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Galapagos islands


The Galápagos Islands were discovered by chance on 10 March 1535 by the Spaniard Tomás de Berlanga, Bishop of Panama. From potsherds found, it can be deduced that people had been on the islands much earlier. Because of Berlanga's description, Abraham Ortelius called the archipelago Insulae de los Galopegos in his Theatrum orbis terrarum (1570); the Spaniards called them Las Encantadas, (enchanted islands), because they believed they floated on the waves.

The islands were not visited for a long time after Berlanga's visit, except by some pirates and deserters. The islands were mainly used by these people as a source of food; turtles were loaded onto ships by the hundreds. After the pirates came the whalers and sea lion hunters who hunted the animals for their skins and animal fat. Great damage was done to the natural environment by the animals brought by the Europeans, such as goats, dogs, rats and other pets.

In 1807, Irish exile Patrick Watkins was the first person to "settle" on one of the islands. In 1812, the archipelago was taken possession of by an American captain for the United States, but after his return, the American government declared the occupation invalid. On 12 February 1832, the still uninhabited group was officially annexed by Ecuador. Afterwards, General José Villamil founded a colony on Charles Island, named La Floreana after Flores, the then president of the republic. It soon became a penal colony for political prisoners and criminals, a status it maintained until 1958. Villamil was succeeded by José Williams, who carried out his authority with a very heavy hand.

In 1835 Charles Darwin arrived on the islands on the Beagle and based on his findings wrote the book "On the origin of species by means of natural selection or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle of life". This book, in which he revealed his theory of evolution, unleashed a social and scientific storm. With the opening of the Panama Canal (1914), the islands became a strategic point of interest.

From 1942 to 1946, South Seymour was a military base of the United States. In 1924, a new wave of settlers arrived on the islands, but they faced a harsh and poor future. In 1959, to mark the centenary of the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, a biological research centre was set up on Santa Cruz Island by the government with the support of UNESCO. In September 1995, the Governor of the Galápagos Islands, Eduardo Veliz, together with the local population, occupied the national park and the Charles Darwin Research Station. They demanded more control over the revenues from tourism and wanted to profit more from it themselves. The violent protests lasted two weeks, after which an agreement was reached in Quito.

See also the history of Ecuador.



Luft, A. / Reishandboek Ecuador en de Galápagoseilanden

Rachowiecki, R. / Ecuador & the Galápagos islands
Lonely Planet

Renterghem, O. van / Ecuador : mensen, politiek, economie, cultuur
Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen/Novib

Vries, W. de / Ecuador, Galápagos

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated April 2024
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