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Galapagos Islands Marine Reserve

  1. 13,300,000 ha in size, Galapagos Islands Marine Biological Reserve is the world's largest marine reserve in a third world country;

  2. The Galapagos Marine Reserve is one of Ecuador's prestigious UNESCO World Heritage sites;

  3. The Pacific trade winds slightly shift the predominant currents north and south, determining the two seasons of Galapagos

  4. During the dry season, the sky is often overcast but without rain, while the sea is choppy, causing sea sickness to many visitors;

  5. The wet season brings frequent drizzling rain showers alternated by clear blue skies, while the sea is smoother;

  6. The "telescope effect" enhances the elevation effects on insular mountains, lowering temperatures and increasing humidity with elevation;

  7. Three currents affect the climate of Galapagos: the cold Humboldt Current, the warm Panama Current and the nutrients rich Cromwell current;

  8. The Cromwell Current raises nutrient rich water from deeper elevations to the surface, which enhances plankton growth, which feeds the food chain, bringing large fishes, cetaceans and oceanic birds to the marine reserve;

  9. The dry season is the best time for watching oceanic birds and scuba diving;

  10. The best way to appreciate the Galapagos Marine Reserve is by scuba diving;

  11. There are about 45 species of sharks frequenting the reserve, including Whale Sharks, Hammerheads and Manta Rays;

  12. While legally protected, the poaching of sharks for their fins is still a common practice in the Galapagos Marine Reserve;

  13. Only a few species of hard skeleton and a few more soft skeleton corals live in the East Pacific Ocean, including Galapagos, but there is no reef formation;

  14. Coastal formations like lagoons and mangroves are essential ecosystems of the reserve;

  15. The bright orange Sally Lightfoot Crabs is common from Mexico to Peru.

  16. Marine turtles are among of the oldest living reptiles, predating the dinosaurs;

  17. Green turtles are the only marine turtle species nesting on Galapagos;

  18. The Galapagos Marine Iguana is an amphibious reptile feeding on marine algae. It dives to 10m deep to graze.

  19. Marine Iguanas expel salt from glands near their noses;

  20. Marine Iguanas are the only sea-going lizards on earth;

  21. There are 8 species of Cetaceans commonly passing through Galapagos, 5 whale species, 2 dolphins and orcas;

  22. Blue whales are the largest mammal passing through the archipelago;

  23. The Galapagos Sea Lion is a subspecies of the California Sea Lions, endemic to Ecuador;

  24. Non-endemic Fur Seals are les famous, but equally abundant  as the Sea Lions;

  25. The world's smallest penguins live on Galapagos;

  26. Frigate birds have such wide wingspans, that they can't take off from the water; they may stay on the wing up to several weeks when away from the shore;

  27. With under 2,000 Flightless Cormorants, these birds are among the world's most vulnerable bird species;

  28. The Waved Albatross is famous for its courtship ritual, with rapid clacking of the bill and ?whoo-hoo? sounds;

  29. Waved Albatrosses mating for life leave Galapagos in December to return in April to the same nesting site; While not endemic, Galapagos is one of the few places where you can actually watch one of the 35,000 Waved Albatrosses worldwide;

  30. There are 3 species of boobies: The largest, the Nazca Booby, the most common, the Blue Footed Booby and the smallest, the Red footed Booby, the only one breeding in trees.

Galapagos Islands Marine Biological Reserve

The 13,300,000 ha (51,000 sq mi) Galapagos Islands Marine Reserve surrounds the islands of the Galapagos National Park and protects an unusually rich food rich ecosystem teeming with fish, that in turn attract oceanic birds. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Galapagos Islands Marine Biological Reserve is the largest marine reserve in a third world country and among the very largest worldwide.


GALAPAGOS ISLANDS MARINE RESERVE: Map with limits of the Galapagos Marine Biological Reserve.

Map of the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Click to enlarge.


