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Galapagos diving : Galapagos

Galapagos Islands National Park

In a country of incredible diversity, the Galapagos stands out. Strangely we didn't visit the islands for the first time until the end of 2003, when we spent a splendid time on the MV Ambassador I on her penultimate voyage.
marine iguanaThe Islands are located some 600 miles away from the Pacific Coast of Ecuador. They present a natural environment with truly astonishing flora and fauna in a sub tropical climate. It was here that Darwin first conceived his ideas for 'Origin of the Species' in 1835 when the Beagle visited. It was by observing small evolutionary differences on the finches in each island that he became aware of the process of natural selection.
The Islands were designated as a national park in 1959 and became the the first ever UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. The UNESCO inscription describes them as a "unique living museum and showcase of evolution". The relatively young geological age of the islands, ongoing volcanic activity and their remoteness have all combined to give the unique animal life found here -including land and sea iguanas, giant tortoise and a variety of sea birds including Albatross, Boobies and Frigate Birds.
galapagos beachThe landscape you can see here is made up of beaches of white sand, with volcanic lava evident everywhere. Inland from the coast the landscape can be bleak at times, especially in the dry seasons, somewhat reminiscent of Lord of the Rings. The outstanding charateristic is that everywhere you look seems to teem with life.
The animals are noted for their tameness, which is great for the visitor but has over the years resulted in severe conservation problems. Idigenous species have suffered both at the hands of humans and as a result of introduced species such as rats, donkeys, dogs and goats, which threaten both the animals and their habitat.
There is a strict code of behaviour on the national park -it may seem restrictive, but it is by following the code that is possible to get such close contact with the animals. Broadly, you must have a guide to explore the islands, and when leaving your boat you should take no food with you -in fact you should take nothing to or from the islands -the idea is to have a zero ecological footprint. You must not feed or touch the animals in any way. This includes not using flashlight to take photographs -so make sure you know how to turn your automatic flash off. I do urge you to look at the national park rules in full, together with an explanation for the reasons behind each rule.
galapagos sealionGetting to the Galapagos Islands is restricted -unless you come by sea you can only fly in from Quito or Guayaquil with Aerogal or Tame, ariving in either Baltra or San Cristobal. Flights are not cheap, but there are considerable reductions for nationals. You will be asked to pay $100 National Park entry fee on arrival.
The archipelago is made up of 13 larger and 6 smaller islands, each with its own character, plus numerous other rocks and islets. They are volcanic in origin and some are still active. Five of the islands are occupied, being home to some 18,000 people.
The main islands:
Santiago (San Salvador) -the most volcanic of the islands. Sites include a 500m diameter salt lake in the crater of a volcano.
Santa Cruz (Indefatigable)-contains Puerto Ayora, the largest town, and the Charles Darwin Research Station. It is also has the main airport at Baltra.
Floreana (Santa Maria) -the southernmost island, most noted for Post Office Barrel, where seafarers are supposed to drop off mail, and pick up any addressed to ports where they are headed.
San Cristobal (Chatham) -holds the capital Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and has the second of the two airports on the Islands. Also known for the spectacular rock formation called Kicker Rock or the Sleeping Lion.
Española (Hood) -smaller uninhabited island, home to the largest colony of waved albatrosses.
Genovesa (Tower Island) -small island made up of a single low volcano, home to many seabirds -masked boobies, red-footed boobies, Galapagos owls, frigates, swallow-tail gulls, lava herons, and lava gulls.
Santa Fe (Barrington Islan) -the oldest of the islands, not volcanically active and low in altitude. The lack of fresh water here has meant is is relatively unspoilt by human intrusion.
Isabela -the largest of the islands
Fernandina (Narborough Island) -the second largest island, made up of a single volcano with a large central caldera.
Pinta (Abington Island)-a small island, to the north. The most famous native of the island is Lonesome George, a Pinta tortoise who is the last known example of his species, and currently lives at the Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz
Marchena, also known as Bindloe.
Rabida (Jervis Island) -small island to the west of Santa Cruz, one of the isalands with a colony of flamingos.
Wolf and Darwin Islands (Wenman and Culpepper) -two remote eroded volcanoes to the north of the other islands. Home only to sea birds they are noted as being good places to scuba dive or snorkel.
You really cannot see the islands properly without a boat -you should consider it more as your floating hotel and choose it accordingly -see Yachts and Cruises for details of boats serving the islands. For divers, the islands are one of the best dive locations in the world -see Scuba diving for more information.
Useful information:
Capturgal -the Galapagos Chamber of Tourism -extensive list of hotels, bars and restaurants, plus interactive map.
Charles Darwin Foundation -Founded in 1959, under the auspices of UNESCO and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (previously World Conservation Union), the Charles Darwin Foundation is dedicated to the conservation of the Galapagos ecosystems. The Foundation operates the Charles Darwin Research Station to conduct scientific research and environmental education for conservation.
Galapagos Books -a listing of some of the books and DVDs currently available on the Galapagos Islands and their wildlife.
Galapagos Conservation Trust -a UK registered charity set up to raise funds for, and awareness of, the conservation needs of the Galapagos Islands.
Galapagos History and Cartography -a rather wonderful site with loads of old texts and maps about the islands. Also has a complete table of all the islands and the many variant names for each.
Galapagos Island Profiles -brief description of the islands from Paradise Yachts.
Galapagaguide -excellent online guide to the islands.
Galapagos Coalition -a group of biologists, other scientists, and lawyers with expertise in environmental and international law, many of whom have done research in the Galápagos.
Galapagos Geology -excellent description of the Geology of the islands from Department of Geological Sciences at Cornell University.
Charles Darwin -full text of The Origin of Species, Voyage of the Beagle and many other writings from the Gutenberg Project.
International Galapagos Tour Operators Association -a nonprofit association of travel companies, conservation organizations, and other groups who seek a lasting protection of the Galapagos Islands. They lobby for conservation, fund projects, and promote and practice sustainable tourism.
Imax Galapagos -not the same as actually visiting the islands but this site tells all about the making of the film and where it is currently showing.
Las Encantadas -a human and cartographic history of the islands.
Margaret Wittmer -story of the German settlers who arrived in Floreana in 1932, Margaret Wittmer was author of 'Postlagernd Floreana: A Robinson family in the Galapagos Island'.
National Science Teachers Association -useful educational background to the Islands.
Natural history of the Galapagos -useful guide by Dr. Robert H. Rothman of Rochester Institute of Technology.
Noonsite -the place for information if you are intending to arrive at the islands by boat.
Tortoise Trust -arcticle on Lonesome George and the Galapagos tortoises.
Unesco -inscription of the Galapagos as world heritage site in 1978.
Hotels in the Galapagos -although limited in number, here is a listing of hotels on the islands.
Hostels in the Galapagos -budget accommodation on San Cristobal.
Yachts in the Galapagos -our listing of the boats operating in the islands.

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Galapagos Tortoises
giant tortoise
You can see these extraordinary creatures close up at the Darwin Research Station. The Station is dedicated to research and conservation of the islands.
lonesome george
The centre is also the home of Lonesome George. At 70-80 years old, he is the last known Pinta Tortoise -the centre has been trying to get him to breed with another species close to his, so far without success.

Featured books:
Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire
Tui De Roy (Photographer)
Price in UK pounds
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Galapagos (Collins Safari Guides)
Julian Fitter, et al
Paperback - October 2, 2000
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Galapagos (IMAX) (1999)
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click here for more books on the Galapagos