20 Fun Facts about the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are famous for the diverse plant and animal life found both on land and in the surrounding seas. And, with more than 400 species of fish, some of the most unique birds on the planet, and an iconic collection other native and endemic Galapagos wildlife, visiting the islands can feel like you’re literally stepping into a National Geographic-style documentary. In actuality, a visit to this remakable archipelago may be a lot more viable than you think. Here are a number of interesting facts about the Galapagos Islands to pique your curiosity.
1. 97 % of the Galapagos is a national park
These “Enchanted Isles”, located about 600 mi (970 km) off the coast of Ecuador, are incredibly significant in terms of scientific research. Thankfully, the Galapagos National Park, established over 60 years ago through Presidential decree, has taken the lead in facilitating these important studies whose conclusions have helped guide conservation and protection efforts in the region. This is a big deal because 97% of the islands land mass have been declared a national park, and the surrounding waters have been named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Both the park and the marine reserve are protected by Ecuador and are largely uninhabited. The Galapagos National Park charges an entrance fee from all visitors to the islands (currently USD 100). The remaining 3% of land areas, outside of the national park, are home to roughly 30,000 people.
2. Galapagos has active volcanos
There have been several volcanic eruptions in the islands over the last 100 years; the most recent being that of the Sierra Negra volcano on the island of Isabela in 2018, raising concerns about the endemic species of pink iguanas found there. Fortunately, their habitat on the northwest side of the island appears to have been unaffected. Watching a volcanic eruption is one of the most thrilling and surreal experiences; it is an important part of island formation and one of the most fascinating examples of geology at work.
3. The archipelago is an expansive chain
The archipelago that is the Galapagos Islands is comprised of 20 islands, 42 islets, and over 250 rocks.
4. Three varieties of colorful boobies (seabirds)
Boobies belong to the gannet group (Sulidae). They are perhaps the most popular of all seabirds because they occupy some curious habitats and have colorful webbed feet. Red-footed boobies, use the branches of trees and bushes as nesting areas, while blue-footed boobies and Nazca boobies nest along the ground, a little further inland. Their distinctive diets are responsible for the pigmentation in their feet.
5. Penguins in the Northern Hemisphere?!?
The Galapagos hugs the equator, which is why one might consider this place tropical. However, the islands’ climate is unique thanks to the intersection of various marine and air currents. A piece of the archipelago (along the northern coast of Isabela) happens to be the only place in the Northern Hemisphere where you can see penguins in their natural habitat. The Galapagos penguin is the second smallest species of its kind and is typically observed on the western islands of Isabela and Fernandina. Some colonies can be found within the central islands and as far south as Floreana.
6. Marine iguanas are excellent swimmers
Nearly 20% of the marine life in the islands is endemic to the area; this includes marine iguanas. These are the only lizards in the world who enjoy water so much that they’ve learned how to swim in it! They feed almost entirely on seaweed (algae).
7. Any time is a great time to visit
Located near the equator, the islands experience a year-round temperate climate. There are, however, two markedly different seasons: a hot season, which sees warmer, humid weather from December through May, and a dry season, which is slightly cooler and extends from June through November. Depending on the season, the islands are either lush, green, and tropical or slightly barren, colorful, and arid. The islands see more rainfall in the hot season, which also features calmer seas and slightly warmer ocean temperatures around 79°F (26°C). Meanwhile, the dry season experiences southeast trade winds, which provide a wonderful breeze and signal an increase in marine activity.
Any time of year is a great time to visit the Galapagos Islands. Sometimes there are some amazing deals on packages and, occasionally, even some discounted rates. It’s always a good idea to examine what you get when booking a package as they can represent an important savings by including a number of accommodations, meals, transportation, and activities that, when purchased separately, can be far more expensive.
8. The amount of daylight remains the same all year-round
Another cool feature of the Galapagos Islands is that the days and nights are equal in length, so you’ll have plenty of chances to see the diurnal and nocturnal animals. Because of its tropical location, there is no need for daylight savings. Throughout the year, the Galapagos Islands see an average of 12 hours of sunlight each day.
