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Every year, thousands of visitors come to the Galapagos for the trip of a lifetime.
A plethora of island and cruise activities keep them busy.
Yet many of them may have time to ponder how the Galapagos got its name.

Insulae de los Galopegos

The Inca claimed to have discovered some islands in the Pacific, but it is not known for sure if they ever found their way to the Galapagos.

The first confirmed visitors to the Islands were the Spanish exploring their newly-conquered territories.  Bishop Tomás de Berlanga washed up there in 1535 en route from Panama to Peru.  The Bishop and his shipmates were not impressed.  He said the islands were worthless and barren.

Nevertheless, Berlanga’s description of iguanas, sea lions and tortoises were disseminated far and wide. He was especially attracted to the tortoises.  The ones he saw were of the saddle-backed variety, and so he nicknamed them “Galapagos” after a certain type of saddle popular during that era.  This was soon the name that became associated with the islands.

When Flemish mapmaker Abraham Ortelius published his Atlas in 1570, he referred to the islands as “Insulae de los Galopegos,” or “Islands of the Saddle-backs.”  The Islands have been referred to as “Galapagos” ever since.

galapagos six days itinerary

The Enchanted Isles

There are other names that are commonly used to refer to the archipelago.  The most famous one is “the Enchanted Isles.”  This name also dates back to the colonial period.  As Spanish sailors approached the islands, the treacherous currents and the swirling mists caused them to frequently lose sight of islands right in front of them earning them the title “enchanted.” Although enchanted places were considered menacing and ominous back then, it sounds a lot nicer today!

The Archipelago of Columbus

According to the Republic of Ecuador, the official name of the Galapagos Islands is the “Archipiélago de Colón” or the Archipelago of Columbus.  This odd name dates back to 1892, when the world was gripped with the 400th anniversary celebration of Christopher Columbus’ famous voyage of discovery.

It’s a bit absurd, really, since as Columbus never got anywhere near the islands.  Nevertheless, the “Archipelago of Columbus” became the official name.  In fact many of the islands have individual names that reflect Columbus and his voyage.  Isabela Island is named for Queen Isabela of Spain and San Cristóbal Island (St. Christopher) is in honor of Columbus himself.

Galapagos Islands - Archipelago of columbus Isabela

Visiting the Galapagos Islands means knowing about history and the unique wildlife only found in the fantastic destination, so wait no longer and start planning your next vacation! Check out current promotions and inquire with the experts today.


Galapagos Province

The Galapagos Islands make up one of Ecuador’s 24 provinces.  The islands became a province on the 18th of February, 1873Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island is the capital of the province, although the largest town is Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island.Galapagos province

Before the Galapagos Islands became a province, the islands were considered a special territory of Ecuador. The primary economic activities in the islands are based on tourism. Every year thousands of visitors from across the world visit the islands enjoying the natural wonders found in this paradise.  Fishing and agriculture are also important industries in the archipelago. Ecuador has four main geographic regions which include Amazonia, the Andes, the west coast, and the insular region.  The Galapagos Islands comprise the insular region.  The archipelago is also the main tourist destination in the country.Galapagos province

Your visit to Ecuador will doubtlessly be an experience you will never forget.  Our trip advisors can help you book a cruise or land-based tour in the Galapagos Islands.  We also invite you to explore some of the other Ecuadorian provinces as well.  Ecuador has a lot of diversity to offer.  You can see parrots in the Amazon, discover the rich cultural history of the Andes, and enjoy sunny coastal beaches.  Whatever you desire, we can help you plan your holiday!

landscape Bartolome Island

Landscape Bartolome Island


How were the Galapagos Islands formed?

The Galapagos Islands were created by volcanoes over the course of ages, born of the fires deep within the Earth’s core. However the volcanoes in the Archipelago are different. The islands sit on what is called the Nazca Plate, one of which form the Earth’s crust in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a particularity about this plate is that it does not collide with any other, which raises the question ¿if it doesn’t have any type of collision, why the volcanoes activity?iguana volcanic island

Volcanoes lava and geology are fundamental to understanding the uniqueness of Galapagos. Most people know that the inside of the Earth is made of magma, or molten rock, and that it’s very, very hot in there. So why don’t we get burned? Because Earth’s upper crust is cool and protects us from the heat. But the crust in not one big solid piece, like the coating on a cand M&M. Rahter, the crust is in the form several different pieces called “plates,” that move around and occasionally crash into one another.

