The Galapagos Islands, which lie approximately 600 miles (almost 1000 kilometers) west of Ecuador, are the legendary home to some of the most bizarre creatures on the planet. They are famous as the open-air laboratory of Charles Darwin and were extremely instrumental in his development of the Theory of Evolution, which he published in his landmark work, Origin of Species, in 1859.
The best way to get to the islands is by air from Quito, Ecuador, which offers daily flights, then joining a boat-tour which offers accommodations aboard. There are 13 major islands, although Darwin only visited four of them. Visitors must adhere to very strict rules, as a result of monumental conservation efforts by the Ecuadorian government to protect and preserve this sanctuary. The animals are not afraid of man, probably because of the remoteness of the islands, and their trusting behavior, allowing people to approach closely, is one of the reasons that they must be protected.
The largest island, Isabela, is known primarily for its population of Giant Tortoises, those plant-eating, long-lived curiosities which so-fascinated Darwin.
On Santiago Island there are hundreds of inky-black Marine Iguanas, which loll on the rocks of the coast, then dive into the water to feed on algae.
One of the reasons that the islands exhibit so many examples of evolution is because there are significant ecological differences among the islands which have created a wide variety of habitats that the creatures have adapted to. Consider the famous finches. Darwin surmised that one species of finch which arrived, by accident, from the mainland evolved over time into 13 different species, with different beaks, different food sources, etc.
These islands are home to 6 species of mammals, some 28 species of birds, and almost 20 species of reptiles which are found nowhere else in the world. Some of them, besides the ones already mentioned, include the Blue-footed Booby, the Waved Albatross, and the Galapagos Sea Lion.
A visit here is a “must” for anyone in the Biology field.