destinations7 Incredible Facts About the Galápagos Islands

Galapagos

Visiting the Galápagos Islands is like walking into the middle of a wildlife documentary. Travelers from all across the globe come here to spot the islands’ incredible variety of endemic animals. Penguins, fur seals, giant tortoises, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, hawks—the list is endless. Here, visitors can truly get up close and personal with some of the planet’s most rare wildlife.

Here are seven interesting facts about these amazing islands: 

Go Fish

There are over 400 species of fish surrounding the Galápagos Islands with more than 50 endemic species. There are also more than 800 types of mollusks, including oysters, cuttlefish, snails, squids and octopuses. This makes the islands a seafood lover’s delight—as well as a scuba diver's or snorkeler's paradise. 

Marine Iguanas

The marine iguanas found on the island are the only known lizards that can swim. Scientists believe that land-dwelling iguanas from South America drifted out to sea millions of years ago on debris such as logs and eventually ended up in the Galápagos. These gentle herbivores survive exclusively on underwater algae and seaweed, which they easily forage off rocks with their short, blunt snouts and razor sharp teeth. 

Giant Tortoises

The giant tortoise is probably the most emblematic species of the Galápagos. In fact, the name Galápagos comes from the old Spanish word for saddle, a reference to the tortoise’s shell. These giants can easily live up to 150 years and weigh 595 pounds. 

The Blue-Footed Booby

Another famous inhabitant of the Galápagos is the blue-footed booby. These adorable birds with the distinctive blue feet grow from 2.5 to 3 feet and have a wingspan of about 5 feet. Their courtship dance is quite a sight to behold as they prance about, bow, raise their heads up to the sky and spread their wings. The islands are also home to the red-footed and Nazca boobies.

Volcanic Islands

Lava oozing up from the ocean floor helped to form the Galápagos Islands. This geological process reached sea level nearly 4 million years ago. In addition, some of the volcanoes are still active, with occasional eruptions and seismic activity. The most recent eruption was in April 2009.

Darwin's Origin of Species

Charles Darwin didn’t actually discover the Galápagos, but his name is inextricably linked to the islands. He arrived in 1835, which was 300 years after the islands were discovered in 1535 when a ship was blown off course. However, his five-week visit resulted in his theory of evolution, which he presented in "The Origin of Species" published in 1859. In that book, Darwin noted that it was possible to distinguish which island a tortoise came from by the shape of its shell, as well as how the finches and hummingbirds varied from island to island. 

A Haven for Pirates

Pirates were commonplace along Spanish trade routes beginning in the late 16th century. Because the islands were so strategically located, these buccaneers began using the Galápagos as a hideout, according to ship logs. Even though the islands didn’t have a good supply of fresh water, the Galápagos were a useful source for food and also served as a nice remote spot to stash the pirates' loot.