Photo Courtesy of Joao Canziani
The Galápagos are 6-GMT, a one-hour time difference from mainland Ecuador. Pirates visited the islands in the 16th century, taking thousands of tortoises onto their ships to be used as food on long journeys. They introduced the first destructive species to the islands when they loosed goats, which quickly turned feral and remain a serious problem today. Subsequent visitors, including whalers, merchants, and buccaneers would nearly eradicate endemic species, including sea lions, tortoises, and penguins. Spain led the first scientific expedition to the islands in 1790; Darwin’s visit aboard the HMS Beagle would not come until 1835. His Origin of the Species was published 24 years later. Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Floreana, and Isabela are the only inhabited islands. Tourism has overtaken subsistence fishing as the most important industry, though certain niche industries have seen intense growth since the turn of the 20th century; sea cucumbers farmed off the islands of Fernandina and Isabela are sold at a premium price in Asian markets (and are touted as an aphrodisiac). The Galápagos Marine Reserve is the second largest in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Ecuador’s first national park, the Galápagos is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s important that you take nothing but photographs, and leave nothing but footprints; keep a respectful distance from all wildlife, and never try to touch, feed, or coax the animals.