Home » faq » 110 Fun Facts about the Galapagos Islands
Coat of arms: Divided in four, with representative images of the islands, such as volcanic cones, the blue sea, a sail boat,
and of course the iconic Galapagos tortoise.
Official name: “Archipiélago de Colón,” mostly known as the Spanish name ‘Islas Galápagos’, but also known as the Enchanted Islands.
Early stages: It all began with barren mound of cooled lava, which over time, due to the volcanic activity; the little mound grew to what they are today. And guess what? They are still growing today!
Discovering the Islands: Antique records show that in 1535 they were discovered by a Panamanian Archbishop Fray Tomás de Berlanga.
Enchanted Islands: When the Spaniard, the archbishop of Panama, Tomas de Berlanga firstly saw the archipelago, he mentioned that they were “enchanted”, due that among the mist and fog and the rise of the tide they looked, from far away, as they seemed to disappear.
Inspiration for the Islands name: Because of its most famous inhabitants: the giant tortoises (Chelonoidis), they were described as “Insulae de los Galopegos” “islands of the turtles.”
Baptizing the islands: The Flemish cartographer, Abraham Ortelius gave the archipelago its name to include it in a World Atlas for the first time.
Famously known for: It became a National Park in 1959, declared a Biological Marine Reserve in 1986, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, it became a whale sanctuary in 1990, and one of the most popular tourist destinations on Earth.
Belongs to: As part of Ecuador, a group of volcanic Islands and Islets that lie in the Pacific Ocean, around 973 kilometers west from the continental coast.
Location: The archipelago lay on either side of the Equator Line. Which means that there is summer all year long!
Size: The Archipelago group consists of 7,880 km² (3,040 mi²) of land spread over 45,000 km² (17,000 mi²) of ocean.
Age: The exact age of the Islands is unknown. However, researchers speculate they were formed around 3 to 4 million years ago which means that is a very young archipelago compared to Earth’s age which is around 4.45 billion years old.
Area prone to volcanic activity:Since the Galapagos Islands are located where three tectonic plates meet. The Pacific, Cocos and Nazca plates have resulted in 13 volcanic eruptions in the last 100 years.
Last volcanic extension: In the eruption of 2009, the coast line of Fernandina Island changed.
Islands evolution: Isabella, the largest island, and Fernandina, which is the youngest island being 1,000,000 years old, are still forming and are still changing shape!
Oldest of them all:Española, being almost 4,000,000 years old has moved the most towards the South American continent.
Population: Even though, nowadays is restricted to move to the islands. Galapagos’ total population is more than 25,000 people; the majority live in Santa Cruz.
Population distribution: There are 13 main islands, 7 smaller islands, and 107 islets, out of which in only 5 have people living on them: Baltra, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana. This represents only 3% of the Islands!
Formation: There are 13 main islands in total, and 7 smaller islands, and more than 200 islets and rocks.
Home to different groups throughout history: At one time in history, the Islands provided refuge for English pirates.
First settlers: In 1535, the Spanish were the first Europeans to set foot on the area.
Pirates in the late 16th century: Because of their strategic location, buccaneers used the Galápagos as a hideout, and to stash pirates’ loots.
Whalers and fur-seal traders: In the 18th-19th centuries, thousands of the Galapagos tortoises were killed and captured to extract their fat. Since tortoises can survive for months without food or water, they were kept on board ships as a means of providing of fresh protein.
Ecuador’s property: In 1832, Ecuador claimed the islands and named them “Archipielago de Ecuador” (Ecuador’s Archipelago) and 127 years later they were declared a National Park.
Charles Darwin arrival:On September 15, 1835 on a tour around South America with Captain Robert Fitzroy, the M.S. Beagle arrived in the Galapagos Islands. Charles Darwin was part of the expedition and he was 26 years old upon his arrival. He did not realize at that moment, that all that data he recovered would lead to a great historical and scientific change.
Charles Darwin and the Galapagos Islands: Charles was studying the geology of the place but also learned a great deal from the species and noticed the significance of their differences. In his return home, he took back various samples of species to continue his studies and observations.
Inspiration for The Theory of Evolution: It is thought that the Theory of Evolution was based in the study of finches. However, this a misconception, as his studies focused in mockingbirds. Each mockingbird was a different species of its own.
