Surprising Facts About the Galapagos Islands

This remote string of islands no doubt features on every travel bucket list out there. From early beginnings as uninhabitable lava they evolved to home an incredible diversity of plant and animal life and gave birth to the theory of evolution itself. From swimming iguanas to giant tortoises, many animals here exist nowhere else on earth. Keep reading for some surprising facts about this ‘living laboratory of evolution’…

blue footed boobies

Early visitors were unimpressed

The first person to discover the isles was a Spanish nobleman whose boat was blown off course in 1535. Unimpressed by the dry desert-like terrain he told the King of Spain it was ‘worthless’! Luckily for nature this kept humans away and it was left to evolve into the diverse habitats that exist today.

It’s the meeting point of 3 tectonic plates…

This area is one of the most volcanically active in the world with 13 currently active volcanoes. The last eruption was as recently as 2018 which threatened the amazing-sounding pink land iguana. There are only 200 left, making them one of the most vulnerable species on the islands.

…and 5 ocean currents

ocean tides turtle

It’s not just the earth that won’t stand still here, 5 different ocean currents converge at this point meaning you never know what kind of water temperature, visibility or marine life will be around the islands when you visit. The weather here is entirely dependent on the sea currents.

The number of islands is under debate

There are 19 islands on record and many islets but as there is so much volcanic activity the landscape is constantly in flux. Older islands are sinking and newer ones are on the rise.

Galapagos animals have no fear of humans

Some scientists hypothesize that the animals of these islands have evolved to lose the natural instinct of fear. Living for hundreds of thousands of years without the presence of humans or predators means these animals remain totally chill, providing perfect wildlife observation opportunities.

Lizards… that swim?

swimming lizards in galapagos

The Galapagos marine iguana is the only aquatic lizard in the world and looks like a mini Godzilla. Although they seem fierce they are actually gentle vegetarians, evolved to swim down and feed on algae under the sea. It is possible to scuba dive off the islands and swim alongside them in their natural habitat.

Giant tortoise used to be on the menu

One of the most amazing things about the giant land tortoises found here was once part of their downfall. They are able to live to up to a 100 years old and can survive up to a year without food or water! Unfortunately this meant sailors would take them on ships to provide fresh meat on long journeys.

Darwin and the turtles

turtles in the galapagos

Darwin noticed that the turtles of the Galapagos varied slightly from island to island. The shape of their shells was uniquely adapted to the type of food available. On one island the shell rises like a saddle, allowing the animals to raise their heads high for food. Another was more dome shaped as these tortoises only fed on ground vegetation- no need to raise their heads! This was one of the facts that led to his theory of evolution.

See distant galaxies

With no light pollution for thousands of miles this is one of the best places in the world to watch the night skies. Being so close to the equator means you can see constellations from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

Snorkel in a submerged volcano

The Devil’s Crown is a submerged volcano not far off Floreana Island. The top of the volcano makes a ring of jagged rocks on the surface that you can swim out to and discover tropical fish, rays, sometimes even hammerhead sharks amongst the old lava tunnels and channels.

volcanic rock in the galapagos

Galapagos Sharks make questionable parents

Shark pups born in the waters off the islands flee closer to shore as soon as they are able. Here they can gain strength and avoid being eaten by their parents!

There are tropical penguins

Galapagos penguins are the only of the species to exist north of the equator. They are thought to have arrived on ocean currents and are able to survive in the tropical climate by staying close to the cooler Humboldt and Cromwell currents. Very cutely, they are known to hold their flippers over their feet to avoid sunburn when on land.

You can still leave a message in a barrel 

In the 18th century on Floreana Island a barrel was used as a postal box by sailors. Passing whaling ships would take them if they were heading in the direction of the addressed letters. Today you can still leave a message and take someone else's if you believe you can deliver it.