The Galapagos Islands have long been a magnet to travellers interested in the ecology and geology of our natural world. This remote volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean lies around 1,000km off the coast of Ecuador and supports some of the most diverse habitats on the planet. There are 13 main islands and numerous smaller ones, each with its own distinct characteristics. For anyone planning a trip to the Galapagos, holidays to explore this most unique part of the world can be enhanced by understanding some of the features and fast facts about them. |
While it is certainly not the largest, Bartholomew may be the most recognisable island. Its scenery is dominated by Pinnacle Rock, one of the most iconic landmarks of the archipelago. The tall, pointed rock just off the shore features in countless images of the region, providing a spectacular backdrop for the 360° views its high point. Bartholomew is also renowned as one of the best sites to encounter the magnificent marine wildlife, including Galapagos Penguins, sea lions, sharks and rays.
Also known as Hood Island, Espanola is relatively flat, with the highest of its small hills measuring around 675ft. It is home to an abundance of wildlife including large numbers of sea lions and more than 12,000 pairs of Waved Albatross – almost the entire global population of the avian species. The breeding site at Gardner Bay, on its eastern shores, is also an exceptional place to explore the underwater life and encounter Marine Iguanas sunning themselves on the rocky beaches.
The largest of all the islands, Isabela is in fact five small volcanoes joined together – all of which are still active. As such, the landscape is quite dramatic and varied, from the dense vegetation of the southern highlands to stark lava fields and mangrove swamps at lower altitudes. For visitors on Galapagos holidays, Isabela has multiple sites of interest including the vast wetlands, which support a huge variety of endemic and breeding birdlife.
Santa Cruz has six different vegetation zones, and the astounding diversity of its habitat is matched by the diversity and abundance of its wildlife species. Along with the opportunity to explore the many wild reptilian species of the highlands, it an integral part of the itinerary of most Galapagos holidays as it is the location of the Charles Darwin Research Station. The facility is an important breeding, education and research facility dedicated to the conservation of the Giant Tortoise, one of the most iconic species of the archipelago.
Fernandina is the youngest of all the islands, with its last volcanic activity recorded in 2009 from its centrepiece, La Cumbre. Renowned for its magnificent scenery, it is considered one of the world's most untouched ecosystems, with no foreign species ever believed to have arrived on its shores. It is home to the nesting site of the unique flightless cormorants, along with the Blue Footed Booby and the elusive Galapagos Hawk.
A Unique Environment
The best Galapagos holidays are those with an itinerary that takes in both the large and smaller islands of the archipelago, in order to get a complete overview of not just its beauty but also its astonishing diversity. As one of the most fascinating places on Earth, scientists and biologists are still discovering new facts every year about this unique part of the world.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in the unique wildlife of the Galapagos archipelago. Marissa chooses the expert-led Galapagos holidays organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in one of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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