In 1535, Fray Tomas de Berlanga, a Bishop of Panama, documented the official first visit to the Islands when his ship drifted westward from Peru in the ocean currents. After some time without sufficient resources on the Islands, the captain left disenchanted but intrigued by the wildlife and the numerous Galapagos Tortoises (giant tortoises). He went back and recounted what he saw to King Carlos V of Spain.
In 1546, Pizarro and his crew drifted off the coast of South America. They saw what appeared to be islands floating on the horizon. As they were carried closer to the islands by the currents they named them Las Islas Encantadas, the Enchanted Islands, due to the mysterious land peaking in and out of the mist.
During the Spanish war between England and Spain, English buccaneers used the Islands as a base and refuge after their raids. William Ambrose Cowley drew up the first basic navigational charts in 1684. The Islands appeared on the map in the late sixteenth century as the "Insulae de lo Galapagos."
In the 1800's, as South America became increasingly independent of the Spanish rule and became more open to trading, mercantile vessels such as whaling ships came to the Islands, especially to Floreana Island. Large populations of sperm whales were hunted and until today, the consequence of the whalers are felt with reduced populations of the elephant tortoises and the near extinction of the sperm whale.
In the year 1807, came the arrival of the first resident on the Islands. Irishman Patrick Watkins arrived on Floreana Island, living for two years on the island by hunting, growing vegetables, trading with passing whalers. Eventually he stole a boat and sailed to Guayaquil.
With Ecuadorian independence, in 1832 the Islands were renamed the "Archipelago del Ecuador." At that time, the Islands English pirate names were changed to traditional Spanish names and patriotic Ecuadorian names, such as Floreana named after General Flores.
In the 1930’s, one of the most interesting settlements was formed on the Islands. Arriving in 1929 was a German doctor of curious tastes, Friedrich Ritter, who practiced what would today be called holistic medicine. Removing all of his teeth to avoid any dental complications and bringing Dore Strauch, his patient suffering from multiple sclerosis, Dr. Ritter and Strauch set up a gardening utopia that was quite successful. Soon two more Germans, Hienz and Margaret Wittmer, joined them at the location. There they lived in a standoffish harmony, until the arrival of the self described "Baroness," an Austrian woman going by Baroness Eloisa von Wagner Bosquet, dressed with a whip, revolver, and black boots and accompanied by her three apparent love slaves/servants. It was soon that a series of mysterious disappearances and deaths occurred, to this date still unsolved, leaving Margaret Wittmer as the only survivor of the settlers.
In 1959, precisely one hundred years after the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species, Ecuador declared its´ first national park, the Galapagos Islands National Park, preserving whatever land that was not already settled for protection. Five years later the Charles Darwin Research Station was opened outside of Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz. Working with the National Park Office, the station conducts research and determines courses of action to protect the Islands.