Located about 600 miles west of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands were created five million years ago by undersea volcanic eruptions. In 1535, Tomás de Berlanga, Bishop of Panama, floated into this archipelago and named it Galapagos after the giant tortoises he encountered. Pirates used the islands for refuge and to bur y their stolen treasure, but it wasn't until the end of the 19th century, when it became a regular port of call for whaling fleets, that the wildlife was threatened.
The islands’ most celebrated visitor was Charles Darwin, who arrived aboard the HMS Beagle in 1835. The rare life forms he encountered helped him formulate his theory of evolution, which he published in The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.
After visiting the Galapagos in 1941, Herman Melville entitled his book The Encantadas. But it wasn’t until 1959 when it became par t of Ecuador’s national park system that this fragile ecosystem with its rare and endemic species came under protection. In 1979 the Galapagos archipelago was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.