The Galapagos Islands archipelago consist of 13 big and several hundred small isles located in the Pacific Ocean. Their location is on or near the equator, approx 1050 km (650 ml) off the Ecuador's western coast. The islands are volcanic in origin, with mountainous interiors and flat shorelines culminating in high, central-location craters, some of which rising to over 5000 ft (1520 m). Several of the volcanoes are active.
- Galapagos islands are fringed with mangroves. In other coastal areas the vegetation consists mainly of cactus, mesquite and thorn trees. In the exposed to a heavy mist uplands, the flora is much more luxuriant. Climate and water temperatures are modified by Antarctica's cold Humboldt Current.
- The Galápagos group is famous for its fauna. Unique to the archipelago are 6 giant tortoise species, burrowing land lizard and unusual marine lizard that dives into ocean for seaweed. The islands contain 85 different bird species, including flightless cormorants, flamingos, finches, penguins. Sea lions are numerous, as are different shore fish.
- The Galapagos islands capital city is Baquerizo Moreno (on San Cristobal Island), though Puerto Ayora (on Santa Cruz Island) has become the group's commercial centre.
- The islands were discovered in 1535 and first called Las Encantadas ("The Enchanted"). Pirates, sea explorers, seal and whale hunters all visited before colonization began in 1832. Charles Darwin, travelling on the ship HMS Beagle, spent 6 weeks in 1835 studying the Galapagos' fauna. His observations furnished considerable data for his thesis on natural selection "Origin of Species" (published 1859).
The list of Galapagos Islands includes the following main and minor isles:
- Baltra Island (aka South Seymour) is flat and located near the centre of the archipelago. The island's vegetation consists of salt bushes, prickly pear cacti, palo santo trees.
- Bartolome Island (aka Bartholomew) is located off the Santiago Island's east coast. It is one of the few isles having the Galápagos penguin - the only wild penguin species living on the equator. Another animal is the green turtle.
- Darwin Island (aka Culpepper) is named after Charles Darwin (1809-1882). It has a total area of 1,1 km2 (0,4 ml2) with highest elevation point 168 m (551 ft). Here can be seen fur seals, frigatebirds, swallow-tailed gulls, marine iguanas, marine turtles, sea lions, whales, boobies (red-footed and Nazca).
- Espanola Island (aka Hood) is named after Spain. The "Hood Island" alternative name honors Viscount Samuel Hood. The island has a total area of 60 km2 (23 ml2) with highest elevation point 206 m (676 ft). It is the Galapagos' southernmost isle. Due to its remote location, it has a large number of endemic species, including lava lizard, mockingbird, tortoise. Other spicies represented here are marine iguanas, nesting waved albatross. The island has two landing points - Gardner Bay (swimming, snorkelling, beach) and Punta Suarez (wildlife watching - marine iguanas, lava lizards, hood mockingbirds, swallow-tailed gulls, blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, red-billed tropicbirds, hawks, waved albatross).
- Fernandina Island (aka Narborough) was named to honor King Ferdinand II, the sponsor of the Columbus voyage. It has a total area of 642 km2 (248 ml2) with highest elevation point 1494 m (4902 ft). This is the archipelago's westernmost isle. At Punta Espinosa gather hundreds of marine iguanas, largely on its black lava rocks. Here can be seen also the flightless cormorants, penguins, pelicans, sea lions, fur seals. The island also features mangrove forests.
- Floreana Island (aka Charles or Santa María) was named after Juan Jose Flores (1800-1864) - the Ecuador's first President, during whose administration Ecuador took possession of the Galapagos archipelago. The alternative "Santa Maria" island name honors one of the Columbus' ships. The island has a total area of 173 km2 (67 ml2) with highest elevation point 640 m (2100 ft). Its fauna is represented by flamingos, nesting green sea turtles, petrels (seabird). Near Floreana is the small Champion Islet.
- Genovesa Island (aka Tower) was named after Genoa Italy, where Christopher Columbus was born. The isle is nicknamed "the bird island" and has a total area of 14 km2 (5,4 ml2) with highest elevation point 76 m (249 ft). At Darwin Bay can be seen frigatebirds and swallow-tailed gulls (the world's only nocturnal gull species). The fauna is also represented by boobies (red-footed), noddy terns, lava gulls, storm petrels, finches, some tropic birds and even doves. Prince Philip's Steps is a bird-watching site with boobies (red-footed and Nazca species). The island also features a large forest (named Palo Santo).
- Isabela Island (aka Albemarle) was named after Queen Isabella II of Spain (1830–1904). It is the Galapagos' largest island, with a total area of 4640 km2 (1792 ml2) with highest elevation point Volcán Wolf (1707 m / 5600 ft). Here can be seen penguins, marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, pelicans, Sally Lightfoot crabs, land iguanas, tortoises, Darwin finches, hawks, doves. On this island (its southeastern tip) is located the Galapagos' 3rd-largest settlement - Puerto Villamil. This is also the world's only island where the equator runs across it.
- Marchena Island (aka Bindloe) - named after Fray Antonio Marchena, it has a total area of 130 km2 (50 ml2) with highest elevation point 343 m (1125 ft). Here can be seen mainly hawks and sea lions, as well as the endemic Marchena lava lizards.
- North Seymour Island was named after the British Navy officer Lord Hugh Seymour (1759-1801). It has a total area of 1,9 km2 (0,7 ml2) with highest elevation point 28 m (92 ft). The island is populated by blue-footed boobies and swallow-tailed gulls, both represented in large colonies. It also has hosts one of the world's largest frigatebirds populations.
