived in the Galapagos Islands, with Charles Darwin as the ships naturalist. The ship spent over a month in the archipelago, not leaving until the 20th October 1835, and during this time Darwin spent time examining and researching the volcanic landscape, and wildlife of the islands - in particular the finches and tortoises. This initial investigative work played a big part in Darwin's further work for his theory of evolution.

In the early 20th century Ecuador made efforts to sell the islands to fund their economy, however a sale was never agreed. Ecuador also provided settlement opportunities, land, and tax-free living for settlers who wanted to move to the islands, a move that was particularly popular with European settlers from countries such as Norway and Germany.

When the islands had been up for sale, certain countries had been interested due to the strategic military location of the islands in the Pacific Ocean, and during the Second World War the USA received authority to establish a base on Baltra Island.

The importance of the flora and fauna of the islands has been recognised and understood for centuries, ever since Darwin's time, however it wasn't until 1959 that the Galapagos Islands formally became a national park, and since this time tourism has steadily increased, and the Galapagos Islands are now one of the most popular tourist destinations in South America, with a selection of land-based tours and cruise holidays providing exceptional opportunities to observe the wildlife and landcsape.

In 1978 the Galapagos Islands were inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Geography

The archipelago is a group of volcanic islands, consisting of a total of 128 islands and rocky outcrops of various sizes, dispersed over a total area of around 45,000 square kilometres. There are 18 main islands, and 3 small islands within the total island group.

The islands are located over 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, near the Equator, and positioned within the path of the cold Humbolt current. This geographic location means the islands are a haven for wildlife, with an incredibly variety of animal and plant life. The most famous wildlife that can be spotted here includes Galapagos sea lions and seals, various species of crabs, Darwin's finches, Blue-footed boobies, Penguins, Iguanas, and the Giant Tortoises.

Time Difference

Ecuador GMT -5hrs

The Galapagos Islands GMT -6hrs

Top Attractions

The Galapagos Islands themselves are a main tourist attraction in Ecuador, and within the islands there are countless fantastic locations complete with stunning wildlife, landscapes, and beauty.

Elsewhere in Ecuador the UNESCO World Heritage city centre of Quito is a highlight containing some fantastic colonial architecture and some of the most beautiful churches in the world including the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús. Similarly the old-town centre of Cuenca is equally fascinating with incredible history and colonial architecture. Otavalo market is popular and is possibly the finest place in South America to shop for artesan crafts. Ecuador also has a fantastic Amazon region with excellent bird-watching opportunities.

Population

Only around 26,000 people can truly call the Galapagos Islands their home. The most populous city in the Galapagos Islands is Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island, with a population of 12,000 people. The capital city of the Galapagos Islands is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, which is situated on San Cristobal Island and has a population of around 7000 people. All population figures are estimates based on 2010 census.

The majority of the population (c. 75%) are metizo (combined European and Latin American descent), and most inhabitants are directly or indirectly employed in the tourism industry.

Sports

Although most of Ecuador is sport-mad, with football in particular a very popular pastime, on the Galapagos Islands the primary focus is nature, conservation, the environment, and tourism, and as such sporting opportunities are very few and far between.

Religion

Ecuador is predominantly a Catholic country, and as the Galapagos Islands are a part of Ecuador Catholicism is the most popular religion with the local population.

In the Movies and on TV

The Empress of Floreana is a 1934 silent short movie made on Floreana Island, one of the islands of the Galapagos archipelago.

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden is a 2013 documentary movie, featuring a starring cast including Cate Blanchett in voice-over roles, that documents the unsolved cases of disappeared residents of Floreana Island in the 1930's.

The 2003 movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, starring Russell Crowe, was set on the Galapagos Islands. The story of the movie involves the ship the HMS Surprise travelling to the Galapagos Islands.

Being such a famous and popular wildlife destination The Galapagos Islands are frequently featured in various wildlife and geography documentaries, including David Attenborough's "Galapagos 3D" programme from 2013.