Galapagos Islands

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Galapagos Islands
Topographic Map
bodies of water east pacific
Geographical location 0° 32′  S , 90° 31′  W Coordinates: 0° 32′  S , 90° 31′  W
Galapagos Islands (Earth)
number of islands about 130
main island San Cristobal
Total land area 8010 km²
resident 25,244 (2015)
satellite image

The Galapagos Islands (also spelled Galápagos Islands , Spanish Islas Galápagos , IPA: las ˈislas ɣaˈlapaɣos , IPA locally: laz ˈihlah ɣaˈlapaɣoh ; officially Archipiélago de Colón ) are an archipelago in the eastern Pacific Ocean . They are located on the equator about 1000 km west of the Ecuadorian coast in South America , belong to Ecuador and form the Galápagos province of the same name with the capital Puerto Baquerizo Moreno . The word Galapago(Spanish e.g. for 'bulge saddle') refers to the tortoise shell, which in some species of the Galapagos giant tortoises is bulged like a saddle in the neck area.

The extraordinary and unique flora and fauna of the islands are part of the UNESCO World Heritage . They are protected by the Galapagos Islands National Park. Approximately 97% of the area of ​​the islands and 99% of the surrounding waters within the exclusive economic zone are thus under strict nature protection . Agricultural and fishing use as well as entering the islands and driving on the waters are strictly regulated and controlled by the national park administration based in Puerto Ayora .

In January 2022, the marine reserve was expanded to 198,000 km² with the addition of the 60,000 km² Hermandad. This makes it the second largest marine reserve in the world.


The archipelago consists of 13 islands in excess of 10 km² and over 100 smaller to tiny islands , including Darwin and Wolf to the far north-west . Five islands are populated: Santa Cruz , San Cristóbal , Isabela , Floreana and Baltra (no resident population, but a military base with barracks for about 400 soldiers and members of the Coast Guard).

Islands larger than one square kilometer in area are listed in the table below:

Island English
Canton elevation height
Isabela Albemarle west Isabela wolf 1707 4,588.1
Santa Cruz indefatigable Central Santa Cruz Cerro Crocker 864 985.6
Fernandina Narborough west Isabela La Cumbre 1476 642.5
SanSalvador James Central Santa Cruz Cerro Pelado 907 584.7
San Cristobal Chatham east San Cristobal Cerro San Joaquin 730 558.1
Floreana Charles east San Cristobal Cerro Pajas 640 172.5
Marchena Bindloe north Santa Cruz   343 130
Espanola Hood east San Cristobal   206 60.5
Pinta Abington north Santa Cruz   777 59.4
Baltra South Seymour Central Santa Cruz   ... 26.2
Santa Fe barrington Central San Cristobal   ... 24.1
Pinzon Duncan Central Santa Cruz   458 18.2
Genovesa Tower north San Cristobal   64 14.1
Rabida Jervis Central Santa Cruz   ... 5
Seymour Norte North Seymour Central Santa Cruz   ... 1.8
wolf wenman   Isabela   253 1.3
Tortuga brattle west Isabela   ... 1.3
Bartolome Bartholomew Central Santa Cruz   114 1.2
Darwin culpepper   Isabela   165 1.1

Among the numerous smaller islands, the Daphne Islands (especially Daphne Major ), Plaza Sur , Isla Sin Nombre, as well as the isolated Roca Redonda , a bird breeding ground, are worth mentioning.


Pre-Columbian era

According to a 1952 study by Thor Heyerdahl and Arne Skjølsvold , potsherds and other artifacts from several sites on the islands suggest visiting South American peoples in pre-Columbian times. The group found a flute and shards of more than 130 pieces of pottery that were later identified as pre-Incan. However, no remains of tombs, ceremonial vessels and constructions have ever been found, suggesting that no permanent settlement took place before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. It is not clear who were the first visitors to the islands, but they were probably unfazed by the islands' lack of fresh water . Whether the Incas ever made it here is debatable; In 1572, the Spanish chronicler Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa claimed that Topa Inca Yupanqui , the second Sapa Inca of the Inca Empire, visited the archipelago, but evidence for this is scant and many experts consider it a far-fetched legend, especially as the Incas were not seafarers was.

