After spending many months in the Galapagos Islands during my various visits there, I’ve learned quite a few travellers have strange expectations when it comes to visiting the Galapagos. Even people who have visited the islands often get things wrong. So, here are 5 things most people don’t know about the remote Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador.
1 – 40,000 People Live in the Galapagos
It’s not all about the animals, as four islands support towns, with populations from 140 to more than 20,000. Spending time in the towns, especially on Isabela Island and San Cristobal Island, is a great way to get the full travel experience of the islands, instead of just ticking off animals from a guide book. Because of the higher standard of living in the Galapagos compared to mainland Ecuador, there are strict immigration controls in the islands for both visitors and workers.
2 – Galapagos Travel Guide Books are Usually Wrong
The park rules change so fast in the Galapagos that all printed guide books are out of date, even the famous Lonely Planet. Seek out current online sources for your travel information if you’re trying to visit independently, as you’ll be disappointed with the information in most guide books. I’ve seen dozens of people show up, believing their guide book is right, only to find out their Galapagos travel plans are no longer possible, or are now illegal. If you use your guide book for basics such as finding some hotels or restaurants, you should be able to find some still up-to-date information. But when it comes to visiting tourist sites that require a Naturalist Guide, either by land, or by boat, check with the locals or an actual tour company first.
3 – There are no Giant Turtles in the Galapagos
Giant turtles do not exist. Yes, there are some very big turtles. Green sea turtles that swim in the water in the Galapagos and lay their eggs on beaches can weigh hundreds of pounds. But these are green sea turtles, not a giant turtle species. The massive land animals that people come to see are giant tortoises, not turtles. Very different animals. Need to know how to tell the difference? In short – tortoises stay on land, turtles prefer the water.
4 – Charles Darwin only spent 5 Weeks in the Galapagos
Three years after Ecuador claimed the islands from Spain, Charles Darwin arrived and spent five weeks on the islands in 1835 as part of the HMS Beagle voyage captained by Robert FitzRoy. Darwin actually only visited four of the islands, and while he made many important observations at the time, it wasn’t until he arrived home in England much later on that he studied the finches and worked out his theory of evolution through natural selection – leading to his published work The Origin of Species. What is the most impressive thing you’ve accomplished after a 5-week visit somewhere?
5 – Goats have Wreaked Havoc in the Galapagos Islands
In recent decades, studies proved that feral goats were straining the local giant tortoise populations. These goats first arrived when early settlers and previous whalers and sealers visited the islands. Spreading into the highlands, their numbers increased to dangerous levels, where tortoises would starve because they couldn’t compete with the more aggressive goats, who would eat everything in their path. Eradication programs have eliminated more than 270,000+ goats in recent decades! About half of those are from Isabela Island.