There is evidence that implies that the Galapagos may have been visited by indigenous tribes as early as the 10th century, but the first western discovery took place in 1535. For the following century, pirates frequented the Islands as they plundered Inca gold from Spanish ships leaving the mainland. They dubbed the Islands “The Enchanted Isles,” one of many names that the Galapagos would hold over the years.
During the 19th century, the whaling industry used the Galapagos as a resupply center. The whalers introduced invasive species and killed thousands of tortoises, actions whose repercussions are still felt today. The 19th century also brought the Islands’ most famous visitor, a young naturalist named Charles Darwin, who would later feature the Galapagos prominently in his groundbreaking book The Origin of Species, which espoused his theory of natural selection.
A small wave of European settlers arrived in the early 1900s, followed by the US military, who built an airstrip on Baltra Island to defend the Panama Canal during World War II. At long last, the Galapagos Islands were designated as Ecuador’s first national park in 1959, leading to the start of conservation efforts and the steady growth of the tourism industry soon after.