The Enchanted Galapagos Islands Expedition
They are defined by their isolation. Over the past five million years, evolution has been running one of nature’s most fabulous experiments in a laboratory cut off from the rest of the world. The Galapagos are more than 1,000 kilometres from mainland Ecuador and there is no evidence that man set foot on this string of volcanic island until the 16 century.
They have never been connected to the mainland, rather rising above the Pacific following a series of eruptions at the point where two of the Earth’s tectonic plates are pulling apart. Life slowly drifted in a sea currents or from wandering sea birds and exploded in a manner as dramatic as the islands’ volcanic birth.
From lumbering 250kg giant tortoises to the planet’s only sea-going lizard – the marine iguana. From Darwin’s selection of finch species (13 in all) to the islands’ very own raptor, the Galapagos hawk. These enchanted islands have been the cradle to some unique developments of life on Earth.
The archipelago was discovered by accident in 1535 when the Spanish Bishop of Panama got lost en route to Peru. He was much taken with the giant tortoises (galapago in Spanish) and named the island after them. For the next few hundred years, many wandering seafarers were also delighted to find these slow-moving easy-to-catch reptiles and they could live aboard their ships as a handy source of fresh meat for months on end.
Buccaneers such as William Ambrosia Cowley, who described the Galapagos as the ‘Enchanted Islands’, found the uninhabited chain straddling the Equator a perfect base to harry and pillage the gold-rich Spanish fleets in the 17th century. Ecuador claimed the islands in 1835 and set up a panal colony – last prisoners left in 1959, the year the whole archipelago was declared a national park.
The island are spread over 50,000sq km of ocean and have a land mass of 7,882sq km, over half of which is made up of the largest island, Isla Isabela. There are 13 large islands ranging from 14 to 4,588sq km and six smaller ones all less than five sq km each, plus scores of islets and outcrops. The highest point is Volcan Wolf at 1,707m on Isla Isabela.
Certainly one of the most iconic and memorable expeditions one can take, Galapagos adventure travel is exhilarating and humbling. You'll find yourself in the company of species found nowhere else in the world, walking among abundant wildlife that has grown astonishingly fearless in the absence of humans and large predators. On your Galapagos tour, you might find yourself face-to-face with a pair of courting blue-footed boobies, sitting next to a marine iguana as it basks in the sun, or snorkelling amidst a family of playful sea lions.