South America Travel

Overview of Galapagos Islands

This island paradise has easily become one of Ecuador's most famous destinations. People are drawn to its rare marine fauna and endless stretches of white sand beaches. Declared a UNESCO heritage site, this archipelago also holds some of the most precious of the world's gifts, including one of the most important marine reserves in the world, second only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef. It was also in this seemingly barren and remote chain of volcanic islands that Charles Darwin formulated his theory of evolution, which put the islands in the international spotlight.

The Galapagos Islands are made up of 13 main volcanic islands, 6 smaller islands, and 107 rocks and islets. Islands Isabela and Fernandina are the youngest and are still being formed, with its last volcanic eruption occurring in 2005. What makes these islands so unique is that most of the land mass is a nature preserve. Almost 3,000 miles was declared a national park in 1959, with over 50 designated visitor sites.

What makes these islands so unique is that most of the plant and animals are endemic, meaning that they are not found anywhere else in the world. The Charles Darwin Research Center Station in Puerto Ayora was also designated in 1959, and since then has been working to boost threatened populations of these rare species.

Santa Cruz is the main tourist hub of the islands and contains an airstrip where most visitors arrive. To the east is the capital, Puerto Baquierizo Moreno, which is less developed but has another major airstrip. Other small settlements can be found on the islands, but only 3 percent of the land is inhabited by people, making it one of the best preserved places in the world for eco-adventures.

The Galapagos Islands are one of the most famous and popular excursions in Ecuador. Since most of the land is protected, the beaches are pristine and have some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the world. You can also catch a glimpse of rare habitats, active volcanoes, and jagged cliffs, some of which can't be found anywhere else in the world.

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