Galapagos Islands

Ecuador, Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Archipelago is a unique world heritage. Situated on the equator some 600 miles off the coast of South America. There are 13 large islands and six small, which were formed by oceanic volcanoes some three to five million years ago.

The islands are volcanic in origin and several volcanoes in the west of the archipelago are still very active. Galapagos is a province of the Republic of Ecuador and five of the islands are inhabited, with a total population of around 18,000 people. The capital is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island, although the largest town is Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. Indeed, the Galapagos islands are considered to be one of the most active volcanic areas in the world.

The Galapagos Islands is world-renowned for its unique and fearless wildlife - much of which was inspiration for Charles Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection. The islands are therefore very popular amongst natural historians, both professional and amateur. Giant tortoises, sea lions, penguins, marine iguanas and different bird species can all be seen and approached. The landscape of the islands is relatively barren and volcanic, but beautiful nonetheless. The highest mountain amongst the islands is Volcán Wolf on Isla Isabela, 1707 m (5600ft) high.

The Galapagos Islands have been a national park of Ecuador since 1959. Organized tourism here began in the 1960s. To conserve this wealth of sea-life, the Galapagos Marine Resources Reserve, with waters totaling 27,000 square miles, was signed into law in 1986. The law protects marine life 15 nautical miles offshore.

Islands

Baltra: The small island of Baltra is usually the first island most visitors to the Galapagos put their foot on. Home to main airport, this island sits just 27 km off the northern coast of Isla Santa Cruz and has no real tourist attractions. Baltra is the only island of the Galápagos which is not part of the national park, but navy territory.

Bartolome: Bartolome, a desolate island with few plants is the most visited and most photographed island in the Galapagos. The island consists of an extinct volcano and a variety of red, orange, green, and glistening black volcanic formations. The Island is famous for Pinnacle Rock, a towering spearheaded obelisk that rises from the ocean’s edge and is the best known landmark in the Galapagos.

Española: Española, also known as Hood, is one of the smaller Galapagos Islands, measuring 7 by 14 km and reaching an elevation of just over 200 m. Española's remote location helped make it a unique jewel with a large number of endemic creatures. Secluded from the other islands, wildlife on Española adapted to the island's environment and natural resources. Marine Iguana's on Española are the only ones that change color during breeding season.

Fernandina: Located on the west side of Isabela Island, it is the western most island in the Galapagos and is one of the most volcanically active. The main volcano is 1,500 meters high with a diameter of 6.5 kms and a depth of about 800 meters. Punta Espinoza is visited to see the black lava rock, mangroves, a variety of herons, Yellow Warblers, Pelicans, Frigates, the Mangrove Finch, petrels, shearwaters and Marine Iguanas.

Floreana: Floreana has the longest human history in the archipelago and even has a post office, although mail is only delivered from the island by kind visitors who take the letters with them when they leave and deliver them free of charge. Flamingos and bird life in the highlands are the most significant wildlife.

Genovesa: Genovesa Island, also known as Tower, is a small, low-lying island with a land area of 14 square kilometres and an elevation of approximately 76 metres. It is one of the northernmost islands and therefore one of the most isolated of the main islands visited by tourists.

Isabela: Six volcanoes make up Isabela and the lava flows form their various eruptions have made it the largest in the archipelago. Five of the volcanoes are active and each has a sub-species of giant tortoise. Other diverse wildlife can be found on the island including Flamingos, Penguins, Flightless Cormorants, Pelicans, and Marine Iguanas.

San Cristobal: This island is on of the most popular in the chain and the second most developed behind Santa Cruz. The beaches on the island are home to many sea lion colonies and frigate bird nesting grounds, while the waters off shore hold some of the best surfing waves in the Galapagos.

Santa Cruz: Santa Cruz, also called Indefatigable Island, is located in the center of the Galapagos archipelago. It also the center of human activity in the Galapagos, since the National Park Headquarters, the Darwin Research Station, and the largest settlement in the Galapagos, Puerto Ayora, are all located on Academy Bay on the south side of the island.

Santa Fe: Named after a city in Spain, has an area of 24 square kilometres (9 mi²) and a maximum altitude of 259 metres (850 ft). Santa Fe hosts a forest of Opuntia cactus, which are the largest of the archipelago, and Palo Santo.

Santiago: The island, which consists of two overlapping volcanoes, has an area of 585 km² and a maximum altitude of 907 metres, atop the northwestern shield volcano. The volcano in the island's southwest erupted along a linear fissure, and is much lower. The oldest lava flows on the island date back to 750,000 years ago. The island unfortunately has populations of introduced rats and goats which have damaged the environment, in particular for the giant tortoises.

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