Although it is speculated that certain indigenous Ecuadorian cultures reached the archipelago many years prior, the Galapagos were discovered in in 1535 by Fray Tomas de Berlanga. He was on a ship from Panama headed towards the South American coast when a current set him off course and towards the islands. It is said that the islands were 'rediscovered' many times by such currents pulling ships off their course. Berlanga had the opportunity to see many fantastic creatures on the islands, including giant tortoises. Although the islands were not formally named at the time, Berlanga noticed that the shells of the tortoises had an uncanny resemblance to a galapago (Spanish for the riding saddles used on horses). For many years the islands were simply known as 'Las Encantadas' (The Enchanted Ones) until 1570, when they were formally included as the Galápagos islands on the sea chart of the explorer Ortelius.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, Galapagos was not any country's specific property and thus was frequented by pirates. The islands were used by these buccaneers as a place of rest and storage. Besides access to fresh water, the pirates frequently took with them tortoises from Galapagos as they could survive extended periods of time on ship holds without food or water, making an excellent source of meat. Historical graffiti can still be seen on many of the islands today and legends exist that many of the pirates buried treasure. Davis and John Cook were among two of the most famous pirates to frequent the islands, along with Ambrose Crowley, who gave many of the larger islands their English names, such as Chatham (San Cristobal) and Tower (Genovesa). Later into the 18th century the archipelago became very popular among whalers, who besides hunting several species of whale that migrate to the islands, also killed many tortoises and seals.
Ecuador separated from 'La Gran Colombia' (Great Colombia) and became a sovereign nation in February of 1832. That very month Ecuador annexed the Galapagos islands as national territory. Initially plots of land were given to soldiers and some of the islands were used as penitentiaries for criminals. It was a few years later in 1835 that Charles Darwin visited the islands, where he made observations and gathered data that would lead to the publication of On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection in 1859. The islands were loosely declared a province of Ecuador in 1861 and it was not until 1973 when the islands were officially made a province, with its capital Puerto Baquerizo Moreno located on the island of San Cristobal. Yet even before this, 14 of the archipelago's islands were declared natural reserves in 1930, as an effort by scientists and the Ecuadorian government to preserve the islands.