Santa Cruz

San Cristóbal


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Welcome to a special edition of Explorer magazine! Through these pages, you will be transported to a place that is unique in all the world: the Galápagos Islands.

The Galapagos Islands

The islands were given Spanish names as well as English names by early visitors.

Early Spanish sailors called the islands “Las Encantadas,” meaning “the enchanted.” What better name for a group of islands that seemed to sometimes disappear in a shroud of mist?

They were discovered by accident in 1535 by a Spaniard named Tomás de Berlanga. His ship was bound for Peru, but he was carried off course by strong currents.

From the late 1500s to the early 1800s, the Galápagos saw many a pirate, buccaneer, and whaler. The Spanish were seeking gold and silver from Peru. The British were intent on stealing this loot from the Spanish. It wasn’t until 1832 that Ecuador officially took possession of the islands.

These islands teem with life. Frigatebirds soar. Blue‑footed boobies dive into the ocean. Sea lions call out to their young in short, honking blasts. Giant land tortoises lumber along. Marine iguanas cling to slippery rocks. Galápagos penguins zip past them like rockets. Waved albatrosses clack their beaks together like sabers. Sally Lightfoot crabs skitter along the beach.

Take a closer look at the map above. Refer back to it often. It helps tell the tale of these islands and how they came to be. This place was born of the elements—of fire, wind, and waves. Once you understand the birth of these islands, you’ll begin to see what lives there and why. Then you’ll read of a famous visitor—naturalist and explorer Charles Darwin—and what his journey to the islands meant to science. With Darwin’s theories in hand, you’ll explore the plants and animals that live there that don’t belong. And finally, you’ll learn about one of the islands’ most iconic species: the giant tortoise.

It isn’t possible to tell you everything you need to know about the Galápagos Islands. But we hope these stories will start you on a lifelong journey to know more about this magical place.

Brenna Maloney, managing editor, Explorer