Galapagos Islands

A Tortoise on the beach in the Galapagos Islands ~ http://suitcasesandsunsets.com/galapagos-islands.htmlSituated in the Pacific Ocean some 1,000 km from the South American continent, these 19 islands of Ecuador and the surrounding marine reserve have been called a unique living museum and showcase of evolution.

Located at the confluence of three ocean currents, the Galapagos Islands are a melting pot of marine species. Ongoing seismic and volcanic activity reflects the processes that formed the islands. These processes, together with the extreme isolation of the islands, led to the development of unusual animal life – such as the land iguana, the giant tortoise and the many types of finch – that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection following his visit in 1835.

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The Galapagos archipelago is located about 1,000 km from continental Ecuador and is composed of 127 islands, islets and rocks, of which 19 are large and 4are inhabited. 97% of the total emerged surface (7,665,100 ha) was declared National Park in 1959. Human settlements are restricted to the remaining 3% in specifically zoned rural and urban areas on four islands (a fifth island only has an airport, tourism dock, fuel containment, and military facilities). The islands are surrounded by the Galapagos Marine Reserve which was created in 1986 (70,000 km2) and extended to its current area (133,000 km2) in 1998, making it one of the largest marine reserves in the world.

Airports on two islands (Baltra and San Cristobal) receive traffic from continental Ecuador with another airport on Isabela Island mostly limited to inter-island traffic. All the inhabited islands have ports to receive merchandise. The other uninhabited islands are strictly controlled with carefully planned tourist itineraries limiting visitation. Around 30,000 people live on the islands, and approximately 170,000 tourists visit the islands each year.