European travel

The European discovery of the Galápagos Islands came when the Spaniard Tomás de Berlanga , then Bishop of Panama , sailed to Peru to settle a dispute between Francisco Pizarro and his lieutenants. De Berlanga's ship went off course when the wind dropped, and his crew reached the islands on March 10, 1535. They ran aground on one of the volcanic islands. They spent several days there looking for drinking water. Ten horses and two Spaniards died of thirst. The rest drank the juice of the cacti and captured sea ​​lions and giant tortoises . In a ravine they finally found enough drinking water for the journey home.

Map of the Galapagos Islands as described by William Ambrose Cowley in 1684

The archipelago was first referred to as Islas Encantadas (“Enchanted Islands”) because no one would have guessed islands so far out in the ocean, and strong currents between and around the islands could easily give seafarers the impression that the islands themselves were always changing their position again.

The first English captain to visit the Galápagos was Richard Hawkins in 1593.

From the 17th century to the early 19th century, the islands were hiding places and places of refuge for mostly English corsairs - including John Cook and William Cowley  - who raided mostly gold ships of the Spaniards from Mexico and South America.

In the 19th century, the islands were renamed the Islas Galápagos after the giant tortoises found there .

Ecuadorian Galápagos

On February 12, 1832, General José de Villamil took possession of the islands for Ecuador. He named the islands Archipiélago del Ecuador . The first permanent settlement of the islands began. Previously, the islands were owned by the Spaniards, who, however, showed no interest in them. José de Villamil became the first governor of the Galápagos Islands and brought a group of convicts to the island of Floreana, and in October 1832 they were joined by some artisans and farmers.

In 1835 Charles Darwin visited the islands. In 1892, the Galapagos Islands were renamed Archipiélago de Colón in honor of Christopher Columbus ' discovery of America .

Around 400 people lived on the islands in the 1920s. Many islands, like Floreana or Isabela, were penal colonies from 1934 to 1959 .

In 1959, the Ecuadorian government declared the islands to be part of the Galápagos National Park. At that time the islands had around 1000 inhabitants. In 1968, 97 percent of the land area was under national park protection; Settlements and previous agricultural areas were protected. The islands have been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1978 . In 1996 the Galápagos Marine Reserve was proclaimed by the Instituto Ecuatoriano Forestal de Areas Naturales y Vida Silvestre. In 1998 the protection of the Galapagos Marine Reserve was enshrined in law through the Galápagos National Park. In 2001, the World Heritage area was expanded to include the marine reserve. From 2007 to 2010, the natural heritage was classified as endangered by UNESCO, and until 2010 it was also on the UNESCO Red List .


The Galapagos Islands are of volcanic origin. The tectonic plate ( Nasca Plate ) on which the islands are located moves over a hot spot that still causes volcanic activity on the islands of Isabela and Fernandina today and left its mark on the Caribbean before that. The islands age toward the southeast, but dating of the rocks on each island overlaps, as they were not formed by singular volcanic events. On Fernandina Island, Cumbre volcano last erupted in April 2009, on Isabela the Wolf on January 7, 2022. Some rocks of the islands were formed 89  Ma ago under the hottest temperatures of the Phanerozoic .


The 2015 census gave a population of 25,244. Only five of the islands are inhabited: Baltra, Floreana, Isabela, San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz. Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz is by far the largest town, followed by Puerto Baquerizo Moreno , the capital of the Galápagos province on San Cristóbal, and Puerto Villamil on Isabela.


Due to their distance from other land masses, the Galapagos Islands are characterized by a large number of endemic animal and plant species. The introduction of alien species as well as hunting nearly drove many unique animal species to extinction in the 19th century . The Galapagos giant tortoises have long been threatened by goats introduced in the early 1700s that ate the tortoises' food; this problem was solved by targeted killing of the goats, e.g. from helicopters, released in 2007. The clutches of birds and, moreover, the survival of all animals, which have adapted to the specific habitats of the islands over millions of years, are due to the now (2009) approximately 25,000 inhabitants and the small animals they originally brought with them, which are foreign to the ecosystem (dogs, cats and rats) threatened. Food deliveries often bring parasites, germs, animals and plants to the islands. Over 200 new species have arrived on the islands in the last ten years (as of 2009), including parasites that suck the blood of finch chicks or malaria pathogens that infect penguins. The imported fruit fly Ceratitis capitata is a dangerous nuisance because it can infest many different types of crops and cause their fruit to rot. She is an enormous threat to the islands.


