A pink iguana

The mystery of the pink iguanas

The eruption of the Galapagos Islands’ Wolf Volcano this week made headline news around the world, not least because it was the first time in more than 30 years that the volcano has been active.

Fortunately, there was no risk to human life: the nearest settlement to the volcano on the island of Isabela is the small town of Puerto Villamil, a good 70 miles away. However, there has been much concern about the effect the volcanic activity could have on a unique species of pink iguana which inhabit the northern face of Wolf Volcano. The internet was suddenly abuzz about the future of these colorful creatures. But what exactly do we know about this mythical-sounding species?

First of all, they are far from mythical – evidence suggests that the pink iguana diverged from its more well-known relative, the Galapagos land iguana, as long as 5.7 million years ago. The Conolophus marthae is a species of land iguana which has become known as the pink iguana (or iguana rosada) thanks to the pinkish color of its body, interspersed with black stripes. It was first discovered in 1986 but it was only as recently as 2009 that it was identified as a separate species from the Galapagos land iguana. It is native only to northern Isabela Island, the largest island in the Galapagos archipelago.

Less than 100 Conolophus marthae are known to exist, though, as there has been no formal identification of the species’ population, there are no exact figures. It has been recommended that they should be considered a critically endangered species.

Thankfully it seems that the lava flow from Wolf Volcano has headed in the opposite direction from the iguanas’ habitat and they are safe – for now.  

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Photo credit: W. Tapia, GNPD.

Lava tubes, Galapagos

Mapping the underground world of the Galapagos Islands

A team of American scientists are exploring and mapping the lava tunnels and caves of the Galapagos Islands.

Aaron Addison of Washington University, Missouri, and his team are carrying out a total of five expeditions which will see them explore the many lava tubes – caves formed by flows of ancient lava – that can be found on the island of Santa Cruz.

The island was formed between 0.7 and 1.5 million years ago; during the island’s formation volcanic activity saw the outer skin of molten lava solidify while underneath, liquid magma continued to flow in tunnels up to several kilometers long, leaving behind a series of empty tubes. The group are producing maps of the tunnels in order to “engage in various types of scientific study [and] management activities”, explains Addison. They will do this by using GPS devices to first locate the entrances of the caves and then – as GPS doesn’t work underground – utilize laser distance meters and clinometers to measure the dimensions of the tubes.

Computer programs will later be used to collate the field data into maps and profiles of each of the tunnels. The group will also study any life found inside the undiscovered caves – and perhaps even stumble upon a new Galapagos species. 

Read more about the expedition here.

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 Photo credit: Flickr/Marshdude

Galapagos cruise boat

A Guide to Choosing a Galapagos Cruise

Exploring the Galapagos on a cruise is the optimum way of seeing the islands – it maximizes your wildlife-spotting opportunities and means you can venture to many parts of the archipelago that are only accessible to cruise boats.

About 80 vessels are authorized to offer cruises in the Galapagos Islands. With so many cruise options available, it can be difficult to choose one that’s right for you. Just a few of the things to keep in mind are your budget, the size of the boat, the length of the cruise and the itinerary. We’ve put together some tips to get your started.

  • Boats are generally classed as budget, mid-range, high-end and luxury. Of course, the more you pay, the better service you get. For example, budget boats have less space onboard. On high-end vessel, guides may have a better level of English.
  • The majority of vessels are motor yachts and catamarans for 16 passengers, but boats range in capacity from 12-100 passengers. (Boats carrying more than 100 people are not allowed.)
  • Larger vessels are more stable and therefore a good option for those prone to sea-sickness. They also tend to be more luxurious and have more space, but provide a less personal experience.
  • Larger boats are generally good options for older travelers or those with small children due to the extra space and facilities.
  • A smaller vessel means a more intimate and active experience, and a downsized group of passengers means more time spent off-shore or in the water snorkeling. You’ll also have a better chance to get to know your fellow passengers. These vessels are, however, less roomy – cabins, deck space and dining areas tend to be on the smaller side.
  • There must only be a maximum of 16 passengers per guide, no matter what capacity your cruise boat has. So, if your vessel carries 32 passengers, you’ll have two guides on board.
  • Cruises offer a variety of itineraries: four, five, eight and fifteen day itineraries are the most common. A 10-15 day safari is ideal to get a broad overview of the archipelago and its wildlife. Five to eight days is sufficient time to sample the islands and experience the wildlife highlights.  Four-day cruises only really offer a brief snapshot of the Galapagos, as most of the first and fourth days are spent traveling to and from the islands from the mainland.
  • A visit to the Galapagos Islands is first and foremost a wildlife safari. Choosing to travel aboard one of the 16-passenger motor yachts or catamarans is recommended to maximize the amount of wildlife that you see. Click here to find out which wildlife species are commonly found on each of the islands, and here to see when the prime wildlife seasons are.


Do you have more questions about which Galapagos Islands cruise would be best for you? Contact us for more information.


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Galapagos Landscape

Tourism on the increase in the Galapagos Islands

The number of tourists visiting the Galapagos Islands increased by 6% in 2014.

Figures from a report published by the Galapagos National Park show that 215,691 tourists visited the islands last year, an increase of 6% from 2013. Of these, 70% – or 149,997 – were foreigners. Tourists from the USA accounted for 26% (56,080) of all visitors, followed by the UK (6%), Germany, Canada and Australia (each 4%) and Argentina (3%). The remaining 23% of visitors came from 153 other countries around the world.

The report also showed that 35% of visitors explore the islands on a cruise, with an average visit of seven days. 65% of tourists stay in hotels and lodging on the archipelago’s four inhabited islands (Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana), staying for an average of five days. 74% of visitors fly into the Galapagos’ main airport, Baltra (which serves Santa Cruz Island) while 26% land at San Cristobal’s airport.

The figures were compiled from data collected from the Galapagos Transit Control Card, which all visitors are required to complete before entering the islands. 

There are a number of measures you can take to minimize your footprint when visiting the islands; start by taking a look at our guide to responsible tourism in the Galapagos.

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Photo credit: Opalpeterliu (Flickr)