The Galapagos Archipelago of volcanic islands is distributed on either side of the equator in the Pacific Ocean, surrounding the centre of the western hemisphere, 906 km west of continental Ecuador. The islands can be reached by a short flight from Quito, Ecuador. The Galapagos Archipelago has a population of slightly over 25,000 and is part of Ecuador’s national park system, in which 97 per cent of the settlement are protected land and the remaining 3 per cent are specifically zoned rural and urban areas on five islands. The fifth island only has an airport, tourism dock, fuel containment and military facilities. With 13 main islands, Galapagos is situated in a geological hotspot where the earth’s crust is melted by a mantle plume, creating a chain of volcanic islands.
Due to the isolation of the islands and the late discovery by humans, along with the lack of predators, the Galapagos islands has created a unique ecosystem that showcases the beauty of evolution. Galapagos’ wildlife is known for their diversity and their fearlessness to human visitors, allowing curious onlookers to get close to the animals. Galapagos is home to the islands’ most emblematic residents– the giant tortoise, which can grow up to 1.5m in length and weigh up to 417kg, as well as the world’s only oceanic lizard, the Marine Iguana.
Rise In Tourism
Fun Fact: According to statistics from Galápagos National Park, the number of visitors to the islands increased by 39 percent between 2007 and 2016 to 225,000 from 161,000.
Many of the islands’ birds are native to the Galapagos, such as the Galapagos Penguin, lava gull and the Flightless Cormorant, which simply stopped flying due to the lack of predators in the islands. Blue-foot boobies and frigate birds also make the Galapagos islands their home. There are currently over 400 species of fish and 12 species of shark, rays and morays. With the vast ocean that surrounds the islands, marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions frequent the waters.
Beautiful and Bountiful
Most flights operating in and out of Galapagos still fly to the island of Baltra, an official Ecuadorian military base. Just east of Santiago, Bartolomé island is one of the most photographed islands in all of the Galapagos islands. The island is an extinct volcano with a variety of formations including a tuff cone known as the Pinnacle Rock.
Española Island is one of the oldest of the Galapagos islands, where its Marine Iguanas are the only ones that change colours during the breeding season. The steep cliff on the island is perfect runaways for large marine birds and hideouts for reptiles. The island has two spots popular among visitors. Bahía Gardner, which has a lovely beach for swimming and snorkelling. There’s also Punta Suárez for wildlife viewing.
Fernandina Island is the youngest and third largest island of the Galapagos islands. Like the other islands, Fernandina formed by the Galapagos hotspot and is an active shield volcano that has been erupting since 2009. Due to the recent volcanic activity, the island doesn’t present much of plant life. Uniquely, the island is home to the Flightless Cormorant together with Galapagos penguins, pelicans and sea lions. At Punta Espinosa, the stretch of black lava rocks is home to hundreds of Marine Iguanas. Visitors of the Fernandina island can only be taken to see the outskirts of the crater, for safety reasons.
Similarly, to Fernandina, Genovesa is also an active shield volcano. Though there are no historical eruptions from the island, there are lava flows on the flanks of the volcano. Genovesa is also nicknamed “bird island” because of the large variety of bird species that nests on the island. Some of the birds that make Genovesa its home is the red-footed boobies, petrels, swallow-tailed gulls and an abundance of frigate birds. If you want to view a colony of birds, you can hike up the steep path of Prince Philip’s Steps to view the plateau of bird life.
The largest island and one of the youngest in the Galapagos, Isabela island straddles the equator and happens to be one of the most volcanically active places in the world. Apart from its unique geology, Isabela also has an interesting flora and fauna. The island is home to more wild tortoises than all the other islands. Isabela’s notable topography have caused several sub-species of tortoises to develop as well.
Fun Fact: There have been 13 volcanic eruptions among the islands over the last 100 years, and the most recent eruption in May of 2015.
A small island near the Baltra island, North Seymour is home to a rather large population of blue-foot boobies, swallow-tailed gulls and is also the hosts of one of the largest populations of magnificent frigate birds. North Seymour also has a growing population of Galapagos land iguanas that were trans-located back in the 1930s.
San Cristóbal is the easternmost island of the Galapagos and geologically the oldest. At the south-western tip of the island lies the capital of the Galapagos archipelago, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, and is home to the only freshwater lake in all of the islands, El Junco. This led the island to the early settlement of San Cristóbal and is the second most populated after Santa Cruz. There are two popular nearby dive sites: “Kicker Rock” is part of the remains of a lava cone, and “Isla Lobos”(sea lion island) which is also a nesting site for blue-foot boobies.
Right in the middle of the archipelago, Santa Cruz island is the second-largest island after Isabela and has the most populated urban area in the islands. The island’s points of interests include Black Turtle Cove and Cerro Dragón. The Charles Darwin Research Station and the headquarters of the Galapagos National Park Service are located here, both operating a tortoise breeding centre where young tortoises are hatched, reared, and prepared to be reintroduced to their natural habitat.
Many of the environmental issues that are being felt throughout the islands originate from humans, visitors can minimise any form of negative impact by adopting the “leave no trace” policy and by following the park rules. The park service does a remarkable job regulating licensing of guides and dealing with conservation problems while receiving only 25 per cent of the USD 100 (SGD 138) National Park entry fee. When you stop at the Charles Darwin Research Station, feel free to leave a donation to help them with efforts like the eradication programme, which serves to repopulate species to like the Giant Tortoise by eradicating human-introduced animals.
For more information visit www.galapagos.org.