Exploring the Galapagos Islands

By: Ann Knapp

Are you ready for the ultimate student group travel science trip? Then consider exploring the islands of the Galapagos, and let your students see for themselves the place where Charles Darwin formulated his theories of evolution.

The Galapagos Islands are a small archipelago of islands belonging to Ecuador in the western Pacific Ocean. The islands are quite remote and isolated, lying some 1000 km (620 miles) west of the South American continent. The Galapagos archipelago consists of 13 main islands and six smaller isles
Together they embrace some 50,000 sq km (19,500 sq miles) of ocean.

This archipelago is world-renowned for its unique and fearless wildlife and for its volcanic geographical features. The diversity of life on these islands is said to have inspired Charles Darwin when he put forward the theory of natural selection.

The islands are very popular amongst natural historians, both professional and amateur. Vast wildlife includes giant tortoises, sea lions, penguins, marine iguanas and various bird species.

The landscape of the islands is relatively barren and volcanic. The highest mountain amongst the islands is Volcan Wolf on Isla Isabela, 1707 m (5600ft) high.

The Galapagos were claimed by newly-independent Ecuador in 1832 just three years before Darwin's visit on the Beagle. During the 19th and early 20th centuries the islands were inhabited by very few settlers and were used as a penal colony.

The last penal colony was closed in 1959 when the islands were declared a national park. The Galapagos were subsequently listed as a World Heritage Site in 1978.

Strict controls on tourist access are maintained in an effort to protect the natural habitats. All visitors must be accompanied by a national park-certified naturalist tour guide.

The islands currently receive an average of 60,000 visitors per year. Sadly, most visitors simply take a boat tour and then depart, allowing very little money to flow to local inhabitants. However, by extending your stay in Puerto Ayora you can help to add money to the local economy. This is not just a small gesture of help as it also demonstrates to local residents the value of the park and the need to end illegal fishing and polluting.

The park is strictly regulated and outside of the town, visitors must be accompanied by guides. Visitors are only allowed on land from sunrise until sunset and itineraries must be registered with the park prior to embarking on a trip.

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