• WorldView
  • 3 Min Read
  • 7 Sep 2021

5 Things You Didn't Know About the Galápagos Islands

Welcome to the greatest wildlife show on Earth. This far-flung archipelago and its beguiling menagerie famously stirred up Darwin’s imagination and led him to formulate his groundbreaking theory of evolution. And once you journey through these lava-sculpted islands straddling the Equator, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, you'll understand why: Practically everything you encounter here is so fascinatingly different from the rest of the world.  

 

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Each Island Is Its Own Microcosm

From lush and mountainous to barren and cacti-covered, each island offers something unique, and that often includes the wildlife. While the Galápagos boasts some of the highest endemism in the world, evolutionary changes on some islands have also created their own, exclusive sub-species. This uniqueness is what so puzzled Darwin and what will amaze you. The Volcán Alcedo giant tortoise and the San Cristobal mockingbird are two such examples, while the flightless cormorant can only be spotted on the islands of Isabela and Fernandina. Many islands also have their own plants. The largest species of prickly pear tree, for example, is found only on Santa Fe Island.

The Islands Were Once a Hideout for Pirates

Between the late 1500s and 1700s, when the Spanish Empire extended deep into South America, pirates discovered that the Galápagos Islands were the perfect safe haven: strategically situated for raiding ships along the trade routes, but sufficiently distant to escape pursuers and store their plunder. Thanks to the abundant amount of giant tortoises, there was also a steady food source waiting for them. Pirates christened Galápagos, “the Enchanted Isles” after their seemingly magical ability to vanish in mists and spit fire from mountaintops.

Darwin Only Spent 5 Weeks on 5 Islands

These are Darwin's islands, with Galápagos birds, shops, streets, landmarks, and a research station all bearing his name. Given his inextricable link with the islands, one often assumes the British naturalist spent years in the archipelago studying its iconic wildlife and venturing to a multitude of islands. In reality, he was here for just five weeks, during his 1835 voyage aboard the HMS Beagle. And he never returned. Yet, Darwin's brief visit to just five islands, was enough to inspire one of the most world-changing thoughts anyone has ever had.

People Live Here All Year-Round

If the fact that real Galapagueñas live and work in the islands hadn't crossed your mind, you're not alone. From magazine photographs to documentaries like Life on Earth, the focus when it comes to Galápagos has always been on the legendary wildlife and pristine landscapes. Yet, 30,000 humans live in this special archipelago, in specifically zoned areas spread across four inhabited islands. From shopkeepers and fishmongers in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz to the farmers in the Highlands who provide Lindblad-National Geographic ships with fresh produce, the locals rely on tourism, not only for their own livelihoods, but also to help support the conservation and protection of the islands for future generations to come. 

It's One of the World's Most Volcanically Active Places

Between 5 million years and less than 1 million years ago, magma burst through the earth’s crust and spawned a mesmerizing cluster of islands of varying ages. As oceanic archipelagos go, the Galápagos is a geological youngster. Yet, it's one of the most seismically boisterous zones with 13 active volcanos producing regular eruptions. In 2018, the Sierra Negra volcano on Isabela Island erupted spectacularly and we rerouted our ships to ensure our guests got to experience the once-in-a-lifetime show. Now, all eyes are on Fernandina, an island volcano with dramatic subterranean turbulence recorded in 2020. Thankfully for us, these eruptions may be spectacular but they are gentle—effusive, rather than explosive!