5 Interesting Facts About the Galapagos Islands You May Not Know
Located in the Pacific Ocean about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are truly a sight to be seen. From the incredible variety of wildlife and stunning geological structures, to the turquoise waters and amazing beaches, these islands are truly an example of how the world was without humans.
People from all over the world come to the islands to experience the incredible wildlife and the stunning landscapes. Whether you’re a person that loves adventure and excursions, or you just want to observe the wildlife from the beach or boat, Galapagos is quickly rising to the top of everyone’s travel bucket list.
Thinking about taking a trip with the whole family? This is definitely a region you’ll want to consider. Here at MT Sobek we offer a variety of different trips to the Galapagos Islands, many of which are catered around a family adventure. We’re sure that once you step foot in the islands and introduce your children to a 3D educational and fun experience, you’ll want to visit islands more like the Galapagos again.
Now that we’ve got you thinking about the natural beauty of the islands, let’s take a look at some interesting facts about the Galapagos Islands that you may not know.
1. How Many Islands Make Up The Galapagos?
The Galapagos is what’s known as an archipelago – a chain or cluster of islands. And while the number of actual islands or islets is always changing due to volcanic activity the number of islands has been static for thousands of years at around 20. But that doesn’t mean that all of these islands are inhabitable or significant.
Of the 20, or so, islands within the Galapagos, and approximately 60 islets and rocks, only about 18 of them are considered major, which means they have a land area of at least 1 square kilometer.
|Espanola||North Seymour Island||Santa Fe|
Even though there are upwards of 18 major islands that make up the Galapagos, only two of them cater to inbound air travel, San Cristobal and Baltra. To visit other islands in the region, the main mode of transportation is by boat, however there is an airport on Puerto Villamil (Isabela) that caters to local flights.
If you really want to experience all that the Galapagos Islands have to offer, we highly suggest booking a small cruise adventure that will take you through the islands. It’s the best way to explore the incredible environment as well as the amazing wildlife.
However, if you’re not looking to spend your vacation on a boat, there are plenty of incredible land-based programs that will allow you to experience the islands as well.
2. Who Owns the Galapagos Islands?
Similar to the way that the Hawaiian Islands are a part of the United States, the Galapagos Islands are a part of the neighboring country of Ecuador, located in South America. Peeking out of the Pacific Ocean, about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos were first discovered by a Spaniard by the name of Fray Tomas de Berlanga in 1535, but wouldn’t officially appear on a map until about 1570.
Fray Tomas de Berlanga discovered the islands as he sailed to Peru, but was carried off course when the winds could no longer support his ships travels. He would land on the Galapagos Islands on March 10, 1535.
The Spanish would eventually give up on the islands due to the harsh landscape and the fact that they were isolated from any nearby land masses, at which point Ecuador would send a crew to survey the land and eventually annex the land in 1832 naming them the Archipelago of Ecuador.
The name “Galapagos” comes from the original Spanish empire that dubbed the island “Insulae de los Galopegos” (Islands of the Tortoises). And even though the official name today is “Archipielago de Colon” named after Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas, it is still more commonly known as “Galapagos Islands”.
For centuries, coming to the Galapagos was a risky business: currents and winds made the navigation easy to the Galapagos, but the lack of fresh water and the great difficulty to return to the mainland kept people away from the islands. Only the perspective of finding giant tortoises as a source of food was a lure to sailors to risk their lives for such a trip. Thankfully, due to more modern methods of travel, it is much easier to reach the islands today.
3. The Majority of the Galapagos is a National Park
In an effort to conserve and protect the ecosystems within the islands, in 1959, for the 100th anniversary of the appearance of “On the Origin of Species”, the Ecuadorian government declared 97% of land a National Park, while, in 1998, the surrounding waters were named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The Marine reserve, with its current size, is one of the largest marine parks in the world covering 51,000 sq. miles. By doing this, it allows Ecuador to protect the island and preserve the natural landscape as well as the wildlife that call the islands home.
Outside of humans themselves, there are a number of different threats to the environment on the islands. Various plant species and animals that have been brought to the islands, whether purposely or accidentally, have been overrunning the native plants and animals and causing issues. Many of the introduced animals have begun to cause problems with the native species, and since there are no natural predators for these new animals, it’s hard to keep their population in check. And the same goes for the plant life.
As of today there are 500 native plant species on the islands, compared to over 700 introduced species. So as the islands become more popular, the outside threat from these different, invasive species, is another reason why it’s important for these lands to be protected.
To date, they are still considered the most well preserved archipelago in the world.
Because of the influx in tourism, and money, to the islands, conservation efforts have increased throughout the years. Before tourism, the giant tortoise population on the island was collapsing, and many other species populations were declining because of introduced species, as we mentioned above.
With the introduction of tourism, and the money and attention those travelers bring, it has been critical in the reversal of the extinction path of many of the most iconic species of plants and animals found in the Galapagos Islands.
So while tourists and locals do bring with them their own set of problems for the land and animals, in many ways the islands are better now than they were 40 years ago.