The Galapagos Islands were formed by what Geologists call a “hot spot”, a place in Earth where the magma is hotter than its regular temperature. This is what happened in Galapagos (and in Hawaii and some other places on the globe). The Earth’s crust moved over the hot spot, and the resulting volcanoes formed the islands. The plate moves from west to east but the hot spot remains in one place. Therefore, the eastern Galapagos Islands such as Española and San Cristobal are the oldest ones, geologically speaking, and western islands like Fernandina and Isabela are the youngest.beach volcanic island

Current Volcanic Activity

The eastern Galapagos Islands are no longer volcanically active. Some of them are very old, and have nearly been reclaimed by the sea. Genovesa, for example, is a small island and it’s all that remains of a once-enormous volcano. It’s no longer active: in fact, you may get to snorkel in the volcano’s crater!

The western islands, on the other hand, are still quite active, as they are still over the hot spot. The volcanoes on Isabela and Fernandina still erupt regularly.

Recent Volcanic Activity:

In April of 2009, La Cumbre Volcano on Fernandina erupted, sending smoke, gas and ash high into the sky and endangering thousands of animals including Galapagos Marine Iguanas and Penguins. Although the volcano was erupting, visits to the other side of Fernandina Island continued!

In May of 2008, Cerro Azul on Isabela erupted briefly.

In October of 2005, Sierra Negra (Isabela) erupted, shooting lava and ash into the sky. It had been dormant since 1978.

One noteworthy volcanic event took place in 1954, when a sudden volcanic event caused the underwater geography off of Isabela Island to shift. As a result, Urbina Bay was created when a section of the ocean floor was suddenly pushed above water. Reports from ship’s captains said that the area reeked for weeks of dead fish and marine life. It happened so fast that the sea animals could not escape! It is possible to visit Urbina Bay and you can still see some coral formations there along the trail.

Is the Volcanic Activity Dangerous?Sierra Negra galapagos

Not really. Most of the visitor sites in Galapagos are far away from any volcano that might be dangerous. They are dangerous for the animals, however: giant tortoises occasionally get burned by lava or hot ash, and other animals may lose habitat. The rare Galapagos pink land Iguanas, which inhabit Isabela’s Wolf volcano, are considered at-risk because its numbers and habitat are so small that an inopportune eruption could wipe them out.

Most Galapagos visitors have come from around the world to see the unfearful wildlife or to dive in the crystal blue Galapagos waters. Some have come to follow in the footsteps of famed naturalist Charles Darwin, who visited Galapagos in 1835, and from where he got the inspiration to write his Theory of evolution. But not as many know that the geology of the islands is as fascinating as the wildlife.

The Galapagos Islands, a place where you can discover pristine wildlife, geology, and uniqueness, a place like you have never been before, and that you will not forget for the rest of your life. Contact us today and let one of our Galapagos experts guide you through planning a vacation that will turn you into a story teller.galapagos volcano pink iguana


The “Galapagos Experience”: Truly Unique

In a letter to his sister upon a visit to South America, Charles Darwin wrote:
Think of the Andes; the luxuriant forest of the Guayaquil, the islands of the South Sea & New South Wales. How many magnificent and characteristic views…Galapagos Experience What fine opportunities for geology and studying the infinite host of living beings.
Opportunities for geology, magnificent views, and an infinite host of living beings: This is exactly what visitors to the Galapagos Islands encounter with an eager traveler’s spirit; a spirit that encompasses the appetite for an enlightening adventure, the desire to see something for the first time, the search for an unfamiliar world. These sentiments correspond to the offering of the unique “Galapagos Experience.” Famous for its incredible biodiversity and home of Charles Darwin’s paramount observations, the archipelago enchants visitors year after year with its volcanic landscape, intriguing history, and fascinating wildlife.

Formed between 3 million and 5 million years ago, the Galapagos Islands are relatively young. Most of the islands were created when an individual large volcano’s eruptions caused basaltic lava to flow expanding its shores. The island of Isabela, however, is the result of six different volcanoes that flowed into one another. Today, these islands boast a variety of landscapes: the juxtaposition of dark volcanic rock and extensive white sandy beaches, the contrast of a burnt-orange terrain against a silvery brush; From the luscious green Scalasia forest to the bright blue surrounding ocean, the islands display extraordinary landscapes that dazzle the eyes of visitors and locals alike.

