Galapagos Islands History, and Tourism. People, Culture, Governance, Economy. A Book on Galapagos for travel and tourism. The Galápagos Archipelago was discovered by accident in 1535, when Tomás de Berlanga, the first Bishop of Panama, drifted off course while sailing from Panama to Peru. The bishop reported his discovery to King Charles V of Spain and included in his report a description of the giant Galápagos tortoises from which the islands received their name, and an amusing note about the islands’ birds that any visitor today can appreciate, ‘…so silly that they didn’t know how to flee and many were caught by hand.’It is possible that the indigenous inhabitants of South America were aware of the islands’ existence before 1535, but there are no definite records of this and the islands don’t appear on a world map until 1570 when they are identified as the ‘island of the tortoises.’ In 1953, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl discovered what he thought to be pre-Columbian pottery shards on the islands, but the evidence seems inconclusive.