9. Long live the Galapagos giant tortoise
The average Galapagos giant tortoise can live for well over a century. Their longevity is the highest of any vertebrate on land. Seeing them in the wild is truly something unique.
10. Swimming with sea turtles
The green sea turtle is an ancient species. In fact, researchers believe that these turtles swam the ocean and walked the beaches along with dinosaurs.
11. The intersection of three tectonic plates
The islands are formed by the juncture of three tectonic plates: the Pacific, Cocos, and Nazca. The result is infrequent volcanic activity and incredibly diverse landscapes – a spectacular visual feast!
12. The arrival of Charles Darwin to the Galapagos
Follow Charles Darwin’s footsteps by exploring the same islands and sites that he visited back in 1835. Visitors get to learn from Galapagos National Park-certified naturalist guides about how the theory of natural selection was first conceived here, and of course, they can take a selfie at Charles Darwin’s monument!
13. 800 species of mollusks and over 400 species of fish
Admirers of marine life will appreciate the vast number of mollusk species, including snails, octopus, cuttlefish, oysters, and squid, and a remarkable and colorful variety of fish species. You can see many of these first hand when snorkeling in the Galapagos National Park.
14. The word “Galapago” and the Islands’ iconic turtles
The term “Galapago” refers to the old Castilian word meaning “riding saddle”. The shell (carapace) of this giant tortoise certainly resembles a saddle, doesn’t it?
15. Enjoy comfortable temperatures throughout the year
While you would expect the temperatures on the islands to soar, given their proximity to the equator, they actually remain quite comfortable. Throughout the year, land temperature averages range from 79° to 86°F (26.1° to 30°C), while ocean temperatures along the island coasts hover around 71° to 78°F (21.7° to 25.6°C).
16. Less than 79,000 visitors tour Galapagos on live-aboards annually
The Galapagos Islands see about 79,000 visitors per year that travel on all sorts of live-aboard cruises. This number of people is fewer than the amount of folks in attendance at any given sold-out event at a typical professional footbal stadium in the U.S. So, you can expect to see other people during your visit, but you won’t have to worry about any excessively large crowds within the Galapagos National Park, as site visits are scheduled and approved by the park, and registered with the appropriate permissions. This limits the number of visitors to sites in any set window of time. Peak season in the archipelago is from June through August and mid-December to mid-January.
Also, when visiting the park, explorers must be accompanied by a Galapagos National Park-certified Naturalist Guide, and the ratio established by park rules is a maximum of 16 visitors per guide. Some cruises offer even better ratios, averaging between only 8 to 12 guests per guide. Chatting with a destination expert can give you an even better picture of what your trip to the “Enchanted Isles” could be like.
17. Geology is constantly in flux
The oldest islands are gradually sinking back into the ocean, but the youngest ones are on the rise.
18. Ocean currents are rather unpredictable
The islands are home to a convergence of currents. The Equatorial, Humboldt, Cromwell, and Panama currents converge in this region. For this reason wave action here is unpredictable, and there can be some variance in water temperatures, clarity and marine species due to upswelling. The weather in the Galapagos is almost entirely dependent on ocean currents. El Niño originates off the coast of Galapagos and can alter other ocean currents, weather patterns, and food availability in both marine and terrestrial environments.
19. Wild animals have little fear of humans
In the Galapagos, there is a lack of natural predators. Thus, the creatures found in the islands have very little natural fear of people. The Galapagos National Park has established key rules to help protect the animals and their habitats. Visitors must remain a minimum safe distance of 6.5 ft (2 m) from the wildlife at all times.
20. Leave your message in a barrel
In the 18th Century, on the island of Floreana, a barrel was used as a postal box by crew members traveling aboard various whaling ships in the region. This site became known as Post Office Bay and to this day, it remains a popular attraction for many visitors who wish to leave a letter or postcard, or pick one up, if they believe they can deliver it to the addressee.
If you’re looking for an exciting and educational vacation opportunity to delight the entire family, the Galapagos Islands are just the thing. Home to many unique species and landscapes, visitors touring the islands on a live-aboard cruise can see a tremendous amount of wildlife.
Blog Reviewed by: Francisco Dousdebés, edited by: José Ayerve
Image Credits: Francisco Dousdebés