Map Floreana island, Galapagos

Floreana Island: Off the Beaten Galapagos Track

Floreana Island has the odd distinction of being a major stop for most cruise tours in the Galapagos Islands – yet very few travelers stay there. Galapagos Travel Planner will give you the inside scoop on how to spend a few days exploring the island’s many mysteries.

What to See and Do

From the main town, Puerto Velasco Ibarra on Black Beach, a number of the island’s sites may be visited. Some require an official guide. All are open daily 6a.m. – 6p.m.

Just outside Puerto Velasco Ibarra is La Lobería beach, home to sea lions, marine iguanas and sea turtles. You can also snorkel and kayak here.

Eight kilometers (five miles) from Puerto Velasco Ibarra is Asilo de la Paz, the cave where pirate, Patrick Watkins, and the German settlers lived. Nearby is the island’s only source of fresh water.

Not too far away is Las Palmas, Dr. Ritter and Dora Strauch’s homestead, and Ritter’s grave.

Cerro Alieri hill, located 5.3 kilometers (3.5 miles) from the port, has many plants endemic to Floreana.

Other attractions are best accessed by boat, including Post Office Bay on the north shore of Floreana. At Punta Cormorant you can see flamingos, manta rays and rare plant species, and Mirador de la Baronesa, between Post Office Bay and Punta Cormorant, was the Baroness’ favorite place to hang out.

Around Floreana are several scuba diving and snorkeling sites: Corona del Diablo, Isla Caldwell, and the islets Champion, Enderby, Gardner and Watson. Hammerhead sharks, sea lions and schools of manta rays are some of the marine fauna you can observe.

Getting to Floreana

Most people go to Floreana on an organized tour, either on a multi-day cruise or on a day trip from Santa Cruz Island.

If you are doing the Galapagos independently and have a few days to embark on an adventure, then go on your own. Local transportation departs from the pier in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island ($30 one way, up to $40 from a travel agent). Boats leave several times a week – but only when there are enough passengers. You will need to go through a customs search to ensure you won’t also be transporting anything that could affect Floreana’s ecosystem.

Spending the Night in Paradise

Floreana has several lodging options in Puerto Velazco Ibarra. The best appointed are Hotel Wittmer and Floreana Lava Lodge. Other options are Hospedaje Nayip, Hospedaje El Pajas, Black Beach House and Lecocarpus. Also, families rent rooms in their homes.

Four restaurants operate on Floreana: Lelia’s Restaurante, El Oasisde la Baronesa, Devil’s Crown and La Canchalagua. There are also small shops, though selection will be limited.

A Few Final Notes

If you are going to stay on Floreana for a few days, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Be sure to bring plenty of cash from Santa Cruz Island, as there are no ATMs on Floreana.
  • Stay on the marked paths. Bushwhacking is a dangerous pursuit due to the rugged lava terrain and lack of shade and water.

So get off the beaten Galapagos tourist track. Who knows – you might just solve one of the Islands’ most enduring mysteries!

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Photo credit: Danielle Golon

Santiago island, Galapagos

Santiago Island: A Hidden History of Colonization

You may already know that humans are allowed to live on only five of the Galapagos Islands: San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Baltra, Floreana and Isabela. But once upon a time, Homo sapiens also colonized a sixth island.

Santiago, which in olden days was called James Island, is the fourth-largest island in the archipelago.

In the 17th through 19th centuries, pirates and whaling ships made regular stops at Buccaneer Cove on Santiago. This island provided ships with long-lasting food on the hoof (giant tortoises, which can live in the hold of a ship for months without food). Its salt flats gave material for salting down fish for the long ocean journeys. And it is one of the few places in the Galapagos where fresh water could be gotten.

The Galapagos are true desert islands. On only three – Santiago, San Cristobal and Floreana – are there permanent sources of fresh water. But in years of a severe El Niño event, these can dry up on Floreana and Santiago.

When Charles Darwin landed on Santiago Island to gather specimens and explore its geology, he encountered a group of Spanish sailors salting fish and tortoise meat. Inland he found two tortoise hunters living in huts and spent a few nights with them. Also passing by Santiago was a U.S. whaling ship.

In the 20th century, salt mining became a big business on Santiago. At Puerto Egas, which was named for the owner of the company, a small company town and roads to the mine were built. The mine operated in the 1920s and again in the 1960s.

In the 1930s, a group of settlers attempted to form a permanent colony on Santiago. Fleeing from the Great Depression and the shadows of another world war, they came to Galapagos to begin anew in this Eden. Among these colonizers were Ainslie and Frances Conway of the U.S., who related their experiences of island life in The Enchanted Islands: A Five-year Adventure in the Galapagos (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1947). After World War II, they attempted to settle again at James Bay.

Since the failure of the salt mine, Galapagos National Park has prohibited human occupation of Santiago Island. However, much damage had already been done. Pigs, goats, rats and donkeys roamed free, destroying tortoise nests. The land iguanas that were so numerous when Darwin visited had become extinct.

Santiago is now protected, offering Galapagos visitors the opportunity to observe its wildlife. Eradication of the pigs, goats and donkeys has been successful. Native plant species are once more flowering and the breeding program has allowed the island’s tortoise population to rebound.

Have you visited Santiago island? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.


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Photo credit: Florent Figon