- Seabird colonies:The colonies of seabirds, especially frigates, blue-footed boobies, pelicans, masked boobies and albatrosses. They constitute one of the main attractions. All visiting sites that allow you to go and see the birds have clearly marked trails to facilitate navigation.
- Geological phenomena: There are some visitor sites where the main attraction is the amazing volcanic landscapes or geological formations like craters, tunnels and lava flows. Urbina Bay (Isabela), for example, you can see a coral reef that was out of the water because of a tectonic shift that occurred in 1954. The Sierra Negra volcano has one of the largest craters in the world and is a museum of all kinds of volcanic formations such as cones, tubes, volcanic splashes, fumaroles and sulfur deposits.
- Unique wildlife: One aspect that makes them unique flora and fauna of the archipelago is the existence of species not found anywhere else in the world and whose ancestors arrived from the continent millions of years ago. The process of adaptation and change that these species underwent is what captivated the English naturalist Charles Darwin and continues to amaze scientists and thousands of tourists every year come to the archipelago. In Galapagos, there are only eight species of mice (four extinct), all endemic, and two species of bats.
- There are many species not found anywhere else: 32% of its plant species, 27% of mammals, 25% of its terrestrial birds and 86% of reptiles. Some of the most famous are:
- Reptiles: Giant tortoises (14 original and 4 extinct species), land iguanas (3) and marine iguana (1), lava lizards (7) and snakes (4).
- Birds: Galapagos turtledove, flycatcher, Galapagos petrel, mockingbirds (3) and 13 species of finches.
- Plants: The three groups of Galapagos cacti are lava cactus, chandelier cactus and several species of Opuntia. There are also other local species of plants as scalesias (14 species) and the Darwin Daisy.
To improve the management of protected areas, the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park introduced zoning for land use planning. This dynamic and adaptive process is an effective planning and management tool so that it divides the national park based on its conservation and its ability to support certain human activities.
In this way the 330 islands, islets and rocks have been divided into:
- Absolute Protection Zone, which refers to pristine or almost pristine areas, free of known impacts of human origin.
- Ecosystem Conservation and Restoration Zone, are areas that show a certain degree of alteration with the presence or absence of introduced organisms or human impacts.
- Impact Reduction Zone, constitute the peripheral areas of the national park with a significant degree of alteration, located in areas adjacent to urban or agricultural areas.
The Galapagos National Park faces some problems that threaten its protection and care, among them the voluntary and involuntary introduction of exogenous species to the fragile ecosystems, however, the systematic and planned work that the Ecuadorian State has executed through the Park Directorate National Galapagos, has allowed 95% of its originally registered flora and fauna to remain in good condition today.
Here’s a shortlist of the most important things to keep in mind while traveling to the Galapagos Islands:
- Only visit protected areas within the Galapagos National Park accompanied by a GNPD authorized naturalist guide.
- Stay on the trails! The trails at all visitor sites are very well marked and your guides will make sure you follow this rule. It helps preserve the natural habitats and keeps both you and the wildlife safe.
- Stay at least 6 feet away from wildlife (even if they approach you). This is the best way to avoid disturbing them.
- Never give food to any wildlife - the circle of life in the Galapagos is delicately balanced; there’s no need for you to interfere, and it could even cause health problems to the animals..
- Never introduce new food, animals, or plants to the Galapagos Islands; protection against invasive species has been a hard-won battle in the archipelago.
- Don’t use a flash when taking pictures of the wildlife - any professional photography or videography for commercial use must be approved by the GNPD beforehand.
- Camping is limited to just a few authorized areas and must be approved by the GNPD at least two days in advance.
- Never take anything from the natural environment or habitats in the Galapagos - you can purchase souvenirs from stores in Puerto Villamil, Puerto Ayora, or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, or from any of the airports or local vendors. But never take anything made from black coral, native wood or vegetation, lava rock, shells, or animal parts, as these are banned substances.
- Leave No Trace is the motto! Make sure that when you leave a site, it looks exactly the same as when you arrived - that means that all trash must be properly disposed of or recycled, as indicated by the hotel or boat where you are staying.
- To avoid the very serious risk of fires, all smoking or campfires are strictly forbidden in the National Park.
Whenever you visit any national park anywhere in the world, your goal should be to leave it exactly as it was before you came, and this is especially important when visiting the Galapagos Islands!
Here, you aren’t a tourist as much as a temporary part of the whole ecosystem, which is why playing your part in conserving the Islands is paramount. The rules set in place by the National Park have been carefully designed to balance travelers’ access to Galapagos species and marine wildlife in its most natural forms and the protection of these fragile marine environments.
You will witness endemic and native species the likes of which could only exist in the Galapagos Islands, and your contribution to protecting them is your responsibility when you visit. We are the stewards of the next generation, and the decisions & actions we take today will have a lasting impact on tomorrow.The beauty of live is to give.