A Culture of Adaptation in a Challenging Environment
The islands that inspired Charles Darwin to propose the theory of evolution are also placed where humans have learned to adapt in unique ways. Settlers learned to cultivate crops in scattered oases of green within a landscape shaped by wind and fire, and subject to mercurial rains that make water a precious commodity. Drawing on both land and sea for sustenance, the descendants of Spanish colonials and indigenous people forged a culture of resilience and inventiveness that has carried over to their modern day heirs. And while it is the wildlife that draws most visitors to the Galapagos, time spent meeting the peoples of the islands can be equally rewarding.
- Best for: Active travelers with an interest in wildlife
- Best season to visit: Year round
- Weather: During the season known as the garúa (June - Nov), coastal temperatures are in the low 70s. Fog may conceal the islands and drizzles can last most of the day. During the warm season from Dec - May, temps rise to the high 70s on the water
Cultural Activities in Galapagos
Human presence in the Galapagos is a relatively recent phenomenon. Pirates and later whalers first used these islands as stopping points, but it wasn't until the 1800s that the first full-time colonists arrived. Of the region’s 18 primary islands, only five are now inhabited. Together, they are home to some 25,000 people, most of the mixed Spanish and Native American roots.
Cultural Activities in Galapagos Tips
For an authentic and entertaining slice of island life, head to the fish market in the town of Santa Cruz. While fishermen unload their daily catch and haggle prices with buyers, a group of sneaky sea lions lurks near the wharfs, ready to pounce on any stray item that spills from a basket or net.
Best Places for Cultural Activities in Galapagos
The Charles Darwin Research Station draws scientists and visitors from around the world. The town of Puerto Ayora hosts an artisanal crafts market featuring goods created from local materials. Agricultural traditions live on in highland towns such as Santa Rosa and Bella Vista. Tours of the Trapiche cane mill and distillery can include samples of the regions' prized sugar cane liquor.
What to Pack for Cultural Activities in Galapagos
The Galapagos is a land of microclimates, ranging from cool fogs and drizzles to hot sunshine. Pack a hat and long-sleeve shirt for sun protection, but also a light windbreaker for daily cooldowns. A pair of sturdy walking shoes will serve you well whether in town or on nature trails.
Passport and/or Visa Requirements
Entry Requirements: All Americans are required to present a valid passport that must be valid for 6 months beyond your date of entry into the country. Proof of onward or return ticket may also be required and you should have one blank page in your passport for entry stamp. Visas are not required, but you will be required to pay a $100 park fee for diving, sometimes in cash. All persons must pay for a $20 Galapagos Visitor Card.
Although no vaccines are required for entry into Ecuador/Galapagos, it is always advisable to check with your doctor and The Centers for Disease Control on recommended vaccinations.
Culture and Customs
Europeans discovered the then uninhabited Galapagos Islands by accident when a Spanish ship was becalmed and drifted with the currents. The islands first appeared on maps around 1570, where they were named "Insulae de Los Galopegos" (Islands of the Tortoises) in reference to the giant tortoises found there. The Galapagos giant tortoise is the largest living species of tortoise on earth, weighing up to 900 pounds, with a lifespan of over 100 years. The islands became a base for pirates, and later whalers, who also harvested the island's abundant fur seals, and put a significant dent in the tortoise population. The 1800s saw the arrival of colonists who managed to eke out subsistence livings through a combination of farming, ranching fishing and mining. Of the region’s 18 primary islands, only five are inhabited: Baltra, Floreana, Isabela, San Cristobal and Santa Cruz. Together, they are now home to some 25,000 people. The largest ethnic group is composed of Ecuadorian Mestizos, the mixed descendants of Spanish colonists and indigenous Native Americans, who arrived mainly in the last century from the continental part of Ecuador. Some descendants of the early European and American colonists also remain on the islands. Today, tourism is the largest sector of the local economy, attracting more than 200,000 visitors each year.
Electricity, Phone and Internet Access
Electricity in the Galapagos is 110 volts, 60 cycles, so no adapter is generally needed for U.S. Visitors. Some outlets are only 2 prong outlets so a 3 prong adapter may be needed. The country code for Galapagos is 593. Check with your cell phone provider for international phone and data plans. Some hotels offer WiFi. If traveling by liveaboard, usually only satellite phones are an option.
Drinking tap water is not recommended. It is best to drink bottled water or purified water may be supplied by many resorts.
Language & Currency
Spanish is the official language, but English is widely spoken. The local currency is the U.S. dollar, which the Ecuadorian government adopted as its national currency in 2000.
The Galapagos observes Galapagos Island Time, referred to as GALT. It is 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (-6 GMT). The Galapagos Islands do not observe Daylight Savings Time.
Location, Size and Population
The Galapagos are a volcanic archipelago of islands on either side of the Equator in the Pacific Ocean. The islands are part of Ecuador and located approximately 600 miles west of the mainland. There are 18 main islands each having a land area of at least 1 square Kilometer and some much larger. The islands include Baltra (8 square miles), Bartolome, Darwin, Espanola (37 square miles), Fernandina, Floreana (107 square miles), Genovesa, Isabela (1803 square miles), Marchena (50 square miles), North Seymour, Pinta (23 square miles), Pinzon, Rabida, San Cristobal (215 square miles), Santa Cruz, Sante Fe (9 square miles), Santiago (221 square miles) and Wolf. There are some minor islands as well, like Daphne Major, South Plaza Island, Nameless Island and Roca Redonda.
The population of the Galapagos Islands is slightly over 25,000. This does not include 1,800 temporary residents or 5,000 irregular residents.