Although the islands are close to the equator , the climate is rather moderate due to the relatively cool sea water (from the Humboldt Current and rising deep water) at 20 degrees Celsius. The nutrient-rich deep water is responsible for the biodiversity around the archipelago.

San Cristobal
climate diagram
J f M A M J J A S O N D
Temperature in °Cprecipitation in mm
Monthly average temperatures and rainfall for San Cristóbal
Jan Feb mar apr May June July Aug Sep Oct Nov dec
Max. temperature ( °C ) 28.9 29.8 30.1 29.6 28.7 27.1 25.8 25.0 24.6 25.7 26.0 27.2 O 27.4
Minimum temperature (°C) 22.5 22.6 22:4 22:4 22.2 21.0 20.0 19.1 18.7 19.1 19.9 21:1 O 20.9
Precipitation ( mm ) 48 115 88 83 23 3 9 6 6 7 6 12 Σ 406
hours of sunshine ( h/d ) 5.7 8.3 7.3 7.9 7.7 7.7 6.7 6.1 5.3 5.2 5.3 5.7 O 6.6
Water temperature (°C) 25 26 27 26 25 24 23 22 22 22 23 24 O 24.1
Humidity ( % ) 80 82 82 82 80 78 78 79 78 77 74 76 O 78.8
Jan Feb mar apr May June July Aug Sep Oct Nov dec
C h
_ _ _ _

  Jan Feb mar apr May June July Aug Sep Oct Nov dec
El Nino
These satellite maps show chlorophyll concentration ( corresponding to phytoplankton abundance ) during El Niño . (above) and La Niña (below). Blue stands for low concentrations, yellow, orange and red for high concentrations. Currents that normally fertilize phytoplankton reverse during El Niño, resulting in unproductive oceans. The same currents are intensified by El Niña, resulting in an explosion of marine life.
The lower image shows sea surface temperature, cool rising water is colored purple. Thriving phytoplankton populations are characterized by high chlorophyll concentrations (upper panel) colored green and yellow. The pictures were taken on March 2, 2009.

In so-called El Niño years, the ocean currents and the amount of precipitation change. The lack of deep water decimates species that depend on the sea, while the high rainfall results in above-average plant growth and a seasonal abundance of animals.

In 1999, a violent El Niño caused a severe coral die-off and wiped out approximately 60% of the penguin population.


The rainy season lasts from January to June, peaking in April. The rest of the year there is almost no precipitation. Only at higher altitudes, especially on the southeast side of the higher islands, is there a fine drizzle ("garua") and consequently green vegetation all year round.

The weather changes with increasing altitude on the large islands. Temperature gradually decreases with altitude, while precipitation increases due to the condensation of moisture in the clouds on the slopes. There is a wide range of rainfall from one place to another, not only with altitude but also depending on the location of the islands and also with the seasons.

The table below, corresponding to the wet year 1969, shows the variation of precipitation in different places of Santa Cruz Island:

location Charles Darwin
Devin Farm Media Luna
height 6 m 320 m 620 m
January 23.0mm 78.0mm 172.6mm
February 16.8mm 155.2mm 117.0mm
March 249.0mm 920.8mm 666.7mm
April 68.5mm 79.5mm 166.4mm
May 31.4mm 214.6mm 309.8mm
June 16.8mm 147.3mm 271.8mm
July 12.0mm 42.2mm 135.6mm
August 3.8mm 13.7mm 89.5mm
September 18.5mm 90.9mm 282.6mm
October 3.2mm 22.6mm 96.5mm
November 11.0mm 52.8mm 172.7mm
December 15.7mm 84.1mm 175.3mm
total 469.7mm 1901.7mm 2656.4mm

Precipitation also depends on geographic location. In March 1969, rainfall over Charles Darwin Station on the south coast of Santa Cruz was 249.0 mm, while only 137.6 mm of rainfall fell on Baltra Island for the same month. This is because Baltra is behind Santa Cruz in terms of prevailing southerly winds, so most of the moisture falls in the Santa Cruz highlands.

Precipitation also changes significantly from one year to the next. At Charles Darwin station, precipitation was 249.0 mm in March 1969, but only 1.2 mm in March 1970.

On the larger islands, the pattern of generally wetter highlands and drier lowlands affects flora. The vegetation in the highlands tends to be green and lush, with some tropical forests. The lowland areas have a rather arid and semi-arid vegetation, with many thorny shrubs and cacti, and elsewhere almost bare volcanic rock.

natural reserve

After the proclamation of the Galápagos National Park and the founding of the Charles Darwin Research Station , the Galápagos Islands were increasingly shaped by tourism and fishing. Originally a dream destination for biologists, they have become a booming economic area in which economic interests have to be weighed against ecological ones.

