The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago consisting of about 120 islands and islets in the Pacific Ocean, off the cost of Ecuador. The islands of the Galapagos are volcanic in origin and consist of basaltic rock.


Isabela, Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Santiago, Floreana and Fernandina are the largest islands.


About 25,000 people live in the Galapagos, on the islands of Isabela, Santa Cruz, Floreana and San Cristóbal. 97% of the land in the Galapagos Islands has no human inhabitants.


Temperatures in the Galapagos range form about 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 30 degrees Celsius).


There is a a warm season that runs from December to May and a dry season that runs from June to December. The El Niño phenomenon has a strong effect on the climate.


The Galapagos' claim to fame is that it is the place where Charles Darwin received the inspiration for his theory of natural selection - the process by which evolution takes place.


Darwin, who had journeyed to the Galapagos via the HMS Beagle, visited four of the islands - Isabela, San Cristóbal, and Floreana and Santiago - in 1845. During his stay, Darwin noticed that each island contained unique animal species. He reasoned that these animals must have had ancestors that once lived on the South American mainland. After they had arrived on the separate islands, they became isolated and underwent separate evolutionary paths. Darwin spent a great deal of time studying the many species off Galapagos finches.


Other animals that can be found on the Galapagos Islands and in the surrounding waters include include giant tortoises, turtles, iguanas, geckos, penguins, flamingos, pelicans, albatrosses, frigate birds, boobies, bats, sharks, seals, sea lions, dolphins and humpback whales.


Three major oceanic currents converge near the Galapagos. This has contributed to the diversity of marine life around the islands.


A famous resident of the Galapagos is Lonesome George. As far as we know, George is the the world's last living Pinta Island Tortoise. He is believed to have been born in the 1920s.


Many other Galapagos species are threatened with extinction.


Galapagos National Park, Ecuador's oldest national park, is devoted to conserving the islands' flora and fauna. The park was founded in 1959, exactly 100 years after Darwin published his Origin of Species. It is made up of all of the areas of the Galapagos islands that do not have human inhabitants. The park has an area of 2,900 square miles (7,500 square kilometers); however, ecotourists have access to only one percent of it.


Visitors to Galapagos National Park must be accompanied by a certified tour guide and must obey strict rules in order to prevent any negative effects on the islands' ecologies. For example, visitors must clean the soles of their shoes before leaving an island, to prevent seeds from a plant native to one island from being brought to another island.


The volcanic origin of the Galapagos makes for fascinating terrain.


Sierra Negra, a volcano on Isabela Island has the largest basaltic caldera on Earth.


Tourists can climb Alcedo Volcano, also on Isabela Island. Alcedo Volcano is home to the Galapagos' largest tourist population.


The Devil's Crown, an almost completely submerged volcano off the coast of Floreana Island, is a popular site for snorkelers and scuba divers.


Volcanic activity is still taking place in the Galapagos.


History of the Galapagos


In 1535, Tomas de Berlanga, the Bishop of Panama, became the first person known to visit the Galapagos.


The Galapagos Islands were once a hideout for pirates.


In the 1800s, the archipelago was a popular base for whaling expeditions.


Ecuador annexed the Galapagos Islands in 1832.


Once the Panama Canal was built, the Galapagos Islands became very important strategically because of their proximity to the canal. During World War II, the United States had a naval base on the island of Baltra.


In 1978, the Galapagos Islands became one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites.