The Culture of the Galapagos Islands
Although only 25,000 people populate the idyllic Galapagos Islands, it is home to storied cultural diversity defined by a mix of various ethnicities, customs, and traditions. Annexed by Ecuador in 1832, this volcanic archipelago constitutes one of the four ecological zones of the country and has cultural influences from Europe, the U.S., and mainland Ecuador.
Currently, only four of the islands are inhabited by people – Isabela, Santa Cruz, Floreana, and San Cristobal. The rest of the islands are in pristine condition with visitor sites carefully managed and maintained by the Galapagos National Park. In fact, the Galapagos Islands are so culturally and biologically diverse that they are on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites.
For centuries, the Galapagos Islands were basically comprised of small fishing villages, owing to its reputation for having some of the best seafood in the world. In recent years, the tourism industry has become a major business in the Galapagos Islands – many locals own and operate yachts or hotels, and local citizens enjoy the steady revenue from businesses like restaurants and shops, as more than 200,000 visitors travel to the Galapagos annually. Fact: The Islands are also home to a unique industry – the collection of sea cucumbers, which are sold at high prices in Asia as an aphrodisiac.
The official language of the Galapagos Islands is Spanish. However due to the recent upswing in tourism, the Galapagos Islands have become one of the most multilingual destinations in South America, with guides, hoteliers, and other islanders fluent in Spanish, English, German, and French, among other languages too.
The food of the Galapagos Islands reflects its location in the Pacific, with exquisite dishes prepared from the rich diversity of freshly caught seafood. Tropical fish, lobster, squid & octopus, shrimp, and other shellfish are the base of most dishes, and plantains and yucca are popular sides. Similar to the rest of Ecuador, soups and ceviche dishes are second to none.
Just like in mainland Ecuador, soccer and volleyball are common pastimes, and there is a growing fervor for Ecuador’s national soccer team as it advances towards more titles. Tourist activities like snorkeling & diving, sea kayaking, hiking, and surfing have also gained popularity as the travel industry has grown and the demand for local guides and expert naturalists has risen.
Research & Investigation
This enchanting archipelago draws not only eager travelers but dozens of scientists and researchers who enthusiastically follow in Charles Darwin’s footsteps as they study the unique endemic species and how the different habitats have impacted their survival. The Charles Darwin Station is the keystone of the conservation and research of these pristine islands.
A Brief History of the Galapagos
Long before they were officially a part of any country, these Pacific Islands served as a hideout and sanctuary for buccaneers, whalers, and sailors of the 17th and 18th centuries. When they were annexed by Ecuador in 1832, the islands were given their current Spanish names, and pioneers began to develop small communities on the four currently inhabited islands.
In the early 20th century, the Galapagos Islands hosted three penal colonies on San Cristobal, Floreana, and Isabela – the haunting Wall of Tears on Isabela is a harrowing reminder of the prisoners who were forced to labor here under the hot equatorial sun. Floreana’s early history also features a mysterious tale of death and disappearing settlers in the 1930s. During World War II, Santa Cruz, and Baltra were used as a minor military base for the U.S. in their efforts in the Pacific theater. Since then, they have been the tranquil site of some of the world’s foremost conservation efforts and marine and terrestrial research, as well as an epicenter of tourism in South America.