Darwin and the Finches: He took back samples of finches from the islands. Initially, he thought they were unknown birds, but his friend, the famous English ornithologist, John Gould identified that they were not different species, but were all part of ‘an entirely new group’ with 12 subspecies.
Darwin and the Tortoises: He noted that tortoises were similar to the ones in other continents, but they had different variations and it was possible to distinguish from which island each tortoise came depending on the shape of their shell.
Two types of shells, two types of tortoises: The first kind of shell is one where the shell rises in front like a saddle making it easier for the animals to lift their heads up high in search for food. The second kind is the dome-shaped shell that allows tortoises to feed on ground vegetation. No need to rise up the head!
The Origin of Species: In 1859, 24 years later after arriving to the Galapagos, Darwin publishes his book that changed the way we look at and understand the world and explained in detail the mechanism of evolutionary change by natural selection. He wrote, ‘the natural history of this archipelago is very remarkable: it seems to be a little world within itself ’.
Animal species in the islands: Lots of animals existed in early 19th century, but became extinct due that pirates, whalers and sailors will introduce foreign species to the islands and will also use the species as a food source.
Birds Arrival:They probably arrived on the islands after being blown by strong winds. Once there, the birds on different islands were cut-off from each other, and each changed, and adapted to survive in their environment. The main change was in the shape of their beaks based on the food available.
Darwin’s Finches:There are 13 species of gorgeous finches endemic to the Galapagos. Usually known as Darwin’s finches, since other scientist studied them in means of their evolutionary changes and gave them the name.
Fearless animals: Abundant endemic animals amazingly not scared of people inhabit the islands, so you will be up close and personal experience.
Galapagos unusual postal service: In Floreana since the 18th century, whalers used a barrel to drop their letters so other sailors returning home could take them back to their recipients. This “post office service” is still in use!
Beginnings of the Flora in the islands: Bacteria was first to arrive, as well as, a variety of spores of ferns, mosses, algae, and fungi plants; blown by the wind. They were perfect to survive in places with scarce soil. Then, larger seeds of plants probably came in the stomachs of birds’ crossing over from the continent.
The first plant of the islands: There is a coastal plant, which is like a mangrove that grew from seeds that literally floated to the island. How awesome is that?
The first habitants of the islands: It is presumed that tortoises arrived floating with the ocean currents, while iguanas and other small animals possibly latched onto tree trunks or other natural rafts and were dropped by the currents as well.
The Giant Galapagos Tortoises: Weighting over 270kg and living to be over 150 years old, they hold the record of the longest life span of any animal on Earth! They have adapted to survive months without water or food.
Lizards’ diversity: There are seven species of lava lizards which weight an average of about 0.3kg.
Penguins: They are one of the smallest penguins in the world with an average height of 49 cm (1,61 ft) and the only ones to live across the Equator in the Northern Hemisphere.
Selling the Islands: In 1900s Ecuador had reached out to potential buyer to sell the islands, the money was needed to get the country out of debt. USA, UK and Peru had been interested in purchasing the archipelago.
Colonization: Between 1920s -1930s the Ecuadorian government set a law to promote the colonization of the islands. A person who fished a fish on an uninhabited area will earn the right to 20 hectares of free land, free taxation for 10 years and to maintain their citizenship.
World War II: Baltra was a United States Army Air Force base and the Americans constructed the first airstrip there. It was a strategic site that will allow them to guard the Panama Channel.
Famous site: Since Darwin’s theory, the Galápagos Islands have become world-renown and an symbol of ecological importance and preservation.
Visitors: More than 150,000 people visit the islands each year.
Living Laboratory of Evolution: The islands have been considered as a “natural museum” due to the extensive wildlife the islands have and their pristine factor. It is easy to see and understand how these species have adapted to their current home and how important is to preserve them.
Water: Fresh water is scarce on the islands. San Cristobal is the only island with a limited fresh water supply. As a matter of fact, the lower islands mainly received only 20 to 30 inches of precipitation on average!
Islands’ Names: The islands started off, in 1684, with English names that were set by the buccaneer Ambrose Cowley. He named them after English kings and noblemen. Later on, when Ecuador claimed the archipelago, the names where officially changed to the Spanish version that we still use today.
Iconic giant tortoise: The most famous Lonesome George was discovered in 1971 in Pinta Island. “Lonesome” comes from the fact that he was the last survivor of this species and has become a world icon of conservation!
