Galapagos Islands History
The history of the Galapagos islands is one of the most interesting subjects about this unique place, maybe you have done a bit of research and read some books, watched documentaries and videos online, maybe some about the natural life, geology, oceanography, vulcanology and more, however, have you ever found something about the people in the Galapagos? most visitors get surprised when the find out that there are people living there. We want to give you a little idea of how life (human that is) started in the islands.
There are many stories about incas and other cultures arriving to Galapagos but unfortunately there is no proof of that, the Galapagos were officially discovered in 1535 by Fray Tomas de Berlanga, who was the bishop of Panama appointed by the King of Spain while he was sailing from Panama to Peru sent by his majesty, he was doing this trip during the month of February, and as you will learn during your visit to Galapagos, February is part of the warm season, at this time of the year there is not much wind, the marine currents move from east (the mainland) . to west (the Galapagos) so this marine currents took his ship further from the coast 600 miles west towards the islands, and thats how the first visitors arrived here.
Unfortunately we cant know for sure which islands he arrived to but might have been Espanola, we assume this because on this island, according to a letter he later sent the King of Spain telling him about this adventure, there was no fresh water, which is common for most islands, and there was nothing to eat, later in the distance they saw a larger island where they actually found some fresh water and they could survive for a few days, until the wind picked up and they could leave back to the mainland.
It was not until the late 1600´s that the next visitors arrived, in this case where pirates who saw in the gold and silver that was being taken by Spain from South America a good business, but this did not last long as these precious metals run out. After them was the time for whalers, the waters in the Galapagos are so rich that whaling was very profitable, the oil they got from this beautiful mammals was used mainly as fuel but same as what happened to pirates, it was a good business until it was not so they left ,and of course the population of whales was completely decimated when they left in the early 1800´s.
By 1835 is when Charles Darwin visited the islands on the HMS Beagle where he noticed that little birds known nowadays as Darwin´s finches were different from island to island in beak and body size which in part helped him develop his famous theory of evolution.
The interesting thing is that the Galapagos islands did not belong to any country, just three years before Darwin´s arrival to Galapagos that Ecuador made them part of its territory.
After the annex of the islands to the country of Ecuador they were used mainly as a penal colony where mainly political prisoners were sent, little by little things started to change and this stopped, by WW II the island of Baltra became a military airbase which main purpose was to protect this part of the Pacific, this lasted from 1942 to 1946 when the air base was dismantled.
One good thing came after this, the only thing they could not dismantle was the landing strip, so this gave way eventually to the construction of the first airport in Galapagos, the Seymour airport which is at the moment the main one in the islands.
Fishing was the main activity in Galapagos from around 1930 to 1960 when people started visiting the islands attracted by the animals and nature so fishing eventually evolved into tourism which is nowadays the main activity attracting thousands of tourist to the islands with an increase of approximately ten percent, by 2018 the number of visitors was around 270.000