A privileged and incomparable place, a natural mosaic which concentrates an astonishing diversity of life, one of the greatest in the world. It is almost unbelievable to see such wonderful symbiosis between the animals and humans, and of course, to spot some species which do not habitat any other places on the planet. No wonder why got Charles Darwin inspired while staying here to write his famous paper about species. Today, 95% of Galápagos islands is part of National park and it is one of the most protected places on Earth.
The Galápagos Islands, the part of the Republic of Ecuador, are a remarkable archipelago of volcanic islands distributed on either side of the equator in the Pacific Ocean. They are located 906 km west of continental Ecuador and they are known for their large number of endemic species that were studied by Charles Darwin. His observations and collections contributed to the world-known inception of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Galápagos islands is also a home of friendly sea lions. They learned to live alongside humans and they are parts of each other’s everyday’s life. They sleep on the boats or even walk on the streets.
Our 11-day long exciting journey in these remote virgin islands started after our month in Panama. We flew from Panama City to Bogota in Colombia, next to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s biggest city and headed to Baltra island in Galápagos archipelago. Before entering the islands every visitor has to pay a fee of 100 dollars to support the National Park, Research Center and local population. Trust me, it is all worth it.
The touch of volcanic creation feels everywhere. Black rocks decorate all four main islands as well as all smaller dozen. One volcano even erupted during our visit! This is a global hot spot of biodiversity, with scores of endemic species of amphibians, birds, plants, and reptiles. The most famous such as marine and land iguanas and giant tortoises – the world’s rarest animals. Symbolic lava cactuses are very important in this ecosystem since it is one of their main source of food and water.
Besides incredible wildlife, vast craters, incredible vegetation, lava fields and most beautiful beaches in the world, Galápagos are also well-known for some of the biggest lava tunnels in whole South America.
Although the islands are located on the equator, the Humboldt Current brings cold water to them, causing frequent drizzles during most of the year. The weather is periodically influenced by the El Niño events, which occur about every 3 to 7 years and are characterized by warm sea surface temperatures, a rise in sea level, greater wave action, and a depletion of nutrients in the water.
In 1986, the 70,000 square kilometres of ocean surrounding the islands was declared a marine reserve, second in size only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. In 1990, the archipelago became a whale sanctuary. UNESCO recognized the islands in 1978 as a World Heritage Site and in 1985, as a biosphere reserve. The most iconic animals are:
- Galápagos land iguanas
- Marine iguana, the only iguana feeding in the sea, an excellent swimmer
- Galápagos giant tortoise, known as galápago in Spanish, it gave the name to the islands
- Galápagos green turtle, which the scientist believe that this particular kind was swimming alongside the dinosaurs
- Blue-footed booby, which doesn’t habitat any other place on Earth
- Galápagos penguin, the only penguin living in the Northern hemisphere, coming millions of years ago from Antarctica
- Waved albatross, the only living tropical albatross
- Four endemic species of Galápagos mockingbirds, the first species Darwin noticed to vary from island to island
- Galápagos sea lions
- Hammer-headed sharks, whale sharks and rays
In the past, giant tortoise used to be often taken by pirates, because they could survive without the water for months. This way pirates could keep their food fresh on their long journeys. The oil from tortoises was used for lighting the lamps before the electricity was found. Until this day, in Darwin’s sanctuary, there is a preserved body of famous Lonesome George, the loneliest animal on Earth. Goerge was the last living male giant tortoise from Pinta island and his mating attempts were never successful. He died in June 2012 and today he serves as an important symbol for conservation efforts in the Galápagos Islands and throughout the world.
These extraordinary Ecuadorian islands, still though, stay part of the third world country. The small population is almost absolutely dependent on tourism and besides the main city, their living conditions are very basic.
I cannot express how much gratitude and privilege I feel. To be there, to touch these places, to breathe its warm air, walk on the whitest sand and experience this unique natural beauty. This magical piece of our Earth will forever be my once-in-a-lifetime- precious memory.
“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.“