Thanks to the theory of plate tectonics, we now know how most of the landmass on the planet came to be formed. Huge subterranean volcanoes shot forth colossal quantities of rock which hardened as it cooled. The moving plates of the Earth’s crust separated, collided and were torn apart to create the huge variety of topography and landscapes on the planet today.
At various points on the planet where these plates are most active, there is still a large amount of activity, characterised frequently by sudden shifts if the plates (in the form of earthquakes) and new formation of rock (volcanoes and trenches). These places can be considerably dangerous but they also result in spectacular landscapes. It’s like watching the formation of our planet unfolding before our eyes.
It is through this volcanic action that the Galapagos Islands were formed, and why today the best Galapagos Islands to visit exhibit unmistakeable volcanic features. Isabela and Fernandina are the two youngest and most active volcanic islands in the archipelago. This makes them the best Galapagos Islands to visit for anyone wanting to see the sheer volcanic power of the planet.
The activity around the islands, located some 600 miles from the coast of mainland South America, is caused by the separation of the Nazca and Cocos tectonic plates. These are moving away from each other at the rate of several centimetres a year, which means each new island volcano that is formed is then carried away from its source at the same rate, as if on a conveyor belt. It’s this that explains why the islands have moved around ten metres since the time Charles Darwin visited in 1835, changing the face of the Galapagos map.
The best Galapagos Islands to visit are in the top ten most volcanic places on earth, with 53 eruptions from eight separate volcanoes recorded since official records began. Large eruptions occurred on Fernandina in 1968, with the collapse of the caldera (volcanic cone), and further smaller eruptions in 1984, 88 and 91. This makes it one of the best Galapagos Islands to visit for students of tectonic activity. Although a lava flow and eruption on Isabela in 2005 was also significant.
As time passes, each of the volcanically formed islands moves further from the epicentre of activity, becoming less volatile and active. But then who knows, more island volcanoes are perhaps currently being formed beneath the surface, one day to emerge as part of the archipelago.