Giant tortoises bounce back

Names of the Galapagos Islands

Orthographic projection centred over the Galápagos.

Main islands

The archipelago has been known by many different names, including the "Enchanted Islands" because of the way in which strong, swift currents made navigation difficult. The first crude navigation chart of the islands was done by the buccaneer Ambrose Cowley in 1684, and in those charts he named the islands after some of his fellow pirates or after the English noblemen who helped the pirates' cause. The term "Galápagos" refers to the Spanish name given to the giant land tortoises known to inhabit the islands.

Satellite photo of the Galápagos islands overlaid with the Spanish names of the visible main islands.

The main islands of the archipelago (with their English names) shown alphabetically:

Baltra (South Seymour)

During World War II Baltra was established as a U.S. Air Force base. Crews stationed at Baltra patrolled the Pacific for enemy submarines as well as providing protection for the Panama Canal. After the war the facilities were given to the government of Ecuador. Today the island continues as an official Ecuadorian military base.

Until 1986, Baltra had the only airport serving the Galápagos. Now there are two airports, the other located on San Cristobal Island; most flights operating in and out of Galápagos still fly into Baltra.

During the 1930s scientists decided to move 70 of Baltra's Land Iguanas to the neighboring island of North Seymour as part of an experiment. This move had unexpected results, for during the WWII military occupation of Baltra, the native iguanas became extinct on the island. During the 1980s iguanas from North Seymour were brought to the Darwin Station as part of a breeding and repopulation project and in the 1990s land iguanas were reintroduced to Baltra.


View from Bartolomé Island, Galápagos Islands, March 2002

Named for Lt. David Bartholomew of the British Navy, this small island is located just east of Santiago. Desolate Bartolome is one of the most visited and photographed islands in the Galápagos.

Bartolomé is an extinct volcano and has a variety of variably colored volcanic formations, including a tuff cone known as Pinnacle Rock. This large black, partially eroded cone was created when lava reached the sea. Contact with seawater resulted in a phreatic explosion. The exploded molten fragments fused together, forming a welded tuff.

Bartolomé is inhabited by Galápagos Penguins, sea lions, nesting marine turtles, white-tipped reef sharks, and a variety of birds.

Darwin (Culpepper)

This island is named after Charles Darwin. It has an area of 1.1 square kilometers (0.4 mi²) and a maximum altitude of 168 metres (551 ft). Fur seals, frigates, marine iguanas, swallow-tailed gulls, sea lions, whales, marine turtles, dolphins, red-footed and Nazca boobies can be seen.

Española (Hood)

Waved Albatross on Española

Española is the oldest island (at around 3.5 million years) and the southernmost in the chain. The island's remote location provides for a large number of endemic fauna. Secluded from the other islands, wildlife on Española adapted to the island's environment and natural resources. Marine iguanas on Española are the only ones that change color during breeding season.

The Waved Albatross is found on the island. The island's steep cliffs serve as the perfect runways for these large birds, which take off for their ocean feeding grounds near the mainland of Ecuador and Peru.

Española has two visitor sites. Gardner Bay is a swimming and snorkeling site as well as offering a beach. Punta Suarez has migrant, resident, and endemic wildlife including brightly colored Marine iguanas, Española Lava Lizards, Hood Mockingbirds, Swallow-tailed Gulls, Blue Footed Boobies and Nazca Boobies, Galápagos Hawks, a selection of Finch, and the Waved Albatross.

Fernandina (Narborough)

The name was given in honor of King Ferdinand of Spain, who sponsored the voyage of Columbus. Fernandina has an area of 642 square kilometers (248 mi²) and a maximum altitude of 1, 494 meters (4, 902 ft). This is the youngest and westernmost island. In May 13, 2005, a new very eruptive process began on this island when an ash and water vapor cloud rose to a height of 7 kilometers (4.4 mi) and lava flows descended the slopes of the volcano on the way to the sea.

Punta Espinosa is a narrow stretch of land where hundreds of marine iguanas gather, largely on black lava rocks. The famous Flightless Cormorant inhabits this island and also Galápagos Penguins, Pelicans and sea lions are abundant. Different types of lava flows can be compared and the mangrove forests can be observed.

Floreana (Charles or Santa María)

Originally named Charles Island for the British king Charles II, it was changed to Floreana after Juan José Flores, the first president of Ecuador, during whose administration the government of Ecuador took possession of the archipelago. It is also called Santa Maria after one of the caravels of Columbus. It has an area of 173 square kilometers (66.8 mi²) and a maximum altitude of 640 meters (2, 100 ft).

It is one of the islands with the most interesting human history and was one of the earliest to be inhabited. General José Villamil established a colony for political prisoners here in 1832. At Post Office Bay, since the eighteenth century whalers kept a wooden barrel that served as post office so that mail could be picked up and delivered to their destinations, mainly Europe and the United States, by ships on their way home.

At the “Devil's Crown, ” an underwater volcanic cone, coral formations are found. Pink flamingos and green sea turtles nest (December to May) on this island. The "patapegada" or Galápagos petrel is found here, a sea bird that spends most of its life away from land.

Genovesa Island (Tower)

Red-footed booby.

The name is derived from Genoa, Italy where it is said Columbus was born. It has an area of 14 square kilometers (5.4 mi²) and a maximum altitude of 76 meters (249 ft). This island is formed by the remaining edge of a large crater that is submerged. Its nickname of “the bird island” is clearly justified. At Darwin Bay, frigatebirds, swallow-tailed gulls, the only nocturnal ones of its species in the world, can be seen. Red-footed boobies, noddy terns, lava gulls, tropic birds, doves, storm petrels and Darwin finches are also in sight. Prince Philip's Steps is a bird-watching plateau, with Nazca and red-footed boobies. There is a large Palo Santo forest.

Nature: The Galapagos Islands
Nature: The Galapagos Islands
Wildlife of the Galápagos Islands
Wildlife of the Galápagos Islands
The animals of Galapagos
The animals of Galapagos
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