Highest endemism rate: Due to the islands’ isolations and singular conditions, the Galapagos is home to unique animals that can only be found in the islands. 42% of the plants, 79% of mammals, 80% of birds, 91% of reptiles and 56% of insects are endemic to the archipelago.
Boobies: There are three species of booby birds living in the Islands, the blue-footed booby, the red-footed booby and the Nazca booby.
Tortoises and finches: They vary from island to island, adapting to its own and unique ecosystem.
Tropical islands: Instead of palm trees, sun-beds, and margaritas; expect jutting cliffs, volcanic moonscapes, emerald coves and deserted islands only inhabited by the fearless locals!
Marine Iguana: It is the world’s only lizard and iguana that swims and feeds from the sea. These gentle herbivores survive exclusively on underwater algae and seaweed, which they easily forage off rocks with their short, blunt snouts and razor sharp teeth.
Isabela Island: It was formed by six volcanoes, out of which only one has become extint. In 1998 volcanic activity on the Island caused rescuers to move several rare and giant turtles out of the lava flow.
Nameless Island: There is an island in the Galapagos called Nameless Island and it is used mostly for scuba diving.
Colliding currents: Located at the confluence of five ocean currents – yes you heard right, five! – The mixture of the North and South Equatorial, Cromwell, Humboldt, and Panama currents result in variant water temperatures and unpredictable tides.
Rat eating centipedes: Good luck in finding a scolopendra centipede, even though it can grow up to 30 centimeters. It has been known to feast on lava lizards and even young rats. Bon appetite!
Underwater galore: Over 800 mollusks species exist amongst the islands; over 400 species of fish, out of which more than 50 are endemic. It is no surprise that this is a world-renowned snorkeling and diving destination.
Penguins of the north: The Galapagos is home to the only breeding penguin in the northern hemisphere that lives in a tropical climate. It has adapted to this climate with pink patches around its beak and wings in order to keep its body fresh.
Flightless cormorants: The Galapagos cormorants have developed special skills to swim instead of fly due that their habitat is so rich in delicious marine species from where they feed of.
Highest point of the Archipelago: Wolf Volcano on Isabela is 1,707 m (5,600 ft) above sea level.
Galapagos hotspot: The islands sit above the Galapagos hotspot where the Earth’s crust is being melted from below by a mantle plume, which creates volcanic land.
Sun & Fun: Due to the islands location on the Equator, there is an equal of 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night all year-round.
Charles Darwin’s other publication:The origin of the flora and fauna of the Galapagos has been of great interest to people ever since his other famous publication: “The Voyage of the Beagle” was exposed in 1839.
Taking advantage of the sea: Much of the island’s wildlife (e.g. seabirds, marine iguanas, sea lions) is abundantly evident and provides an inseparable link between the terrestrial and marine worlds.
Endemic threatened species: There are 12 native mammal species (11 endemic, with 10 threatened or extinct) and 36 reptile species (all endemic and most considered threatened or extinct), including the only marine iguana in the world.
Galapagos main threats: The introduction of invasive species, demographic growth, illegal fishing and governance issues. All of them constantly analyzed and monitored to adequately manage and reinforce strategies to minimize their impact by the Galapagos National Park.
Visiting the Galapagos: Due to their isolation and position in the Equator the Galapagos can be visited all year-round.
Two main seasons: The ‘dry season’ June to December and the ‘warm season’ December to May.
Dry vs. warm weather: The dry season is characterized by blue skies and midday showers, whereas the warm season is more tropical with daily rain and cloudier skies.
Rainfall: In the lower regions is 2-4in (60-100mm).
Climate: It is determined by ocean currents.
El Niño: This drastic climatic change where water in the Equatorial Pacific warms up can be devastating. It is estimated that as many as 50% of sea lions and marine iguanas can die during this time; that is a clear example of how nature is wise and controls over population of animals.
Los Gemelos (the Twin Craters): Two ‘pit craters’ formed when empty magma chambers collapsed in on themselves in Santa Cruz Island.
Alcedo Volcano: The largest tortoise population lives in Isabela Island, and actually is the only volcano visitors can climb in the archipelago.
Devil’s Crown: A dramatic snorkeling site where there is an almost completely submerged volcano and there are underwater lava tunnels to be explored.
