Who Lives in the Galapagos?

Many are surprised to know the Galapagos are indeed inhabited. Even though the archipelago is a National Park, some of the biggest islands are not only home to the Galapagos flora and fauna, but to humans. So who lives in the Galapagos? Though it might seem troubling to some, you might find some peace of mind in knowing that only 3% of the islands’ territory is inhabited and those very strict laws regarding new settlers were put in place years ago in order to control the population’s growth. The last census, which was carried out in 2010, estimated their population to be at around 25,000, of which around 12,000 live in Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz Island), 6,700 live in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristobal Island), 2,000 live in Puerto Villamil (Isabela Island), and around 200 live over in Puerto Velasco Ibarra (Floreana Island). Locals of the islands are known as galapagueños and most of them came from the Ecuadorian mainland, and you will find they are simple, kind, and joyful people.

Ecuadorian Colonos (Settlers)

It was at the beginning of the 19th century that Ecuador began placing several small colonies throughout the Galapagos, more as a point of claiming them as their own territory rather than actually wanting to live there. So desolate and harsh were the islands that Ecuador ended up using the islands primarily as penal colonies once they were fully recognized as a part of Ecuador.

El Progreso led by Manuel J. Cobos on San Cristobal Island and the Wall of Tears on Isabela Island are just some examples of the depressing institutions that were put in place by a despot and the government, respectively.

By the 1950’s there were no longer any penal colonies on the Islands, but many native islanders can trace his or her roots to these convicts.

Galapagos Nighttime
Animals Can Still Be Seen At Night. Photo By: Anne And David Via Flickr.

General Jose de Villamil – leader of Ecuador’s independence movement – started his own colony down in Floreana which consisted mostly of deserters from the Ecuadorian army and convicts. As a group, they subsisted mostly off what farming they could manage on the arid lands of the Galapagos, often times selling or trading whatever excess food they had to pass ships.

Nowadays, the native Islanders of Galapagos are spread out throughout four (and only four) substantial towns on the islands of Isabela, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Floreana. These are economic hotspots that primarily depend on fishing and tourism. Galapagueños also subsist on their own forms of agriculture and, recently, their own coffee.

The Salasacas

At the end of the century, the Salasacas indigenous group began making their way to Galapagos from the mainland, settling down in the most populated of islands of the archipelago and forming their own small communities. They are an ethnic group from the Andean region of Ecuador and keep almost entirely to themselves inside their closed communities on the islands, speaking only Kichwa and making use of their own exclusive schools.

European Descendants

Beginning in the late 1920’s, the Galapagos became a destination for a rather unlikely group of settlers: Norwegians. In 1907, Norwegian sailors that were shipping coal from Australia to Panama ended up having to abandon ship after a catastrophic incident. They ended up on Floreana Island at first, then San Cristobal and finally Guayaquil – from which point their romanticized stories of the Galapagos “tropics” diffused out into the world (especially in Norway) and managed to inspire the wanderlust of many. It was only a matter of time before a substantial group of adventurous Norwegians took it upon themselves to jump on the hype train and find out what the islands where all about it.

Most of them, however, didn’t last. They came to the quick realization that the islands were nowhere near what the stories had depicted and packed up and headed back home. Only a couple of families remain to this day.

A handful of Germans happened to coincide with this influx of Norwegians, the most famous of which are the Angermeyers and the Wittmers.

A Peaceful Coexistence!

Locals who have been lucky enough to grow or be born here have come to love and respect this magical place. They have grown used to sharing the space with the original Galapagos settlers – the unique, endemic and native wildlife and vegetation. Not to mention, they immensely respect the strict Galapagos National Park rules, often times even acting as unofficial park rangers whenever they see tourists straying from the paths or attempting to touch the animals. Even though the archipelago’s first settlers were not aware of the fragility of the environment they were starting to inhabit, education has played a very important role in creating a collective consciousness within Galapagos society. During your Galapagos cruise, you will be able to exchange experiences with local people, be it with the naturalist guides and staff onboard or the locals on the very islands themselves. So don’t miss out on this wonderful opportunity to learn from the residents of Galapagos and get swept away by their kindness and curiosity!

Fish Market On Santa Cruz Island In Galapagos.
Fish Market On Santa Cruz Island In Galapagos. Photo Credits: Michael Mc Cullough Via Flickr.

Updated:May 8, 2023

Published:October 2, 2017


Machu Picchu & Galapagos Islands Tour 2024 Package: 12 days / Quito, Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu / From USD 9,598 per person




Condé Nast Traveler ONLINE

This small, secret rooftop of the restored Casa Gangotena mansion peers over Plaza San Francisco in the center of Quito’s colonial Old Town, the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Order a Cedrón Spritz, a refreshing mix of rum, lemon, sparkling wine, and fresh lemon verbena (cedrón) syrup and leaf, then revel in the mesmerizing, real-time montage of daily life in Ecuador’s capital as it parades past.

National Geographic Traveller

A Font of information, Klaus has spent decades in the field, leading tours in the Amazon, Andes and Galapagos Islands. He hung up his guiding boots a few years back and now creates itineraries for the tour operator, Metropolitan Touring. Adrift in the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from mainland South America, Galapagos is one of the most biodiverse locales on Earth.

Cruise Critic

Santa Cruz II is a replacement for the much-loved Santa Cruz, which plied the waters of the Galapagos for 36 years. It is not a new ship; it was built in 2002 and sailed as Mare Australis under the Australis cruise brand, operating expedition cruises around Cape Horn and to Antarctica. Metropolitan Touring bought the ship in 2015 and completely refurbished it, launching it as Santa Cruz II in October 2015.

Telegraph Ultra Travel: 50 Greatest Hotels in the World

When this modern, minimalist, glass-walled jungle lodge opened in 2012, it changed the accommodation game in South America. Arquitect Alfredo Ribadeneira’s “protective cocoon” would impress in a modern city; in the depths of an Andean cloudforest, it is wild, audacious and beautiful. Though only 70 miles from Quito, Maspi Lodge sits in splendid isolation, perched on a cliff at the end of an unsealed road.

Terms and Conditions

Itinerario de 5 días / 4 noches: Basado en la tarifa regular (4214 USD + impuestos por persona)
Itinerario de 7 días / 6 noches: Basado en la tarifa regular (5672 USD + impuestos por persona)
No reembolsable. Aplica únicamente para residentes ecuatorianos en nuevas reservas directas realizadas, hasta el 30 de junio del 2022, con un ejecutivo de ventas del hotel. Válido para estadías hasta el 31 de agosto de 2022. No puede ser combinada con otros descuentos, promociones u ofertas. El descuento no aplica para otros servicios. El precio no incluye recargo de combustible de $20 por noche de crucero.

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