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If it hadn't been for Darwin and his (r)evolutionary discoveries, the Galapagos Islands may well have remained in obscurity instead of becoming the most controversally debated biodiversity hot-spot in the world.
Situated over 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador and close to the Equator, these volcanic islands are considered a 'live natural laboratory' and has become a favourite destination for scientists and nature enthusiasts alike. The volcanoes here are still active and continuously modify the topography. Plant and animal life is exotic and unique, having evolved at a sufficient distance from the mainland to perfectly adapt to this unusual environment to which many of them are endemic. In fact 'Galapagos' is the Spanish name for an endemic species of giant tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus) found here. Unfortunately only about 15000 of the original 250000 are left today and their survival is endangered by various introduced predators.
The archipelago comprises 15 large islands and several hundred small islands that are scattered across 59,500 square kilometres (23,000 square miles) of ocean, the largest of which are Isabela, San Cristóbal, San Salvador, Santa María, and Santa Cruz.
The ecosystems that can be found in these islands range from mangrove forest to volcanic mountains, that, due to the volcanic origin is mostly covered in shrubby vegetation, but it is most renown for its richness as a unique marine biotope.
Unfortunately, the Galapagos islands have become the victim of their own 'success'. Their worldwide fame has brought an onslaught of tourists that often behave no better than if they were visiting a zoo - feeding the wildlife inappropriate foods, throwing their garbage around and having little or no awareness of the fragile habitat they are visiting.
In recent years the Ecuadorian government has become more aware of its natural treasure islands and has taken some steps to protect them against the worst abuses by declaring them a National Park. More should be done though - like laying down very strict guidelines for visitors and limiting their numbers.
Ultimately though, the tourists themselves determine the extend of the impact they have on the places they visit. We would like to remind all our travellers to take the eco-travel guidelines to heart wherever you go.
Further info can be found at the Galapagos Pages
The Galapagos islands have been decreed a National Park since as early as 1936, but have only been established as a world heritage site in 1984. Check out the UNEP information sheet with extensive details about the islands' geology, flora, fauna, history and culture.
The Galapagos are a fragile habitat and as mentioned above much damage has already been done by excesssive amounts of careless visitors. To limit and prevent any further damage it is very important that EVERYBODY who chooses to visit takes utmost care and responsibility for their actions - the future of these islands and their many endemic inhabitants depends on it. Here are the guidelines from the Galapagos National Park:
The Galapagos National Park thanks you for respecting these rules.
As a premiere marine wildlife spot, the Galapagos are also a number one diving destinations. It is possible to stay in the islands and go with a land based tour operator or go on a live-in dive boat excursion (See our featured trips). The water is pretty cold and during the rainy season the visibility is reduced during the rainy months from February - April. Please remember to behave ecologically correct under water just as you would above sea level - the marine habitats are fragile and taking souvenirs is extremely damaging. For more specific dive information check out: Galapagos Fact Sheet
The Galapagos Islands are usually toured by boat. Motorboat and sailing boat cruises are available, which leave from Guyaquil. However, there is also a small airport. Travellers to Galapagos should be especially careful with regards to inadvertently importing alien species to the islands - even muddy boots can carry organisms that can be very destructive to a fragile habitat such as the Galapagos. For further information on the quarantine inspection system and prohibited products, visit the Inspection and Quarantine System for Galapagos (SICGAL) website.
When planning a trip to the Galapagos, think ahead - spaces fill up quickly, especially during peak tourist season (summer and christmas).
There are basically two seasons - the "garua" season (June - December), which is dry and cool, and the hot season (January-May). During the hot season there is more rain fall. The highland areas are lush and green due to a constant fall of mist (garua) during the garua season.
The Galapagos Islands belong to Ecuador and have the same visa regulations:
Tourist visas are automatically granted to citizens of most countries upon entry at the border except for citizens from France, Cuba, People's Republic of China, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Sikhs from India. Citizens of these countries must request a visa in advance from the Ecuadorian consulates or embassies in their countries.
Visitors must have a passport that remains valid for more than 6 months after entering the country. Sometimes the Immigration Police asks for proof of sufficient funds i.e. having 20 USD per day and a return ticket.
Tourist visas may be extended for an extra month for a charge of approximately 3 USD (may vary). This may be done at immigration offices in some of the provinces' capital cities although not in all of them. Once your visa has been extended and you have remained within the country for 4 months you may not return to Ecuador for 1 calendar year with a tourist visa, although you may request a different type of visa from your consulate or embassy. It is always a good idea to keep photocopies of your passport in several different places and also to always keep a copy with you. In areas where you are likely to run into patrols (e.g. jungle or airports keep your original passport handy).
There is usually a tax payable when leaving the country. When you enter Ecuador you are given a tourist card. Hold on to this piece of paper - you have to return it when you leave the country.
E-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org for further information and inquiries.