The Galapagos Islands are widely known for being the subject of Charles Darwin’s landmark work, The Origin of Species. Notably, the islands’ fauna display a characteristic known as island gigantism, which is a biological phenomenon whereby the size of animals isolated on an island increases dramatically over generations.
The Galapagos Islands first appeared on maps in 1570 when Dominican bishop Fray Tomás de Berlanga mistakenly landed on one of the islands after attempting to sail to Peru to settle a dispute between Francisco Pizarro and his lieutenants after the conquest of the Incan Empire. The islands were mostly forgotten until 1793 when James Colnett made a description of the flora and fauna and suggested that the islands be used as base for the whalers operating in the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately his suggestion set off a chain reaction which wreaked havoc on the islands’ ecosystem.
It wasn’t until Charles Darwin that anyone made an attempt to study the unique characteristics of the Galapagos. Darwin, in one of the most famous passages of his work, describes the Islands and their famous residents (Galapago means tortoise in Spanish) the giant tortoise saying:
This archipelago consists of ten principal islands, of which five exceed the others in size. They are situated under the Equator, and between five and six hundred miles westward of the coast of America. They are all formed of volcanic rocks; a few fragments of granite curiously glazed and altered by the heat, can hardly be considered as an exception. Some of the craters, surmounting the larger islands, are of immense size, and they rise to a height of between three and four thousand feet. Their flanks are studded by innumerable smaller orifices. I scarcely hesitate to affirm, that there must be in the whole archipelago at least two thousand craters. These consist either of lava and scoriae, or of finely-stratified, sandstone-like tuff. Most of the latter are beautifully symmetrical; they owe their origin to eruptions of volcanic mud without any lava: it is a remarkable circumstance that every one of the twenty-eight tuff-craters which were examined, had their southern sides either much lower than the other sides, or quite broken down and removed.
As all these craters apparently have been formed when standing in the sea, and as the waves from the trade wind and the swell from the open Pacific here unite their forces on the southern coasts of all the islands, this singular uniformity in the broken state of the craters, composed of the soft and yielding tuff, is easily explained. Considering that these islands are placed directly under the Equator, the climate is far from being excessively hot; this seems chiefly caused by the singularly low temperature of the surrounding water, brought here by the great southern Polar current. Excepting during one short season, very little rain falls, and even then it is irregular; but the clouds generally hang low. Hence. whilst the lower parts of the islands are very sterile, the upper parts, at a height of a thousand feet and upwards, possess a damp climate and a tolerably luxuriant vegetation. This is especially the case on the windward sides of the islands, which first receive and condense the moisture from the atmosphere.
As I was walking along I met two large tortoises, each of which must have weighed at least two hundred pounds: one was eating a piece of cactus, and as I approached, it stared at me and slowly stalked away; the other gave a deep hiss, and drew in its head. These huge reptiles, surrounded by the black lava, the leafless shrubs, and large cacti, seemed to my fancy like some antediluvian animals. The few dull-coloured birds cared no more for me, than they did for the great tortoises.
His powerful description of the islands and their inhabitants has encouraged tourism for the past two centuries. Now, the beautiful islands have proven to be one of Ecuador’s primary tourist lures. Visitors are offered a unique travel experience to: swim with the only equatorial Penguins found in the world, walk alongside giant Galapagos Tortoises, go bird watching to spot the magnificent waved albatross or brightly-colored boobies (birds native to the Galapagos islands), scuba dive with sea lions, dolphins and whales, catch a glimpse of the remarkable Marine Iguana as it gracefully swims underwater, study the 13 species of endemic Darwin finches and witness the flightless cormorant in it’s grounded majesty.
There is nowhere else in the world where the native species are of such a remarkable variety – a perfect place for adventure travel.