Who Owns The Galapagos Island?

Magnelisto Beach, a part of the 360 Tour on San Cristobal island

The Republic of Ecuador officially owns the Galapagos Islands. Ecuador gained sovereignty over the islands in 1832 when it annexed them from the Republic of Gran Colombia. Since then, the Galapagos Islands have been considered an integral part of Ecuador’s territory.

This post will briefly discuss the history of the Galapagos Islands, including its tourism and economic development.

Galapagos History

Walking during Tintoreras Tour on Galapagos Islands, Ecuador (Isabela Island)

The Galapagos Islands have a complex history of human presence dating back thousands of years. The earliest known inhabitants were likely pre-Columbian indigenous groups, although evidence of their exact origins and activities remains limited. These early settlers likely used the islands as temporary fishing and hunting grounds.

The islands came under the control of the Spanish Empire in the 16th century when they were discovered by the Spanish sailor Fray Tomas de Berlanga. However, the Spanish showed little interest in colonizing the Galapagos Islands due to the island’s harsh environment and remote location.

The name “Galapagos” originated from the Spanish empire, which initially referred to the islands as “Insulae de los Galopegos” (Islands of the Tortoises).

Over the following centuries, the islands were visited by various explorers and pirates, often using them as a place to replenish supplies or as a base for conducting illicit activities. These visits contributed to the islands’ sporadic and unofficial colonization by individuals from different nations.

Sealion bones on Mosquera Islet island


Multiple countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, expressed interest in establishing their presence on the islands due to their strategic location and potential resource wealth. However, no formal settlements were established.

During World War II, the Galapagos Islands gained significance as a strategic location for the United States in its defense against the Japanese empire. To patrol the Pacific and safeguard the Panama Canal, the U.S. was granted permission to establish a small naval base on the island of Baltra.

However, control of Baltra was returned to Ecuador after the war, and the island’s airstrip was converted into a civilian airport to accommodate visitors arriving from the mainland.

As the twentieth century progressed, the Galapagos Islands witnessed a gradual rise in interest, leading to increased immigration and tourism from North America, Europe, and Ecuador. Over the years, human settlements expanded, with numerous immigrant families actively contributing to the growth of the ecotourism industry, which played a vital role in supporting the local economy.

Formation of the Galapagos National Park

Walking during Tintoreras Tour on Galapagos Islands, Ecuador (Isabela Island)

In 1934, Ecuador established the Galapagos Islands as a national park, recognizing their ecological importance and the need for their protection. This initial step laid the foundation for the islands’ formal governance and conservation efforts.

In 1959, Ecuador expanded its commitment to conservation by declaring 97% of the land area of the Galapagos Islands as the Galapagos National Park. This move aimed to safeguard the islands’ unique biodiversity and limit human impact on fragile ecosystems.

Penguins during Los Tuneles Tour on Isabella Island, Galapagos

The Galapagos National Park has played a crucial role in preserving the islands’ natural heritage, enforcing regulations, and managing tourism activities. It has implemented measures to control invasive species, monitor wildlife populations, and educate visitors about the fragile ecosystem.

Today, the Galapagos National Park continues to work with various stakeholders, including local communities, international organizations, and researchers, to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainability of the Galapagos Islands.

Galapagos Marine Reserve

Sharks on Pinzon Island Galapagos

Ecuador established the Galapagos Marine Reserve in 1998, recognizing the need for comprehensive protection. The reserve encompasses the waters surrounding the islands and covers a vast area of approximately 133,000 square kilometers. It is one of the largest marine reserves in the world. It is vital in safeguarding diverse marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, underwater volcanic formations, and unique marine species.

The Galapagos Marine Reserve is subject to strict regulations to preserve the fragile marine environment. Fishing activities are closely monitored and managed to prevent overfishing and ensure the sustainability of fish populations. The reserve is also an important research site, allowing scientists to study marine life and gain a better understanding of the effects of human activity on the marine ecosystem.

Tourism and Economic Development of the Galapagos Islands

Panoramic View of Bartolome Island, Galapagos

The Galapagos islands’ unique and pristine natural environment, along with its remarkable biodiversity, attracts visitors from around the world. The revenue generated from tourism contributes significantly to the local economy, supporting various sectors such as hospitality, transportation, and local businesses.

The income generated from tourism helps fund conservation efforts, supports the management of protected areas, and provides resources for environmental education programs. It also creates employment opportunities for the local population, reducing the reliance on other industries that may pose a greater threat to the fragile ecosystem.

Galapagos Turtle on Wall of Tears route, Isabela Island, Galapagos

Strict guidelines are in place to regulate the number of tourists, limit visitor access to certain sensitive areas, and ensure that activities are conducted in an environmentally responsible manner. There are so many unique things to see in the Galapagos Islands.

Sustainable eco-tourism practices in the Galapagos, such as nature-based tourism and eco-friendly accommodations, are encouraged to minimize the impact on the islands’ ecosystems. Educational programs for tourists are also offered to promote awareness and responsible behavior during their visit.


The Galapagos Islands possess a rich history, unique biodiversity, and ecological significance that continue to captivate the world. Ecuador’s sovereignty over the Galapagos and the establishment of the National Park and Marine Reserve reflect the commitment to protect and preserve this extraordinary ecosystem.

The Galapagos Islands remain a living laboratory of evolution and a testament to the beauty and resilience of our planet. Valuing and protecting these remarkable islands can inspire and educate others about conservation’s importance while cherishing the Galapagos Islands’ incredible wonders.

About the author

Oleg Galeev

I'm Oleg, and together with my wife, we've explored Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, journeying through more than 20 cities (Quito, Cuenca, Banos, Tena, Puyo, Guayaquil, Riobamba, Otavalo, Mindo and more) and nearly every island in the Galapagos (including iconic ones such as Bartolome Island, San Cristobal Island, Isabela Island, Santa Cruz Island and more). In this blog, I give you my real thoughts about each place we visited. This info can help anyone planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands or mainland Ecuador. I'm just a traveler, not a tour company, so I'm not trying to sell anything. That means I'll tell you the truth—both the good and the bad — about traveling in Ecuador based on what we experienced.

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