Ecuador’s Paradise islands
By Karin Schill
(19/11/2013) The Galápagos Islands is a perfect destination if you love sun, warm weather and are interested in seeing giant turtles and other endangered animals. To visit these islands you can go on one of our South American Tours.
The Galápagos Islands consists of 21 volcanic islands that are situated in the Pacific Ocean at the equator. They were discovered in 1535 by Fray Tomas de Berlanga who was blown off course on a trip to Peru. Since 1832 the islands have belonged to Ecuador. In 1835 Charles Darwin spent five weeks on the islands and studied biology. He developed his theories of evolution and natural selection from the material he gathered on the islands. In 1959 the islands become a national park. In 1969 they first started organizing tours for tourists. In 1978 the main land was included on UNESCO’s world heritage list. In 2001 UNESCO also included the biological marine reserve that surrounds the islands on their list.
Today the Galápagos Islands have a population of 25 000 inhabitants that live on five of the islands. The islands are a popular tourist destination that is known as a paradise for wild life. Since the islands are rather isolated from the continent there are several species that only live here. It is mainly reptiles and birds. Some animals that are special for the islands are the Galapagos Land Iguana, the marine Iguana, the Galápagos giant tortoise, Galapagos Penguin, Galapagos Albatross and Galapagos sea lion.
The Galapagos Land Iguana is a yellow-orange lizard. It is a cold-blooded animal that likes to bask in the sun. It eats yellow cactuses, fruits and flowers. They have a life span of approx. 60 years. There are only about 5000-10000 Land Iguanas left today, which makes the species vulnerable.
The marine Iguana is a dark lizard. It can be spotted on the rocky beaches. It is approx. 60-90 cm tall and is a graceful swimmer. It eats seaweed and algae. However it can only stay in the water for short periods of time and afterwards it basks in the sun to warm up.
The Galápagos giant tortoise is a big turtle. It weights over 400 kg and has a lifespan of over 100 years. When the islands were discovered in the 1500s there were 250 000 turtles living in the area, today there are approximately 18 000 left that can be found on the five islands Española, San Christobal, Santa Cruz, Pinzon, Isabela and Santiago.
Galapagos Penguin is the only penguin who lives north of the equator in the wild. It is a small penguin that is approximately 50 centimeters tall. It eats small fish. There are less than 1000 breeding pairs around the islands, which makes the species endangered.
Galapagos Albatross it is a medium sized bird that is approx 90 centimeters long. It has a distinctive yellowish cream neck and head. It comes to the Galapagos Islands during breeding season. Then it flies back to the coasts of Ecuador and Peru. It is a spectacular flier that can fly for hours without getting tired.
Galapagos sea lion is a brown sea lion. It is approx. 200 centimeters tall and weights between 50-400 kg. It eats octopus and fishes. It usually dives 40-150 meters below sea level when hunting for food. The species is endangered.
The best time to visit the Galapagos islands is during the warm season between December to May. Then the average sea and air temperature is 25 degrees and the sun shines a lot. There is not a lot of wind or rain.
There are only 116 visitor sites in the Galapagos: 54 land sites and 62 scuba-diving or snorkeling sites. Small groups are allowed to visit in 2–4 hour shifts only, to limit impact on the area. All groups are accompanied by licensed guides.
To visit the Galapagos Islands you can go on one of our South American Tours, the 14 day Machu Picchu to Galapagos Program. During 2014 we will offer three group trips of this program.