- Pinzon Island (aka Duncan) was named after the Pinzon brothers, who were the captains of the Columbus ships Pinta and Nina. it has a total area of 18 km2 (7 ml2) with highest elevation point 458 m (1503 ft).
- Pinta Island (aka Louis) was named after the Pinta ship, it has a total area of 60 km2 (23 ml2) with highest elevation point 777 m (2549 ft). Here can be seen sea lions, hawks, giant tortoises, dolphins, marine iguanas, Pinta Island had the last remaining colony of Pinta tortoises. The last remaining spicies were moved to the Santa Cruz Island (Charles Darwin Research Station), where the attempt to breed them failed. The last tortoise died in June 2012.
- Rabida Island (aka Jervis) was named after the Rabida convent, where Columbus left his son (Diego Columbus) during the Americas voyage. It has a total area of 4,9 km2 (1,9 ml2 with highest elevation point 367 m (1204 ft). Here can be seen white-cheeked pintail ducks (living in a saltwater lagoon located close to the beach), also nesting brown pelicans and boobies, as well as 9 species of finches.
- San Cristobal Island (aka Chatham) was named after Saint Christopher - the seafarers' patron saint. It has a total area of 558 km2 (215 ml2) with highest elevation point 730 m (2395 ft). This is the first island visited by Charles Darwin during his Beagle ship expedition. Here can be seen frigatebirds, giant tortoises, sea lions, boobies (blue- and red-footed), marine iguanas, tropic birds, dolphins, swallow-tailed gulls. Here is also the Galapagos' largest freshwater lake - Laguna El Junco. On the island's southern tip is the port town Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
- Santa Cruz Island (aka Indefatigable) - the name means Holy Cross in Spanish, The English alternative name honors the British ship HMS Indefatigable. It has a total area of 986 km2 (381 ml2) with highest elevation point 864 m (2834 ft). This island has the Galapagos' largest human population - the port town Puerto Ayora, where are the Charles Darwin Research Station's and the Gaaápagos National Park Service's headquarters. In the isle's highlands can be seen lava tunnels, with a large population of tortoises. The Black Turtle Cove site features mangroves, sea turtles, stingrays, small sharks. Here is also located the famous Cerro Dragon lagoon with its flamingos. Along the walking trail can be seen land iguanas.
- Santa Fe Island (aka Barrington) was named after a Spanish city, it has a total area of 24 km2 (9 ml2) with highest elevation point 259 m (850 ft). The island features an Opuntia cactus forest (the archipelago's largest), shear-waters petrels, swallow-tailed gulls, land iguanas, lava lizards, red-billed tropic birds.
- Santiago Island (aka San Salvador, and St James) - the names honor Saint James and the San Salvador Island (the first Caribbean island discovered by Columbus). It has a total area of 585 km2 (226 ml2) with highest elevation point 907 m (2976 ft). Here can be seen sea lions, fur seals, marine iguanas, turtles (both land and sea), finches and hawks, as well as flamingos, dolphins, sharks. Close to Santiago (to the southeast) is located the Chinese Hat Island - an excellent snorkelling destination.
- Wolf Island (aka Wenman) was named after Theodor Wolf (1841-1924, a German geologist). It has a total area of 1,3 km2 (0,5 ml2) with highest elevation point 253 m (830 ft). Here can be observed fur seals, frigatebirds, boobies (Nazca and red-footed), swallow-tailed gulls, marine iguanas, as well as sharks, whales, dolphins, and the vampire finch (only found here).
- Daphne Island (located north of Santa Cruz and west of Baltra) is the location of a large finch colony, studied for over 20 years by the British evolutionary biologists Peter Raymond Grant and Barbara Rosemary Grant. Other birds here are boobies (blue-footed, and Nazca), short-eared owls, Galapagos martins, red-billed tropical birds, frigatebirds.
- South Plaza Island (aka Plaza Sur) was named after General Leonidas Plaza (1865-1932, one of the Ecuador's presidents). It has a total area of 0,13 km2 (0,05 ml2) with highest elevation point 23 m (75 ft). The island's flora and fauna include the Opuntia cactus, iguanas (land and marine), birds (including tropical, and swallow-tailed gulls).
- Nameless Island is used mostly for scuba diving.
- Mosquera Island (between Baltra and North Seymour) has one of the world's largest Sea Lion populations.
- Eden Island (aka Isla El Eden) is located northeast and close to Santa Cruz Island. It is approx 600 m (1968 ft) in diameter, with a total area of around 0,23 km2 (0,09 ml2) and highest elevation point 71 m (233 ft). It is among the Galapagos' best fishing and adventure tourism locations.
Galapagos Islands cruise terminal
Most Galapagos cruise ships depart from Baltra Island. Until 1986, Baltra had the only Galapagos airport. Now, the airports are two - one (on Baltra) for flights from South America, and the other (on San Cristobal) serving the whole archipelago. Private planes to Galapagos also fly to Baltra, as its airport is the only one offering overnight aircraft service.
Next map of Galapagos Islands cruise itineraries shows the two main routes and all island stops (ports / landing sites) in the archipelago.
Flights to Baltra include immediate bus shuttle transportation to one of the island's 2 docks.
- The first dock is in a small bay, and serves all the Galapagos cruise ships and tourist boats.
- The second dock serves the local ferries (between Baltra and Santa Cruz).
Baltra was established during WW2 (1939-1945) as an US Army Air Force base. The stationed here flight crews patrolled the eastern Pacific Ocean searching for German submarines and providing protection for the strategic Panama Canal.
The following map of Galapagos Islands also shows the list of animals that can be seen on each island.
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