Sitting right atop the Equator, approximately 600 miles directly west of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands had no original inhabitants. They were discovered in 1535 by Tomas de Berlanga, the Spanish Bishop of Panama, when his ship drifted by the islands. Reportedly in the 17th and 18th centuries, ocean pirates used the islands as rendezvous points, as well as for fresh food and water. The Galapagos was finally annexed by Ecuador in 1832, and a decade later, a few small settlements were established on some of the islands. Visited by the English naturalist Charles Darwin in 1835, his subsequent studies of local wildlife noted that almost all of the animals and plants here were endemic to the islands, which of course contributed to his famous theory of natural selection, and put these special islands on the map for the rest of the world to experience. The islands became Ecuador's first national park, and these now aggressively-protected islands and the surrounding marine reserve were both declared World Heritage sites. Travel to these islands is strictly controlled by Ecuador, and a visit to the home of the giant tortoise, marine iguanas, and Darwin's finches must (should) be done through a professional tour operator, of which there are many operating through Quito.