4. The First Tourists Came to the Galapagos in 1934
It may sound like tourism on the Galapagos Islands has been around for centuries, but in fact, the first tourists to the islands visited in 1934, less than 100 years ago.
The first tourist visitors to the islands began arriving for day trips as part of their cruise experiences. It would take until 1969 for the first regular air service to begin flying to the islands.
Before then you would have to charter a boat or use a private vessel as a way to travel to the islands.
MT Sobek was the second US company to begin trips to the islands in 1970, which we continue to offer to this day.
Since then, tourism to the islands has been booming with over 200,000 people visiting the island each year, over the course of the last few years. But when compared to other major tourist destinations, like Hawaii (which accommodates up to 10,000,000 visitors per year), the Galapagos still maintains that intimate and nature-centric island feel.
And with the influx of new travelers wanting to experience the beauty of the islands comes the danger of destroying the native life that thrives there. But by limiting the number of tourists that can visit per year and making most of the land a National Park, conservation efforts have been very successful over the years.
Tourism on the island is not going to slow down anytime soon. It’s become an extremely popular destination over the last few years and is expected to continue to thrive.
5. When is the Best Time to Visit the Galapagos Islands?
The truth is, any time of year is a great time to visit the Galapagos.
If you’re looking to book a trip, you won’t have to worry about the weather or temperature, or have any concerns about daylight. Since the islands are located on the equator, partly in the northern hemisphere and partly in the southern, the temperature remains fairly consistent.
You can expect temperatures ranging from the high 70’s to the mid 80’s on land, while the ocean temperatures, and along the coastlines, usually remains in the 70’s. So no matter what time of year you decide to visit, temperature should not be a problem.
As far as the weather variations, December to May is considered the “wet season” for the islands, but even though this is when they receive the most rainfall, the rain moves out almost as quickly as it moves in. So you may experience quick bursts of heavy rain for a short amount of time, and then it’s over.
The dry season runs from June to November which will bring in slightly cooler temperatures and more cloud cover, with a chance of a slight sprinkle here and there.
Yet no matter what time of year you choose to visit, you are sure to see some incredible wildlife.
For those seeking to increase your chances of seeing a particular animal during your stay, there are certain months that are better than others for many of the species.
January is when you’ll find the adult male marine iguanas on Espanola’s Island become brightly colored to help attract mates. While the sea turtles begin to dig holes in the sand to lay their eggs, you may also witness the hatching of some of the giant tortoise eggs.
In February the greater flamingos begin their nesting on Floreana Island, while the penguins migrate away from Bartholome Island towards the cooler waters of Isabella and Fernandina. And while the Nazca boobies are ending their nesting season, the marine iguanas on Santa Cruz island are just beginning theirs.
March brings the waved albatross’ to the islands with their incredible black wings and the frigate birds begin their mating season on San Cristobal and Genovesa islands. This is also a great time for snorkeling as the water temperatures usually hover in the upper 70’s.
In April the sea turtles, marine iguanas and land iguanas begin their nesting, while the waved albatrosses begin their courtship.
And May is when the waved albatross lay their eggs on Espanola Island. Blue-footed boobies stamp back and forth across the islands with their big blue flipper feet as they begin their courtship and the Galapagos sea lions begin their mating season, which is quite a sight to see.
June is probably your best chance of getting a glimpse of the whale sharks and humpback whales off the island coasts. The male frigate birds also being their courtship by inflating their red pouches, which is beautiful to watch.
July starts the beginning of the sea lion and lava lizard mating season. The greater flamingos being their courtship “dance”, and whale sharks can be spotted near Darwin and Wolf islands.
In August, the sea lions begin to give birth, which is absolutely incredible, while the frigate birds’ eggs begin to hatch revealing their fuzzy little chicks. The giant tortoises make their way back into the highlands after laying their eggs and the courtship of the Galapagos hawks begins on Santiago and Espanola islands.
September is a great time to the baby sea lions migrating around the islands. The Galapagos penguins will begin their courtship on Bartolome Island and continue through December. And near the northwest islands, humpback wales and whale sharks can often be seen migrating.
As October nears, you’ll begin to catch a glimpse of the blue-footed booby chicks on Espanola and Isabella islands. You’ll also witness lava herons beginning to nest, while the Galapagos fur sea lions begin their mating season.
November provides another great opportunity to see whale sharks in the northwest of the islands, as well as witnessing the Galapagos sea lion pups being born.
As the year ends, and December arrives, the baby giant tortoises being to hatch, while the young waved albatross begin to migrate away from the islands. Land iguanas, sea lions and fur sea lions begin mating, and it’s a great time to observe land birds such as finches and doves.
The Galapagos Islands have quickly become a popular destination to visit, and for good reason. Between the incredible weather, and amazing plants and wildlife, it has something for almost everyone. And no matter what time of year you decide to visit, the sights will always amaze you.
This is a destination that the whole family can enjoy and here at MT Sobek we’ve got a variety of great adventure trips that cater to all people.
Visit our Galapagos Islands Adventures page for more information about the islands, the experiences you can have, and the various trips we offer.