The Galapagos Islands are a chain of volcanic islands that sit in the Pacific Ocean about 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador.

The islands’ unique ecosystem and endemic animal species draw wildlife lovers from across the globe. These are some of the same things that intrigued Charles Darwin, the noted naturalist, who developed his theory of evolution, in part, by studying the unique fauna of the islands when he visited in 1835.

So why are the Galapagos Islands important?

Here are some common questions and answers about the Galapagos Islands and what makes this archipelago so remarkable.

How many islands are there in the Galapagos archipelago?

Rock formation in Galapagos

Kicker Rock, Galapagos

Thirteen major islands make up the Galapagos chain: Isabela, the largest island; Santa Cruz; San Cristobal, the first island Darwin explored; Fernandina; Santiago; Floreana; Espanola; Marchena; Pinta; Sante Fe; Genovesa; Baltra (South Seymour); and Pinzon (Duncan).

Smaller islands include North Seymour, Rabida (Jervis), Bartolome, and Daphne Major.

View of Punta Vicente Roca, Isabela Island

Punta Vicente Roca in Isabela Island, Galapagos

Only five of the islands have human populations: Isabela, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Baltra, and Floreana. The remaining islands are inhabited only by animals and can only be accessed on guided tours.

Why is the location of the Galapagos so special?

The Galapagos Islands are uniquely located on both sides of the equator in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

People on a boat tour in Galapagos

Small group tour

The islands are situated at a point in the Pacific Ocean where three ocean currents collide, creating a unique area in the sea where warm and varying degrees of cold water meet. This natural phenomenon creates crystal-clear turquoise water that surrounds the islands and fosters rich marine ecosystems.

In addition, the islands are far enough away from each other that both plant and animal species could not easily migrate, and over time adapted to their environment, with several becoming endemic to a specific island.

What are the Galapagos Islands famous for?

People looking at a blue footed boobie in Galapagos

Blue-footed Booby

Giant tortoises on Isabela, monitor lizards on Fernandina, blue-footed boobies nesting on North Seymour, and 17 other land, marine, and avian species not found anywhere else in the world are the major reasons for the Galapagos Islands’ fame.

Girl looking at a sea lion on a red beach

Rabida Island

The Galapagos Islands are also famous for fantastic volcanic formations; colored sand beaches, including the red beaches of Ravida and the green beaches of Floreana; and crystal-clear blue waters teeming with exotic marine life like black and hammerhead sharks that entice scuba divers from all over the world.

What is the weather like in the Galapagos Islands?

Sandy shore in Galapagos with mountain as backdrop

Galapagos landscape

The temperate weather in the Galapagos typically falls in the range of 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The weather from January to May is the warmest, with temperatures in the mid-eighties with somewhat high humidity.

The waters around the islands become colder from June to November due to the Humboldt Current. The cooler water mixes with the temperate air and often causes a light mist over the islands, which defines the garua (misty) season of the Galapagos.

What marine life is found in the Galapagos Islands?

Marine life in the Galapagos is unlike anywhere else in the world, since 20% of marine species found there are endemic to the Galapagos.

Sea lions sleeping on a beach

Sea lions

Among the marine mammals living in the Galapagos Islands, sea lions stand out for many visitors due to their curious and active nature. Within the sea waters, on the shores, and on craggy volcanic ledges of the Galapagos Islands, you’ll encounter frolicking sea lions and may even have an opportunity to swim with them.

So sheltered are sea lions and other animals living in this part of the world that over time they have lost their fear reflex, so they are generally friendly and inquisitive, providing animal encounters you’ll treasure long after your visit.

Marine iguana on a rock in Galapagos

Marine iguana

Another animal you’ll encounter in the Galapagos Islands is the marine iguana. This remarkable reptile is the only iguana that can hunt both on land and in the water. Watching it glide through the sea is a fascinating sight to behold.

Additional residents include white-tip and black-tip reef sharks, endemic Sally Lightfoot crabs and green sea urchins, and chocolate-chip sea stars.

Depending on the season, the Galapagos Islands are also visited by migrating whales, dolphins, hammerhead sharks, manta rays, and many varieties of colorful fish.

What birds are found on the Galapagos Islands?

Beautiful gray and white Darwin's finches in Galapagos

Darwin’s finches

The Galapagos Islands are home to both sea and land birds, many of which are endemic to the islands, including the famed Darwin’s finches. These birds played a key role in Charles Darwin’s research on the theory of evolution.

There are 13 different species of Darwin’s finches, and the slight variance of these species, which are believed to all be from the same ancestor, and their ability to adapt to the specific island of the Galapagos each call home is what helped Darwin hone his theories on evolution.

Beautiful white and brown Nazcas Booby in Galapagos

Nazcas Booby

Though not endemic, the blue-footed booby is a favorite of visitors to the Galapagos due to its large size and bright-blue webbed feet. There are also red-footed boobies and Nazcas boobies that sport large, gray feet.

Small penguins on rock in Galapagos

Galapagos penguins

A chance to get up close with the Galapagos penguin is a highlight of any trip to the Galapagos. These penguins are able to thrive in the area due to the cold Humboldt Current that flows up from Antarctica.

The sleek black and white penguins are clumsy and fun to observe. Walk among them on land, or see them skim through the water while you’re snorkeling.

What other animals can you see in the Galapagos?

People watching a giant tortoise

Galapagos tortoise

One of the most popular animals to see when traveling through the Galapagos are the Galapagos tortoises. They’re believed to be some of the oldest animals on earth, since they can live for over a hundred years.

These famous tortoises, the largest in the world, are around four feet tall and carry a massive shell, which is a big part of the reason these tortoises can weigh up to 500 pounds. Their weight also explains why they’re so slow moving.

Why is a cruise vacation the best way to see the Galapagos Islands?

Couple bathing in a jacuzzi on Celebrity Flora

Hot tub on Celebrity Flora

A Galapagos Islands cruise vacation with Celebrity Cruises offers the pleasures of a luxury cruise and the expertise of onboard certified naturalists who are your guides as you explore the best of each island.

Year-round, all-inclusive cruise itineraries to the Galapagos islands are specifically tailored for sailing this unique corner of the world.

Ship exterior of Celebrity Flora

Celebrity Flora

Celebrity Flora, a 100-passenger expedition yacht, features a groundbreaking, outward-facing design that keeps the stunning island chain front and center. The environmentally friendly technology on board includes a system that turns seawater and air conditioning condensation into pure, fresh water, and uses solar panels to help provide electricity.

Celebrity Flora Observatory

Watch: Galapagos Island Cruises on Celebrity Flora

Book a Cruise to the Galapagos

If you’re ready to set sail on an unforgettable journey through the Galapagos Islands, browse cruise itineraries and book online, or call one of our vacation specialists at 1-800-852-8086.

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Free Vacation Planning Services