A brief history of the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Archipelago was discovered by accident in 1535, when Tomas de Berlanga, the Bishop of Panama, drifted off course while sailing from Panama to Peru. The Bishop reported his discovery to King Charles V of Spain and included in his report a description of the giant galapago (tortoise) from which the islands received their name.

It is possible that the Indian inhabitants of South America were aware of the islands' existence before 1535 but there is no record of this. In 1953, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyedahl discovered what he thought to be pre-Colombian pottery shards on the islands, but the evidence seems inconclusive.

For more than three centuries after their discovery, the Galapagos were used as a base by a succession of buccaneers, sealers and whalers. The islands provided sheltered anchorage, firewood, water and an abundance of food in the form of giant Galapagos tortoises which were caught by the thousands and stacked, alive, in ships holds. The tortoises could survive for a year or more and thus provided fresh meat for the sailors long after they had left the islands.

The first rough charts of the Galapagos Islands were made by buccaneers in the late 17th century, and scientific exploration began the late 18th century. The Galapagos' most famous visitor was Charles Darwin, who arrived in 1835, exactly 300 years after the Bishop of Panama. Darwin stayed for five weeks, making notes and wildlife collections that provided important evidence for his theory of evolution, which he was just then beginning to develop.

Ecuador officially claimed the Galapagos Archipelago in 1832. For roughly one century thereafter, the islands were inhabited by a few settlers and were used as penal colonies, the last of which was closed in 1959.

Some islands were declared wildlife sanctuaries in 1934, and the archipelago officially became a national park in 1959. Organised Galapagos tours began in the late 1960's and now an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 people visit the islands each year.

Trip Reviews

  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16211 reviews)

    Re-energised

    This trip was certainly "active". The Lares trail was my highlight and pushed me to the limits. It was wonderful to share this trip with such an amazing group of people of all ages. The guides were superb.
    Anne Oliver Review Image
    – Western Australia, Australia
    Jaguar 2017, July 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16211 reviews)

    Amazing adventure

    I had an amazing time. From snorkeling, hiking an active volcano to kayaking and biking along the beach. Loved the locations we stayed at!
    Jennifer Kelleher Review Image
    – Illinois, United States
    Tortuga, December 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16211 reviews)

    Peru and Galapagos Islands

    The two regions of this trip were so different. In Peru, learning about Inca history, seeing the structures that they built with minimal tools and that have survived for centuries and getting to spend time in small towns and interacting with local artisans was fabulous. The Galapagos Islands were a wildlife fest with snorkeling, kayaking and boat rides between islands and viewing sea "creatures" in the shallows and deep water. You also hiked volcanos and saw land tortoises, iguanas and the topography change as you go from lush to lava fields. Wonderful experiences
    Carol Miller Review Image
    – Illinois, United States
    Iguana, October 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16211 reviews)

    2017 Iguana Trip

    The Peru portion of the trip with Erick was spectacular. Erick's attention to detail, compassion for each individual on the trip and genuine love for Peru made this portion of the trip absolutely amazing.
    JoJo Tadich Review Image
    – Florida, United States
    Iguana, September 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 16211 reviews)

    Whoa! What an incredible trip!

    There aren't any words that could properly prepare you for what is in store. Patagonia was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!

    Cynthia was an amazing guide, she took such good care of us! She routinely went above and beyond to ensure we were safe, happy, healthy and well fed. What a gem she was! And on top of being great at her job, she's just an awesome person, fun, smart, flexible, just the kind of person you want touring you around the edge of the earth for 2 weeks.

    The trip itself was absolutely breathtaking. No photo could do that place justice. The W trail was an amazing hike full of ever changing views (and lots of wind!). Definitely, pay the extra to do the Grey Glacier hike! It was a trip highlight!

    Get ready to take your jacket on and off more in one day than you would over the course of a month back home :) Everything they say about the weather is true. You are at the mercy of the elements, but for the most part, we lucked out with weather (and when we didn't Cynthia always had a plan B).

    I'm so glad we did this! We will definitely be touring with Active again. Those folks do a stellar job of setting you up for an exciting adventure.
    Celeste Olds Review Image
    – Washington, United States
    Condor, December 2016

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