Map of the Galapagos Marine Biological ReserveZoning map of the Galapagos Marine Reserve

Map of the Galapagos Marine Biological Reserve.

Zoning map of the Galapagos Marine Reserve.


Currents and climate of the Galapagos Islands Marine Reserve

The Archipelago is strongly impacted by trade winds of the Pacific Ocean, which impact the effect the currents that dominate the surrounding waters of the Galapagos Islands Marine Reserve.  From January - April the winds quiet down, causing the Humboldt Current to shift South and the surrounding waters of the islands becomes warmer as the warm tropical Panama current moves in with warmer water, thus setting off the warmer rainy season.


GALAPAGOS ISLANDS MARINE RESERVE: The deep cold nutrient rich oceanic Cromwell currents originates marine biodiversity.GALAPAGOS ISLANDS MARINE RESERVE: The origins of the currents surrounding Galapagos.

The cold oceanic Cromwell current is nutrient rich, thus creating the abundance of marine life in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

Alternating marine currents Galapagos determine the Galapagos seasons: Warm (red) Panama current from the North, alternates with the cold  (blue) current from the south. Both collide with the deep cold Cromwell current from the West.


In June the trade winds become stronger, pushing the Humboldt Current north, thus cooling the water, while making the sea rougher. During this period, the sky is mostly overcast but without precipitation, while the sea is choppy, causing many tourist becoming seasick.


The "telescope effect" enhances the elevation effects on insular mountains, lowering temperatures and increasing humidity with elevation;


Cold the Humboldt Current, warm, the Panama Current and deep marine currents come together in and around the Archipelago, thus profoundly impacting the climate and the oceanic ecosystem.


With the islands rising steeply from the deep ocean floor, most of the marine reserve is deep oceanic water, with only the some coasts consisting of beaches, mangroves and shallow waters. Nevertheless, these shallow shores are extremely important for many marine wildlife, such as the Marine Iguana, Marine Turtles, shore birds, and young fishes.


The Wet Season

From December To May, the water and air temperatures are higher, which results in a somewhat higher humidity of the air and brief daily drizzling rains and fog at the higher elevations. Nevertheless, the rain showers are followed by periods of sunshine, making this season the sunniest of the year.


The moisty conditions cause the flowers to peak blooming from March - April. This is also the the breeding season for sea Turtles, land Tortoises and Sea Lions.


The Dry Season

As the Humboldt Current runs through the archipelago during the dry season, it brings much colder water which also cools the air temperatures on the Islands. While this Antarctic current is cold it also results in the air above to  contain a low relative humidity, which translates in low annual rainfall. The climate of the Galapagos Islands is arid to semi arid, but it varies with the elevations. As winds are forced up against the slopes of the higher mountains, the air cools off, forcing fog around the mountain tops, which still keeps the forests relatively moist during the dry season.


A third current influences the ocean waters, the Cromwell Current, which wells up form deeper oceanic strata bringing nutrients to the surface. This causes plankton to florish, thus feeding the fish, which in turn attract oceanic birds, Blue and Pilot Whales, etc. to the islands. This is the best season to see Penguins and Albatrosses that are attracted to the schools of fish.  Blue-footed boobies and other marine birds have their breeding season, as do the Genovesa owls.


From June to November, the dry season is characterized by permanently overcast skies  without rain (similar to the "Garua" climate in Lima). The winds increase and make the seas get choppy, causing many visitors get seasick.


Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
average max 30 30 31 31 26 26 26 26 26 27 28 29
average min 22 24 24 24 22 21 19 19 19 20 21 22



Telescope Effect

An interesting effect is the so-called "telescope effect". In the mountains, the air temperature drops as an average 6 degrees C per 1000 m. But on isolated mountains like the volcanoes on the Galapagos Islands, the decrease is more and therefore the cooling is faster at Galapagos than on the mainland. Moreover, dry air cools off quicker than humid air, thus further strengthening the cooling effect. As a result, the high mountain tops of Galapagos are forested and often are cloud covered, while the sun shines in lowlands.