The sea area around the islands offers great abundance of fish. Shark fins and sea ​​cucumbers are particularly popular . Fishing for sea cucumbers is permitted under certain conditions, while fishing for sharks is prohibited. In general, fishing in the Reserva Marina Galápagos marine reserve is only permitted under certain conditions, with special provisions and conditions applying to certain species.

There are always conflicts between nature conservationists and fishermen who feel handicapped by the regulations. In March 2004 riots broke out again; in June of the same year, the Charles Darwin Research Station and the national park administration were blocked for two weeks. As a result, the quota was not reduced, as required in the sustainability studies. In the following fishing season, autumn 2004, this quota was far from exhausted.

In April 2007, the Ecuadorian government declared the islands with their unique fauna and flora an ecological risk area. Tourism, aviation and settlement are to be restricted in the future. Ecuador wanted to forestall possible action by UNESCO , which had repeatedly threatened to revoke the natural World Heritage status granted to the Pacific archipelago three decades ago . In June 2007, UNESCO placed the islands on the Red List of World Heritage in Danger . Tourism regulations, settlement restrictions and efforts to achieve self-sufficiency in energy and food led to the removal from the Red List in July 2010. However, more than half of all endemic animal species and one in five plant species are still considered threatened.

For years there have been strict immigration rules for the local population. These were hardly enforced in the past. Although the influx of illegal immigrants from the mainland has decreased noticeably since the laws of 2007 came into force, the overall resident population continues to increase.

In mid-January 2022, Ecuador's President Guillermo Lasso signed a corresponding decree on a research ship in the Bay of Puerto Ayora in the presence of ex-US President Bill Clinton and Colombia's head of state Iván Duque , expanding the marine reserve to a total of 198,000 km². The newly added 60,000 km² part called "Hermandad" is intended to connect the Galapagos Islands with the islands of Coiba (Panama), Malpelo (Colombia) and Cocos (Costa Rica) and protect the migration routes of endangered species. The heads of state of the countries involved had announced the plan at the 2021 UN climate conference in Glasgow .

Inscription as a World Heritage Site
Galapagos Islands
UNESCO world heritage UNESCO World Heritage Emblem
Contracting State(s): EcuadorEcuador Ecuador
Type: nature
Criteria : (vii) (viii) (ix) (x)
Surface: 14,066,514 ha
Reference no.: 1 to
UNESCO Region : Latin America and the Caribbean
history of enrollment
Enrollment: 1978  ( Session 2 )
Extension: 2001
Red List : 2007-2010

The Galapagos Islands were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as a natural heritage site in 1978 by decision of the second session of the World Heritage Committee.

After the addition of the Marine Protected Area in 2001, the World Heritage Site now covers an area of ​​14,066,514 hectares .

In summary, the justification for the entry states:

…Its geographic location at the confluence of three ocean currents makes it one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. The ongoing seismic and volcanic activity reflects the processes that formed the islands. These processes, combined with the extreme isolation of the islands, led to the development of unusual animal and plant life - such as These include marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, giant tortoises, giant cacti, endemic trees and the many different species of mockingbirds and finches - all of which inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection following his visit in 1835.

The registration was based on criteria (vii), (viii), (ix) and (x).

(vii): The Galapagos Marine Reserve is an underwater natural spectacle with a biodiversity ranging from coral to sharks and penguins to marine mammals. No other place in the world can offer an experience of scuba diving with such a variety of marine life that is familiar enough to humans to accompany the divers. The diversity of underwater geomorphological forms is an added value to the site. It offers a unique sight that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

(viii): The geology of the archipelago begins at the seabed and rises above sea level where biological processes continue. Three major tectonic plates - Nazca, Cocos and Pacific - meet in the seabed, which is of significant geological interest. Compared to most oceanic archipelagos, the Galapagos Islands are very young, with the largest and youngest islands, Isabela and Fernandina, being less than one million years old, and the oldest islands, Española and San Christóbal, being between three and five million years old . The site demonstrates the evolution of the younger volcanic areas to the west and the older islands to the east. Ongoing geological and geomorphological processes, including recent volcanic eruptions, small seismic movements and erosion, provide important insights into the mystery behind the formation of the islands. Hardly any other site in the world offers the protection of such a complete continuum of geological and geomorphological features.

