Exploring the Spanish Speaking World: ¡Vamos a las Islas Galápagos!

We know Spanish Schoolhouse families love to expose their children to the world. If you’re looking for a travel adventure full of spectacular scenery, history, and unique wildlife in a Spanish-speaking country, take a little peek at the fascinating Galapagos Islands. 

Where in the World are the Galapagos Islands?  

The remote Galapagos Islands may not be as easy to get to as Disney World, but fans say the trip is worth it!  To find them on a globe, go to the equator and look for Ecuador.  The Galapagos Islands are about 600 miles offshore.  The islands belong to Ecuador, and Spanish is their official language. They are a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

For a Galapagos adventure, you will likely fly into the capital city of Quito before continuing to one of two airports on the islands. From there, you can explore the islands by land or by boat. This is a big decision you’ll make long before you arrive. You might choose to base in Santa Cruz, exploring by land and making day trips to nearby islands. Or if you are interested in the rare wildlife of more remote islands, you might prefer a cruise or sailing adventure. You’ll have fun trip planning as you research the activities, time, and costs involved in each experience.  

Galapagos iguana
Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

A Tale of Two Hemispheres 

The Galapagos Islands are scattered along the equator, with some in the northern hemisphere and some in the southern hemisphere. This gives them a climate that’s always warm, with two seasons – wet and dry. Like other equatorial places, these islands have twelve-hour days and twelve-hour nights all year. They also have the fastest sunrises and sunsets in the world, taking just minutes to transition between day and night. 

The Galapagos’ position on both sides of the equator makes them unique. From the islands, you can see the constellations of both hemispheres at the same time, a rare stargazing experience! You’ll also find the only penguins north of the equator here. The endangered Galapagos penguin is the world’s smallest penguin, at around 19” tall and only weighing 5.5 lbs. 

Galapagos Penguins

The Enchanted Islands  

The Galapagos Islands (in Spanish, Las Islas Galápagos or Archipiélago de Colón) are also informally called The Enchanted Islands.  Some argue that galapagos comes from the plural for archipelago while others say it is an old Spanish word for saddle. According to the Real Academia Española, it actually means tortoise! 

The islands’ most famous inhabitants are the Giant Galapagos Tortoises. On a Galapagos adventure, you can really get up close and personal with these massive creatures! They’ve adapted over time to survive without food or water for months at a time. Weighing up to 600 lbs, they can live up to 150 years, giving them the longest life span of any animal on Earth. 

Galapagos tortoise size

Where the Wild Things Are 

Besides the famous tortoises, travelers to the Galapagos Islands can see a wide range of unusual wildlife. There are marine iguanas (the only underwater iguanas in the world), sea lions, flamingos, colorful tropical fish, rays, and unique birds like the blue-footed or red-footed boobies, and frigate birds.  

A day trip by boat from Santa Cruz can take you to North Seymour Island where you can view nature up close and personal. You’ll observe blue-footed boobies, which are known for their mating behavior that looks like dancing! The male of the Magnificent Frigate bird species has a red dangling pouch in its neck that swells up with air when it’s trying to attract a female. 

Magnificent Frigate Bird North Seymour Island, Galapagos

If you like being active on a vacation, you’ll get a workout in nature while searching for these beautiful creatures.  Galapagos is a great place for snorkeling, kayaking, and hiking through volcanic areas with trails of hardened black lava.  The beaches might surprise you with their wide range of colors. Galapagos beach sands may be red, gold, white, black, or pink!  Besides Hawaii and Guam, they’re the only place you’ll find a green beach.      

Inspiring Darwin’s Research 

Charles Darwin spent time in the Galapagos Islands on his trip around the world and what he saw there shaped his famous theory of evolution. He observed a group of native birds now known as Darwin’s finches. He noticed that their beaks had adapted according to the food sources that differed by island. The closed and rapidly changing environment on the Galapagos made these finches the world’s fastest evolving invertebrates. Evolution research continues today at the Darwin Research Center, which is open to visitors. 

Darwin Finches

A Message in a Bottle?

It’s not quite like sending a message in a bottle, but the Galapagos islands do have an interesting postage system that’s been used for hundreds of years!  Whalers used to leave letters in barrels onshore and other sailors would take them back to their countries and deliver them.  This “postage-free” system is still in use today.  Thousands of letters are dropped off and picked up by travelers who deliver them to Europe, North America, and around the world – no stamps required!    

Travel Tips, Please! ¡Consejos de viaje, por favor! 

A family trip to the Galapagos Islands is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Many of us will never have the opportunity to visit this area, so if you’ve been fortunate enough to go, please share your favorite impressions in the comments below! 

Check out our other travel-related posts about Puerto Rico, Argentina, and Costa Rica!

Galapagos crabs
Photo by Amy Perez on Unsplash
Eagle Ray

So, what do you think?