Galapagos ExperienceWhen Charles Darwin arrived on the islands in 1835 aboard the Beagle, he observed many characteristics of the wildlife. Isolated from other ecosystems, the animals have adapted uniquely to varying environments on each island. Iguanas and lizards vary depending on the island, as do finches and other species of birds. Reddish-orange Sally-Foot Crabs decorate the dark black volcanic terrain resembling hot red lava among the rocks; Colonies of sea lions and nurseries of sea lion pups provide tourists with close-up observation of these fascinating mammals; Marine life tantalizes snorkelers with sightings of sharks, octopi, ray, and other colorful tropical fish; Groups of iguanas lounge lazily in the sun and Booby birds, albatrosses, and hawks offer unique bird-watching experiences. The animals of the Galapagos live in an enthralling harmony among one another, unperturbed by human company.

The human history of the islands and presence of Ecuadorian culture contributes to the “Galapagos Experience”. In 1535 Tomas de Berlanga, the Bishop of Panama, discovered the islands by chance on his way to Peru when currents pushed his ship off course. Although he did not name the islands, he coined the name “Galapagos” after the giant tortoises. When English pirates arrived to the islands, they began to name individual islands after famous captains as well as English kings and aristocracy. For this reason the islands often have two names, an English name and a Spanish name. Later, Norwegian fisherman and German philosophers were attracted to the island, most of who were accompanied by strange fates. The islands became part of Ecuador in 1832 and during World War II were used as an American naval base, leaving abandoned structures and ruins that can be seen today.

Galapagos ExperienceA province of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are home to over 20,000 Ecuadorians who maintain their native culture and the integrity of the islands. In addition to the fascinating nature of the islands, Ecuadorian cuisine and customs also provide visitors with an enriching cultural experience.

Rightfully nicknamed “Las Encantadas” (“The Enchanted”) by Spanish explorers, the captivating islands continue to seduce travelers who marvel at the alluring landscape and wildlife. The “Galapagos Experience” is a truly unique experience that charms travelers and satisfies quests for enlightenment and adventure.


What Makes the Galapagos Islands so Unique?

A “must-visit destination,” “undiscovered gem,” “expert pick”—these are some of the descriptions travel pros are using to shine a light on one of the globe’s best-kept secrets: Ecuador. The country has seen a boom in tourism over the last decade as more and more visitors fall in love with its rich indigenous culture, colonial mountain towns and, of course, the jewel in this already shimmering crown: the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago, national park and U.N. World Heritage Site wholly unique to South America and a singular haven for eco-tourism adventure. So what makes these tiny volcanic islands so sought-after? Here are just a few reasons.arco darwin

The flora and fauna

The Galapagos are a naturalist’s dream, filled as they are with a diverse array of plant and animal life. This includes such exotic flora and fauna as giant cacti, finches, flightless cormorants, and the famed giant tortoise, whose average life span of 100 years makes it the longest living vertebrate on earth. Rumor has it that there may even be a “great-grandpa” tortoise that hatched around the time Darwin arrived at the islands—in 1835.

But the magic doesn’t exist only on land. The seas around the islands are a protected marine reserve featuring myriad aquatic species. Coral life, sharks, tropical penguins (the only such warm-weather penguins in the world), marine iguanas and sea lions are just some of the creatures you’ll encounter. Divers here will find that many of these animals are so used to human contact that they’ll happily frolic alongside them as they make their way through the great underwater ecosphere.

turtle sea

The geology

The Galapagos are a marvel of geological activity. These volcanic islands are relatively new in the grand scheme of things (Isabella and Fernandina, the biggest islands, are said to be less than one million years old). Their formation occurred on the sea floor, at which point three tectonic plates converge and produce geological processes that continue to this day.

The history

The “theory of natural selection.” Darwin himself probably didn’t realize that disembarking the H.M.S Beagle and setting foot on the Galapagos in 1835 would have such far-reaching implications. These islands became a great laboratory used by a single human naturalist in order to further our understanding of the origins of the human species. Not a bad legacy overall.

The ecosystem

The Galapagos’ isolated geographical location (some 605 miles from the South American mainland) has allowed it to become the haven for diverse animal and marine life that it is. But this ecosystem is a fragile one. For centuries all elements of these islands worked in harmony, but with human encroachment (the islands receive some 170,00 tourists each year) and illegal fishing, this delicate balance is being threatened. Protection rests with the good folks at the Galapagos National Park Service.

But there is still a way to enjoy this marvel of Mother Nature responsibly and in a way, so it ensures the Galapagos will exist for posterity. So take advantage of the moment and get your free travel quote today. The Galapagos islands are waiting.

galapagos ecosystem

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Written by Galapagos Travel Center
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