(ix): The origin of the flora and fauna of the Galapagos Islands has been of great interest to people since the publication of Charles Darwin 's " Voyage of the Beagle " in 1839. The islands represent an almost unique example of how ecological, evolutionary and biogeographical processes affect the flora and fauna both on specific islands and throughout the archipelago. Darwin's finches, mockingbirds, land snails, giant tortoises, and a number of plant and insect groups represent some of the best examples of adaptive radiation that continues to this day. Likewise, the marine reserve, which lies at the confluence of three major East Pacific currents and is influenced by climatic phenomena such as El Niño, has had major evolutionary consequences and provides important clues as to how species evolved under changing conditions. The direct dependence of much of the island's wildlife (e.g. seabirds, marine iguanas, sea lions) on the sea is abundantly clear, creating an inseparable link between the land and sea worlds.

(x): The islands exhibit relatively high biodiversity for such young oceanic islands and contain emblematic taxa such as giant tortoises and land iguanas, the world's northernmost penguin species, flightless cormorants, and the historically important Darwin's finches and Galapagos mockingbirds. Endemic flora such as the giant tree magerites Scalesia spp. and many other genera have also spread to the islands. They belong to a native flora with about 500 vascular plants, of which about 180 are endemic. Endemic and threatened species include 12 native land mammals (11 endemic, 10 of which are threatened or extinct) and 36 reptile species (all endemic and mostly considered threatened or extinct), including the world's only marine iguana. Marine fauna also has unusually high levels of diversity and endemism, with 2,909 marine species identified with 18.2% endemism. The most well-known marine animals include sharks, whale sharks , rays and whales. The interactions between marine and terrestrial biota (e.g. sea lions, marine and land iguanas and seabirds) are also exceptional. Recent exploration of deep-sea communities continues to provide new insights for science.

flora and vegetation

There are 697 recorded plant species on the Galapagos Islands today. Of the 439 native species (present in Galapagos prior to discovery), 167 species are endemic (originating in and found only in Galapagos). The remaining 258 non-native species, some of which cause major problems, were introduced by humans. The number of non-native plant species has increased significantly over the years and is probably much larger now.

Most of the non-endemic plant species native to the Galapagos can also be found in neighboring South America. Since only a few species were able to establish a founder population on the islands, the species composition on the islands is "disharmonious" in contrast to the "harmonious" flora of the mainland. For example, the palm trees, conifers and the Bignoniaceae are missing . On the other hand, individual plant groups have undergone adaptive radiation , i.e. an increase in species, through occupation of free ecological niches and specialization. Examples of this can be found in the genera Scalesia , Opuntia , and Chamaesyce .

Opuntia echios , tree-shaped prickly pear on Santa Cruz, Galapagos

In the Galapagos Islands there are seven different vegetation zones depending on the altitude. However, there are significant differences in the characteristics of the vegetation zones between the various islands. On San Cristóbal there are e.g. B. only four of these zones. Only the dry coastal zone and the transition zone are present on Española Island. On Fernandina the vegetation is limited to the "vegetation islands" spared by lava and one finds a high-reaching dry zone as well as the zone of the Scalesia forest. In the species presented here, the vegetation zones are particularly pronounced on Santa Cruz:

  1. Littoral or coastal zone (from sea level to about 10 m), with plants resistant to salt water. Four species of mangrove , often mangrove forests ( Avicennia germinans, Conocarpus erectus, Laguncularia racemosa , Rhozophora mangle ) on stony, sheltered stretches of coast. On sandy beaches, succulent herbs and shrubs, e.g. B. Ipomoea pes-caprae, Nolana galapagensis (endemic) , Heliotropium cuurassavicum, Cryptocarpus pyriformis . There are relatively few endemic species in this zone.
  2. Bursera graveolens , common arid zone tree, leafless most of the year.
    Dry zone (10 to approx. 100 m), during the rainy season with a green bush landscape, in terms of area the largest vegetation zone with the largest number of endemics; there are forests with deciduous trees and shrubs that are bare in the dry season. Particularly striking are the two species of Bursera ( B. graveolens and B. malacophylla , the second of which is endemic) with their bare white trunks. Other common trees are Croton scouleri , Prosopis juliflora , and Parkinsonia aculeata . Common shrubs include Cryptocarpus pyriformis , Castela galapageia (endemic), Scutia pauciflora , and Cordia lutea . Common bindweeds include Galápagos passionflower ( Passiflora foetida var. galapagensis ) and two species of Cuscuta (C. acuta, C. gymnocarpa , both endemic). The following cacti can be found in this zone: The Galápagos pillar cactus Jasminocereus thouarsii (endemic genus with only one species) and the also endemic lava cactus Brachycereus nesioticus , as well as six endemic species of opuntias with several variations. The Opuntia can be arboreal, which is an adaptation to being eaten by tortoises and land iguanas. Particularly large opuntias can grow up to 12 m high. The species O. Helleri is found only in the northern islands, where neither land iguanas nor turtles occur. This opuntia forms only low bushes and has soft spines.
  3. Transitional zone (100 to about 200 or 300 m) In this zone dry shrubs and cacti gradually decrease; the climate is foggy and humid. A relatively large number of shrubs and perennials can be found here, as well as an increasing number of epiphytes and lichens. Common species are Pisonia floribunda and Psidium galapageium (endemic).
    Scalesia pedunculata on Santa Cruz Island
  4. Scalesia zone (approx. 200 to 400 m, sometimes up to 600 m) Here grows tropical-humid mountain forest with lush plant growth due to the extraordinarily fertile soil, frequent precipitation (mainly as a fine drizzle, called Garua ) and the high humidity year round green. This vegetation zone is mainly characterized by Scalesia pedunculata (on Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal and Santiago). Scalesia is an endemic genus with at least 10 species believed to be related to one species. These daisy family (related to the sunflower )evolved into trees in the Galapagos, a rare occurrence within this family. Broadleaf and liverworts are commonin the Scalesia zone, but so are ferns, orchids, peperomia (4 species, three of which are endemic) and the only Galápagos bromeliad species, Racinaea insularis . Due to the fertility of the soil and the humidity, large parts of this zone have been converted into cultivated land.
  5. Brown zone (approx. 400-450 m). The trees and bushes are Psidium galapageium, Acnistus ellipticus (endemic) and Zanthoxylum fagara as well as Tournefortia pubescens (endemic). These are overgrown with numerous epiphytes (mosses, liverworts, ferns), which cause a brownish coloration in the dry season. Remarkable are the epiphytic liverworts of the genus Frullania (partly endemic). This zone has now almost completely disappeared due to human activity, some remains of this zone can still be found north of Santa Cruz.
  6. Miconia scrub zone(about 550 to 700 m). Bushes of the endemic speciesMiconia robinsonianaand ferns are predominant. Also conspicuous are epiphytic clubmosses of the genus Lycopodium (e.g.L. passerinoides). This vegetation type is found only on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. Most of the land has been cleared for agricultural use.
  7. Pampa Grass Zone . In the highlands above (only in the highest island locations) mainly herbs, grasses and ferns grow, but no more trees. Worth mentioning, however, is the up to 6 m high, endemic tree fern Cyathea weatherbyana, which grows in sheltered places, in craters and gullies .

In the higher elevations (Scalesia, Miconia and Pampa zones) of the Galapagos Islands, the Poaceae , with 66 species (10 of which are endemic species), and the Cyperaceae , with 35 species, have their distribution focus.

Of the introduced plant species, the following are particularly problematic: Psidium guajava (introduced as early as 1858 because of their fruits, displacing Scalesia and Miconia ), the cinchona tree, Cinchona succiruba (introduced to Santa Cruz, widespread in the Miconia zone), lantana ( Lantana camara , on Floreana) and the blackberry ( Rubus niveus on San Cristóbal).


There is great biodiversity in and around the Galapagos Islands. Many species that are native only there (around 40 percent) were also named after the islands. Most of them are endemic there, meaning nowhere else on earth. Some of the animals living on the islands are:

Xylocopa darwini , a species of bee endemic to the Galapagos Islands


Tourism is now the largest source of income in the Galapagos Islands, but it is also the greatest threat to the archipelago's delicate ecosystem and wildlife.

