Archipiélago de Colón), a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean. They form a territory of Ecuador. The islands lie on the Equator 600 miles (965 km) west of Ecuador's coast and consist of 13 main islands and numerous smaller islands and islets. Isabela, the largest island, accounts for about half of the group's area of roughly 3,000 square miles (7,770 km 2 ). Most of the islands are mountainous and volcanic; the maximum elevation is about 5,600 feet (1,700 m), on Isabela. Because of the presence of the Peru Current, the climate is cool and dry, especially in the coastal areas, many of which are barren. Upper mountain slopes are covered by dense vegetation.
The islands are noted for their unique animal and plant life. Probably best known are the giant land tortoises—Galápagos means “tortoises” in Spanish. Other animals include marine and land iguanas and many unusual birds, such as the flightless cormorant.
The Galápagos Islands were discovered by the Spanish in 1535 and occupied by Ecuador in 1832. In 1835 Charles Darwin became the first of many naturalists to visit the area. What he saw here aided him in formulating his theory of evolution.