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Born from the fires deep within the Earth, the Galapagos Islands are brimming with life. They are the great laboratory of nature that 150 years ago inspired Charles Darwin to publish the most controversial book in the history of science: The ...

... Origin of the Species.

The Galapagos archipelago, located in the Pacific, is made up of 13 main islands and more than 110 small islands and islets, about 1000 km off the coast of Ecuador.

Their discovery is attributed to a Spanish bishop called Tomás de Berlanga, who found them in 1535 whilst sailing from Panama to Peru. He described the new islands as a place "where God has made rocks rain upon the earth ... they're not worth anything". He called them the enchanted islands. The Spanish never took much interest in the archipelago and for more than three centuries the islands were used by pirates, seal hunters and whalers. The Galapagos offered a safe base, firewood, water and plenty of food in the shape of tortoises, which were hunted in their thousands and piled up live in the holds of boats. These giants impressed the sailors so much that now the archipelago bears their name.

Observing the strange land iguanas that are endemic in Santa Fe, we discovered why Tomás de Berlanga thought he'd discovered Hell on Earth. I'm sure that the marine iguanas made him think that dragons were coming out of the sea, bigger dragons were coming out of the burning interiors of the islands and from every corner were coming giant tortoises capable of storing enough fat to survive for a year without eating or drinking; everything suggesting that to survive here you had to be a monster. Or did you just need to be different? Eventually a man would say the truth and change the way these islands were seen ... Charles Darwin arrived in 1835 on board the British ship Beagle to make the last stop on a voyage that was mainly dedicated to chart the coast of South America. The young and impressionable naturalist stayed there for five weeks taking notes and collecting samples. He observed that different types of chaffinches were distinguished by different types of beak, which suggested adaptations for different diet, and that on different islands the tortoises had different shells. These observations led him, two decades later, to formulate his theory of natural selection, according to which the best-adapted individuals in a population survive and reproduce, while the others die without leaving descendents. In 1859 "The Origin of the Species" appeared and it was a sales success. Today, 150 years later, this publication continues to be venerated by some and hated by others.

The volcanic origin of the Galapagos is related to the existence of a hot spot underneath the Nazca oceanic plate, through which lava flowed and built up until it solidified. The hot spot remains immobile, while the Nazca plate, on which the Galapagos rest, moves towards the continent. For this reason Isla Española and San Cristóbal are the oldest islands, and Isabela and Fernandina, located in the west, are the youngest and have more volcanic activity. They have never been in contact with the continent, a basic premise for Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution.


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Tortuga gigante - Islas Galápagos




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