Tourists usually arrive on the islands by plane (Baltra ( IATA code : GPS) and San Cristóbal (IATA code: SCY) airports) and then embark on a mostly organized group tour . The group trips are cruises or land-based round trips, with land-based round trips with hotel accommodation now enjoying greater popularity. The main cities with overnight accommodation and most important ports for the cruise tourists are: Baltra (port only – no overnight accommodation), Puerto Ayora ( Santa Cruz Island ), Puerto Baquerizo Moreno ( San Cristóbal Island ) and Puerto Villamil (Isabella Island ) . Due to the intervention of UNESCO , the flow of tourists is now very strongly controlled and directed. A new control system was introduced for this purpose in 2009: the so-called INGALA transit control card (Spanish: Tarjeta de Control de Transito TCT). This is a type of electronic visa that must be purchased prior to departure for the islands. The idea behind this visa is to be able to better control and track illegal immigration, especially of workers, be they foreigners or locals.

national park rules

The following rules have been established to preserve the island world and to protect flora and fauna:

  • All visitors must be accompanied by certified national park guides. Visitors may only enter the islands on marked trails and must follow park rules.
  • Animals may only be photographed without a flash.
  • Bringing foreign organisms (animal or vegetable) is strictly forbidden.
  • Destroying or stealing plants, animals or parts thereof is strictly prohibited.
  • When observing animals, a minimum distance of 2 meters must be maintained.
  • Touching, feeding or disturbing animals is prohibited.
  • Camping is only permitted in certain locations outside the national park and with permission.
  • Smoking and campfires are strictly forbidden inside the national park.
  • Leaving litter on the islands or in the sea is prohibited.
  • No souvenirs made from parts of plants or animals should be bought.
  • Painting or writing on stones or carving trees and leaves is not permitted.
  • Fishing is allowed with a special fishing permit.
  • Sports activities such as water skiing, jet skiing, paragliding, hang gliding or helicopter flying are prohibited.

The most important islands for tourism are: the island of Santa Cruz with the city of Puerto Ayora (tourist center of the archipelago with very good tourist infrastructure), the island of San Cristóbal with the city of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (administrative headquarters and second most important airport), the island of Isabela with the city of Puerto Villamil (there is also a small airport here) and Floreana with the settlement of Puerto Velasco Ibarra. The tourist importance of the island of Baltra or South Seymour is limited to owning the most important airport and cruise port.


In 2008 there were a total of 77 ships on the Galapagos Islands that had a valid patent and were allowed to carry tourists. In total, however, there were 86 patents that allowed a maximum of 1,866 tourists to be transported per week.

The islands were visited by only 11,765 tourists in 1979. In 2004 the 100,000 mark was exceeded (with 108,948 tourists), in 2013 with 204,000 arrivals the 200,000 mark. In the years that followed, the number of visitors stayed the same. Then there was an increase to around 241,000 in 2017 and over 270,000 visitors (since 2018).

In 2019, one third of the visitors were of Ecuadorian nationality. The largest groups of foreign tourists came from the US (29%), the UK , Germany (5% each) and Canada (4%). In 2008, the majority of tourists (52%) still traveled to the Galapagos Islands by ship on one of the many cruises on offer, while in 2015 the figure was only 32%. Air arrivals in 2019 were distributed between Baltra (72%) and San Cristobal (28%) airports.


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  • Irenaeus Eibl-Eibesfeldt : Galápagos. Noah's Ark in the Pacific. With island guide. Updated paperback edition. Piper, Munich/ Zurich 2001, ISBN 3-492-21232-8 .
  • Bodo Müller, Matthias Stolt: Galapagos. Edition Temmen, Bremen 2003, ISBN 3-86108-909-2 .
  • Carmen Rohrbach : Islands of fire and sea. Galapagos - Archipelago of tame animals. Frederking & Thaler, Munich 1989, ISBN 3-89405-027-6 .
  • Margret Wittmer: Poste restante Floreana. An extraordinary woman's life at the end of the world. Bastei Lübbe, Bergisch Gladbach 1995, ISBN 3-404-61901-3 .
  • G. Zizka & K. Klemmer: Plants and Animals of the Galápagos Islands. Creation, exploration, endangerment and protection. Small Senckenberg Series No. 20. 1994; 152 pages. ISBN 3-929907-14-3
  • Ira L Wiggins & Duncan M Porter: Flora of the Galapagos Islands . Stanford University Press, 998 pages; 1971. ISBN 0-8047-0732-4


See also

web links

Commons : Islas Galápagos  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikimedia Atlas: Galapagos Islands  Geographical and Historical Maps
Wiktionary: Galapagos Islands  - meaning explanations, word origin, synonyms, translations


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