The Galapagos Islands are an Ecuadoran protected archipelago on the equator in the Pacific Ocean and are located about 1000 km or 630 miles west of Ecuador. The island group consists of 13 islands with an area of more than 10 square kilometers, with over 100 smaller tiny islets.
The Galapagos Islands were accidentally discovered by Spaniards in 1535. The island group was first referred to as “Enchanted Islands,” since no one had so far sighted these islands in the ocean. In the 19th century, the islands were renamed to Galapagos, after the giant tortoises that habits there. In 1835 Charles Darwin visited the islands making great studies about evolution and wildlife. In 1959, the Ecuadorian government declared the Galapagos Islands the Galapagos National Park. Since 1978 they are on the UNESCO list of the World Natural Heritage.
The Galapagos Islands are of volcanic origin and rest top of the Nasca tectonic plate.
The islands move about 9 centimeters or 3.5 inches annually to the east on the South American continental plate. These two plates collide to the west of the Pacific coast and the result causes earthquakes.
Although the islands are close to the equator, the climate is relatively moderate due to the relative coolness of the Pacific Ocean water at 20oC or 68oF. The rainy season lasts from January to June, with peak rainfall in April; the rest of the year falls with almost no rains.
Flora and Vegetation:
Due to their distance from other landmasses, the islands are characterized by a variety of endemic animal and plant species. On the Galapagos Islands there are 7 different vegetation zones, depending on the altitude. On the second largest island named Santa Cruz you can find all these vegetation zones. On the islands there are 700 plant species, of which 250 are endemic.
The nutrient-rich deep water is responsible for the species richness around the archipelago. On and around the Galapagos Islands there is a great variety of species. Many of which can only be found in these islands and were named after them. Some species don’t exist in any other place of the earth than the Galapagos Islands. The extraordinary and unique flora and fauna of the islands make it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They are protected by the National Park of the Galapagos Islands.
Tourism is now the largest source of income in the Galapagos Islands, but also the greatest threat to the sensitive ecosystem and animal biosphere in the archipelago.
The best way to reach the islands of Baltra or San Cristobal is usually by plane and then organize group trips. You can find cruises or land-based tours, cruises are more popular, as you can visit many different islands in a short time. Due to the inception of UNESCO, the tourist flows are now strongly controlled and limited to the islands. Since 2009 a new control system has been introduced: the INGALA transit control card. This is a kind of electronic Visa, which must be purchased before departure to the Galapagos Islands. This is currently $20 USD per person for tourists and must be paid in cash at the airport in Quito or Guayaquil. The entrance to the Galapagos National Park is $100 USD for adults, which is collected at the airport on arrival in cash.
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