The Galapagos Archipelago is a cluster of some 13 volcanic islands and associated islets and rocks located just under the equator, about 600 miles (1000km) west of Ecuador in South America. The oldest of the islands are about 4 million years old and the youngest are still in the process of being formed. These Islands that we visit on our Galapagos cruises are considered to be one of the most active volcanic areas in the world.
About 95% of the islands are part of the Galapagos National Park system, with the remainder being inhabited by about 14,000 people in four major communities (Puerto Ayora, Puerto Baquerizo, Puerto Villamil and Floreana). The Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Research Station jointly operate the islands.
The Park Service provides rangers and guides, and is responsible for overseeing the many tourists who visit each year. The Darwin Station conducts scientific research and conservation programs. It is currently breeding and releasing captive tortoises and iguanas. This group of 13 mayor islands and dozens of smaller islets and rocks – all the result of volcanic activity – certainly appear to be out of this world. They are, in fact, an unpredicted wilderness, filled with extraordinary populations of unique species, which have developed apart from humans and their dominating influence.
In a effort to preserve the islands as they were centuries ago, the Galapagos have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Established in 1959, the Galapagos National Park is the oldest National Park in Ecuador. About 97% of the entire area of the Galapagos Islands are part of the National Park system and remain uninhabited. The other 3% of the Islands are the inhabited areas of Santa Cruz Island, San Cristobal Island, Isabela Island and Floreana Island. In 1967, the first park service was created, but it took about 4 years for the Galapagos National Park to assign its first Superintendent and first set of park rangers as part of the National Park System.
Today the Park has a complex management system and hundreds of Park Rangers. In 1979, the Galapagos National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This meant that the Park’s management and staff were responsible for performing permanent conservation efforts and guarding the islands according to UNESCO’s standards and regulations. However, in 2007, as a result of the fast growing human development and poorly controlled immigration, tourism and trade, UNESCO added the Galapagos to its List of World Heritage Sites in Danger. Since 2007, strict measures were put in place by the Galapagos National Park to control tourism, immigration and the development of existing communities in Galapagos.
Since its existence, the Galapagos National park has developed a series of rules and regulations to protect the Islands and minimize the impact of tourists on the Islands. All tourists who visit the islands on a cruise, or who take daily tours out to the islands, must be accompanied by Galapagos National Park certified guide on every visit. In addition, the Galapagos National Park collects an entrance fee of $100 per person from all those who wish to visit the Galapagos Park and the Galapagos Marine Reserve either by staying at a hotel in the islands or by taking a Galapagos cruise.
The most important rules and regulations of the Galapagos National Park for visitors are the following:
- Always follow the marked trail and never leave it. •
- Do not touch the animals. •
- Do not take souvenirs from the islands. •
- Do not get too close to animals.
- Do not smoke on the islands.
- Do not take food to the islands.
- Clean your shoes’ soles before disembarking in the islands. You may have carried some seeds endemic to one island and would not want to introduce them to another.
- Always stay together with your group.