Islas Galápagos are an archipelago of volcanic islands which are situated on either side of the Equator. They are 926km far from Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean and they belong territorially to the country. The island group has an area of 7880 square km and consists of 13 big and 6 smaller islands plus 107 rocks. They are not densely populated and there are three bigger settlements on the archipelago – Puerto Ayora, Isabela and San Cristóbal with a total population of around 30 000 people.
The Galápagos Islands weren’t to the taste of the first European settlers that much because of the volcanic landscape and the lack of fresh water. The Europeans stumbled on the islands for the first time in 1535 when the Bishop of Panama (Fray Tomás de Berlanga) drifted off the course. At the end of the 16th century other Spanish caravels reached the islands but the Spaniards were not attracted by these lands at all because they were too deserted and unfriendly. That’s why they named them Las Islas Encantadas (the Enchanted Islands).
Later on, in the 17th century the island group was a refuge of English pirates where buccaneers distributed the robbed spoils, food and water. The buccaneer William Cowley was the one who made a crude map of the archipelago and its islands. In the 18th century an expedition of two French ships arrived on the islands. They remained there only for one month and then left it calling it “the most awful place in the world”.
The 19th century marked a new page in the history of the archipelago when General José de Villamil made the first colonization attempts in 1832 by officially declaring the islands Ecuadorian and by giving them the name Archipiélago de Colón (in honour of Christopher Columbus). Maybe the most important event in the 19th century of the Galápagos Islands was Charles Darwin’s arrival on the islands. In 1835 the Beagle moored on the archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. The endemic species were observed and studied by the great naturalist and namely those Darwin’s collections and observations laid the foundations of his theory of evolution by natural selection.
Nowadays the biosphere reserve is still home to a great variety of endemic flora and fauna species. The islands are inhabited by giant tortoises which the islands have been named after. There are two theories of the origin of the name. According to the first one, the Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius showed the islands in his atlas and named them after the giants. The second theory goes to the first discoverers of the archipelago who were astonished with the tortoise-shell and it resembled a saddle to them known as galápago. The number of tortoise has decreased drastically and nowadays there about 15 000 (in comparison to 250 000 before the discovery of the islands). The reason for that was the delicious meat which provoked whalers to hunt tortoise for three centuries.
Apart from tortoise, there is a great diversity of species. Actually, 32% of plants and 25% of fish are endemic species here. Wild penguins, iguanas, flamingos, pelicans, sea lions, fur seals, seagulls, albatross, etc. are among the few species that could be found here. Although the archipelago has been listed as a endangered area and the diversity of animals and plants has been changed, its fauna inhabitants are not afraid of human beings at all but just on the opposite, they are two friendly with tourists.