Galapagos History | < 1 MIN READ

The Galapagos National Park

User Avatar Written by: Christopher Klassen
View of Santiago Island landscape.

The Galapagos National Park was established in 1959, a year that happened to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”. The executive decree that designated the Galapagos as a National Park was an ecological boon for the archipelago, as it declared 97% of the entire land area as property of the National Park (the seas surrounding the islands are officially a Marine Reserve). To this day, it remains as Ecuador’s first protected area and, as a result, it’s the oldest National Park. The remaining 3% consists of the inhabited areas of Santa Cruz Island, San Cristobal Island, Isabela Island, and Floreana Island.

In 1967, nearly eight years after the Galapagos National Park was established, the first park service was created but it took another four years to finally properly designate a superintendent and assemble a team of park rangers. Fast forward to the present day, and the park consists of hundreds of park rangers as well as a sophisticated park management system.

Urgency is the Mother of Getting Your Act Together

Sea lion resting on the sand and visitors exploring Galapagos.

Galapagos, a delicate environment.

In 1979, UNESCO declared the Galapagos National Park a World Heritage site. Nearly three decades later, however, the Galapagos Islands became a part of UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in danger. Since 2007, the National Park has put strict regulations in place that help keep track (and limit, if necessary) the number of visitors that go in and out of the archipelago, as well as the number of residents living on the islands themselves. The National Park also made it a rule that all tourists visiting the National Park be accompanied by a Galapagos National Park certified guide (as is the case on our multi-guide cruises).

The decree declared that National Parks were to be “the exclusive domain of the state, meant for the preservation of the fauna, flora, and geology of the [islands of the archipelago] except for those areas that have already been claimed as territory by the original settlers of [the islands].”

Note that the Galapagos National Park consists of nearly 8,000 km² (approximately 5,000 mi²) of the terrestrial landmass.

The natural beauty of its islands, the diversity and uniqueness of the species it is home to, its dynamic geology with its continuous changes, and variety of permanent formations all make the Galapagos islands a truly magical place to behold. Perhaps the gorgeous cherry on top of all the scenery is the wildlife and flora that populates the different pieces of land. After all, the Galapagos National Park is considered a laboratory of numerous evolutionary processes that continue to this day.

Galapagos National Park: Categorization is Key

Landscape of Galapagos Islands restricted area

Tourists can visit a large part of the Galapagos Islands but there are certain areas that are restricted to all visitors

To better manage the protected areas, the Galapagos National Park divided the islands into designated areas based on their capacity to uphold conservation efforts or sustain human activity at a reasonable level.

As a result, all 14+ islands have been categorized as follows:

Fully Protected Areas: Refers to areas of the park that are unspoiled or almost unspoiled and free of all human impact.

Ecosystem Conservation and Renovation Areas: Areas that exhibit signs and certain degrees of human presence and/or the presence of introduced organisms.

Reduced Impact Areas: Refers to areas that surround the park and exhibit noticeable signs of alteration, typically these are areas adjacent to urban or agricultural areas.


At the moment, the biggest threats facing the security and conservation of the Galapagos National are species that have been introduced, either willfully or unintentionally, into the fragile ecosystems of the islands. The systematic efforts and planning that the Ecuadorian government has made, hand-in-hand with the Galapagos National Park, has allowed the parks to retain roughly 95% of its original flora and fauna.

The endemic fauna and flora are some of the most unique in the whole world, which make the Galapagos a truly exceptional place. To date, there are a total of 45 species of reptiles, 15 species of mammal, and 79 species of fish that are all endemic to the islands (and coexist peacefully with humans). Plant-wise, the archipelago is home to nearly 500 species.