Galapagos Marine Iguanas

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS MARINE RESERVE: Sea Iguana Galapagos National ParkGALAPAGOS ISLANDS MARINE RESERVE: Galapagos National Park Marine Iguana

Galapagos Marine Iguanas.


Scuba diving with Galapagos Marine Iguanas and other animals

While the majority of visitors to the Galapagos Islands are attracted to the life above the water, increasingly people are becoming interested in the underwater world of the Galapagos Marine Reserve, which in fact, is as interesting  both in landscapes and in the creatures above the waterline. Just imagine yourself, no only frolicking with the ever playful Sea Lions, but also encountering a penguin or a Marine Turtle underwater. Have you ever met a peaceful plankton eating Whale Shark or one of the other unusually shaped sharks like a Hammerhead or a delta plane shaped Manta Ray? Have you ever gazed in awe at a real whale? In Galapagos, such encounters are actually possible. If you have a Pady scuba diving license, you can participate in scuba diving programs on your yacht or out of one of the main islands. If you are fit, it would be highly recommendable to take y scuba diving course before you head off to Galapagos!



Snorkling with fishes and Sea Lions.


Even if you did not bring a mask, it still is fun to submerge a little and enjoy the colorful tropical fishes. The best of course if you are a scuba diver. Gear is available for rent, so you don't have to bring your own.


GALAPAGOS ISLANDS MARINE RESERVE: Scuba-diving with marine animals. GALAPAGOS ISLANDS MARINE RESERVE: Snorkling with Green Turtle.

Getting to know the under-water world around the Galapagos Islands is a must if you are physically up to it.


While the vast majority of the Gal?agos Islands Marine Reserve consists of ocean, some coastal waters include mangroves, beaches and swamps. While reef corals are rare along the tropical coast of the Eastern Pacific Ocean (hence the Latin American Pacific coast) anywhere,  the waters of the Pacific have far more interesting palegic (oceanic) life than the Caribbean waters. Nowhere along the Eastern Pacific coast are there such dramatic submerged sea-scapes with vertical rocks (called "walls" in scuba diving lingo GALAPAGOS ISLANDS MARINE RESERVE: Smile) lava formations, mangroves, etc.


The Gal?agos Islands Marine Ecosystem is influenced by three ocean currents. The cold South Equatorial Current flows westward into Galapagos waters, which comes from the Peruvian Current (the Humboldt Current) that runs north along the continent of South America and turns west near the equator. The warm Panama Current runs in from north. In addition, the deep sea Cromwell Current runs from the west and is a source of upwelling when it hits the islands to bring nutrients from the bottom up to the surface layer.


Cold, hot and warm marine currents come together here, generating a wide diversity of animal life: from small colored fish to endemic birds and reptiles and large marine mammals: marine iguanas, Galapagos Land Iguana, Galapagos Penguin, Galapagos crabs, Galapagos sea lion, Sharks, Blue-footed booby, swallow-tailed gulls, ducks, frigate birds and the Galapagos tortoise.


Other Galapagos Marine Animals

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS MARINE RESERVE: The only tropical penguin in the world is the Galapagos Penguin.GALAPAGOS ISLANDS MARINE RESERVE: Waved Albatross at Galapagos National Park

The only tropical penguin in the world is the Galapagos Penguin.

Waved or Galapagos Albatross courting, Punta Suarez, Espanola Island.


While hard coral reefs are absent, the Galapagos Islands Marine Ecosystem has fabulous pelagic (open ocean) marine animals, like Blue and Pilot Whales, enormous delta-winged Manta Rays, Orcas, Dolphins etc. Different species of dolphins can follow your boat for hours, green turtles, hammer and other sharks, while countless exotic fish species in different shapes and colors make it a scuba-divers paradise.



Playfull dolfins are everywhere.

The Galapagos Islands Marine Reserve is Paradise for green turtles.


Top points of Interest at the Galapagos Islands

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