Endangered species: 24% of plants and 50% of vertebrate species are still considered endangered in the Islands due to human activity back in time.
Darwinism: To put it in simple terms, it is a theory of biological evolution accomplished by Charles Darwin, advising that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce.
Constantly changing: The oldest islands are progressively sinking back into the ocean under the continental coast tectonic plate, while the youngest are on the rise near the hotspot.
Pink Iguana:The species was first discovered in 1986, and it is native only to northern part of Isabela Island, it has a pink body with some dark stripes; prompting some to call it a pink iguana or the Galapagos rosy iguana.
Land mammals: The only endemic land mammals in the islands are rice rats and two species of bat.
Sharks: The Galapagos Shark it is known to grow up to ten feet long and can swim at depths of over 200 ft. When their pups are born they flee to shallow waters to gain strength and also to avoid being eaten by their parents.
Charles Darwin allegedly tried to ride the giant tortoises: Darwin wrote in his journal that he attempted to ride the long living, slow moving creatures to no avail.
Local Coffee:Has been harvested in the Galapagos Islands since 1869 when one of the first landowners planted the first arabica typica bean from the coffee plants in the Galapagos. Today, coffee from the Galapagos is an organic selection and can be found worldwide.
Galapagos imports: Most of the fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, water and other vital supplies are brought from mainland, the only exception is the coffee which its produced 100% in the islands.
Diving: The Islands have about 30 diving sites to offer. Twenty percent of the marine life found under the sea are unique to the islands and can’t be found elsewhere but there are also migrating species that make the archipelago a marine wildlife spectacle!
A UNESCO First: Galapagos was the first location to be recognized as a World Heritage Natural Site by the UNESCO; after the committee was created. (Quito, Ecuador was second!)
Second largest crater: Sierra Negra Volcano in Isabela Island has the second largest crater in the world!
One different Island: Baltra is a non-rocky or volcanic island contrary to the others. It was lifted above the surface of the Pacific Ocean as a result of a shift in the earth’s crusts.
Airports: There are two airports in the Galapagos: in Baltra and San Cristobal Island.
Safe destination: Strict rules are in place when migrating to the islands by the Galapagos National Park, which makes them a place where little crime occurs.
Moby Dick: Herman Melville includes a recorded event about a sperm whale sinking a ship called Essex at the west side of the Galapagos and was his inspiration to write his famous novel about the attack of a whale to a ship.
Uniqueness: The Galapagos have a volcanic origin born from fire and transcending the Pacific Ocean, they have never been in touch with the continent.
Galapagos handshake: it is the action used when a person has to hold to the guides arm in order to embark or disembark a dinghy.
Amazing Plants: there is a cactus endemic to the islands, and it grows on the lava! Its flowers are creamy white and they are usually found in little bunches and are super cute to see!
The Waved Albatross:this is the only albatross that lives in the tropics and it gets his name due to a waved pattern in its plumage.
Origins of the Booby name: they get their name from the Spanish word “bobo” due that first Spanish visitors saw their mating rituals where they raise their feet as high as they can and they look clumsy. “Bobo” is Spanish means silly.
Galapagos Food: the cuisine in the islands is a mixture of different elements from the Ecuadorian highlands with costal Ecuadorian food. Usually potatoes, yam, seafood and grains are in the mix.
Mysterious species: in Plaza Sur island is the only place in the planet that we can find the enigmatic “hybrid iguana”, which is the offspring of a male marine iguana with a female land iguana.
Look up closely: if you see the archipelago in a map, you will notice that Isabela Island looks a lot like a seahorse! Ha!
Education, Conservation, Education: The Galapagos National Park, as part of its services, offers educational lectures to locals and visitors regarding ecological conservation.
Lonesome George memory: to preserve the memory of this fantastic creature, Ecuador with the help of the Natural Museum of Natural History of New York, had him embalmed. He is exhibited in Santa Cruz Island part of a newly “Route of the Tortoise”.
Smalls dinosaurs:Marine iguanas are all black, and with their sharp crowns and long claws they look like prehistoric animals only to be imagined.
Galapagos Fur Seal vs. Sea Lions: they look pretty similar but there are physical differences to identify them: fur seals are smaller, with thicker fur with a lighter color, larger eyes and pronounced ears than a sea lion.
A Botanist Dream: there are 600 endemic species of plants in the islands.