The Wild and Wonderful Galapagos Islands
Why visit the Galapagos
In addition to being blessed with great weather throughout the year, the Galapagos islands is where famous evolutionist Charles Darwin did his studies on natural selection to support in his theory of evolution. The islands comprise of hundreds of animal and plant lifeforms that are endemic to the islands. There are evolutionary wonders such as the Darwin finches, fur seals, flamingos, along with giant tortoises and even tropical penguins. A lot of the animals such as seals, iguanas, tortoises and birds are not afraid of people due to a lack of natural predators. You can snap pictures of these animals and have a memory for life. The Galapagos is a place where people love nature with all its biodiversity at its best. In 1959, the Galapagos National Park was established to preserve the island's natural state.
Located 600 miles west of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands were discovered in 1535 by tomas de Berlanga. The islands are volcanic in origin (similar to Hawaii) and is comprised of 16 main islands, 6 smaller islands and 10 rocks and islets. Galapagos are a province of Ecuador and five of the islands are inhabited by people for a total population of about 18,000.
Darwin identified 13 different species of finches in the Galapagos islands, whereas in the mainland there was only one species. He noted how each different finch had a different type of beak and shape based on its diet. Because each finch occupied a select geographical area isolated from other finches, he concluded that the finches had to adapt to different varied conditions on the islands. After many generations of varied diet and isolated reproductive variety, these finches formed different beak shapes.
Most interesting facts of the Animals of the Galapagos
These prehistoric looking creatures are one of the most unique symbols of the Galapagos. They are divided into 14 distinct species, 3 which are extinct. They can live from 150 to 200 years. Their name actually gave name to the islands because their carapace reminded Spanish settlers of a type of saddle which was named "galapago". When mating season begins, males will stretch out their necks (see picture below) to see which one of them is the tallest. The tallest tortoise will be the most dominant male and will have the opportunity to mate with a female. I guess in the case of tortoises, size does matter! The tortoises are herbivorous animals (meaning they eat only plants) and by obtaining moisture from the dew below, they can go on long periods without needing to drink water.
The Waved Albatross
The only member of its family that lives in the tropics. They are distinctive for their yellowish-cream neck and head. They also have a long and bright yellow bill. They measure about 34 inches long (86 cm), weigh approximately 7.5 lbs (3.4 kg) and has a wingspan of 2.27 meters long. It lives up to 40 years. They eat mostly fish, squid and crustaceans. They are famous for being spectacular fliers, they can fly for hours at a time without stalling. Breeding is limited to Espanola Island of the Galapagos.
The Marine Iguana
One of the only modern lizards that can live and forage in the sea. Usually black or gray in color because they are cold blooded and they need to conserve as much heat as possible after their sea diving foraging runs. When they are cold, they cannot move very well and in order to avoid predation, they become very agressive. An interesting fact is that they become smaller in size by as much as 20% on seasons where food in not as readily available.
The colorful skin reflects it is ready for mating
Handsome guy, isn't he?
Blue Footed Boobies
They have pointed wings, wedge shaped tails, and excellent binocular vision. It also has permanently closed nostrils for diving. When diving they breathe through the corners of their mouth. They use their blue feet as part of their mating ritual by stomping them on the ground while pulling back their wings. Another interesting fact is that they are monogamous and return to their nests to meet with their partner every 8 months or so.
And no, the images were not redone in photoshop
This flightless bird has a resticted range and can only be found on two of the Galapagos Islands, the Fernandina and the Isabela. The female lays three eggs, but usually only one survives. The parents both take an active role in feeding and taking care of the baby. The cormorants evolved on an island habitat that was free of predators. Because of this and because of the island's food rich shores, the bird became flightless. These birds do not fear man and can easily be picked up. With introduction of rats can cats to the islands, the existance of these unique and beautiful animals have become threatened.
My personal favorite of all the Galapagos Island animals, these beautiful penguins are endangered with about 1,500 of them left in 1984. These are the only penguins that live on the equator; they live more north than any other penguin! They are small animals that live in colonies feeding on small fish like mullet and sardine caught while swimming underwater. They are about 14 inches in height with a bluish black head. The strong sun sometimes is a problem for them. They hunch forward to keep the sun from their feet where they can lose heat from their flippers due to the blood flow there. Because of their small size, they have many predators including sharks, seals and fishermen that catch them by mistake.
about 55 cm from beak to tail with a wingspan of 120 cm. This hawk eats mostly locusts, giant centepedes, iguanas, sea turtle hatchlings, rodents, lizards and snakes. They like to hunt in groups of two or three and when a rotting carcass is spotted, the dominant hawk has to consume it first while the others have to wait. They have no fear and the young can hang around people to beg for food. This hawk is the only predator in existance on the islands.
Sally Light-foot Crab
Initially dark, they grow vermillion as they get older. These crabs move extremely quick and seem to read the mind of the hunter. When you move to the right, they move to the right, when you move quickly, they move quickly as well.
Giant Tortoises of the Galapagos
The Islands of Galapagos
A brief description of some of the main islands
Isabela Island - largest island on in the archipelago, it has 5 volcanos, with Volcano Wolf being the highest. Inside it is Tagus Cove, a great place to see the Galapagos Penguin and the Flightless Cormorant.
Santa Cruz - Second largest island. The small town of Puerto Ayora is the economic center of the archipielago, with the highest population and greatest number of tourist facilities.
Fernandina Island - Youngest and Third largest Island. It has Puerto Espinosa where one can view many animal species including marine iguanas.
Santiago Island - Fourth largest with many sights to see. Puerto Egas is a good spot for pictures and snorkeling.
San Cristobal Island - fifth largest island in the archipielago with second largest population. It has Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the provincial capital, on the Southern Tip.
A trip to the Galapagos for about 10 days will cost you approximately $5,000 per person.
If you are interested in traveling to the Galapagos for your next vacation, here are a handful of resouces that I found. One thing is for sure, it won't be cheap! However, the experience you will get will be unforgettable.
- One person's experience on an 8 day cruise to Galapagos with detailed information on what he saw on each cruise.
- Tripadvisor has reviews of people who traveled to the Galapagos. Review other people's experiences.
- Try Orbitz or Expedia for a Deal
- If you plan to book through Orbitz, here are a list of orbitz coupons to save you additional trip costs.
- Expedia also has some great deals on South America. To find an expedia coupon, or to further save on Expedia visit the link.
- A site on Galapagos travel information and cruises.
Is a Galapagos vacation good for the entire family? I don't recommend the vacation if you have very young children. You will have to do a lot of walking and ship travel as well. It's more for adventure seekers that LOVE nature at its best!
Galapagos on Amazon
Scuba Diving in the Galapagos
In order to preserve its beauty and its natural habitat with its unique flora and fauna, Ecuador has established specific visitor sites. All visitors are accompanied by licensed Galapagos guides who can describe the beauty of Galapagos as well as enforce the national park rules.
The Galapagos Conservancy (GC), is a non profit organization that has a vision of continuing to preserve this awesome piece of nature. It has helped detect and in some cases eradicate invasive species that have harmed the islands. Among these:
- Goats introduced by sailor and settlers that are competing with native species for habitat and transforming forests into barren grasslands.
- Cats introduced by sailor and settlers that target native wildlife, such as birds, snakes and young iguanas.
- Rats introduced by sailors and settlers have affected many wildlife with diseases and by aggressively competing for food.
To read more about the work of the Galapagos Conservancy foundation and/or to donate, visit the link.