If you like the idea of mixing some human history into your Galapagos wildlife experience, then don’t miss Floreana Island. It has one of the most interesting human histories of all the islands in the archipelago, and some quirkily interesting historic sites.
Floreana has seen a steady flow of visitors since the early 1800s. Its flat surface and fairly reliable supply of fresh water made it a popular stop for whalers, pirates and other sailors, including Charles Darwin during his voyage of 1835.
Over the years, fires, human activities and introduced species have devastated much of the island’s wildlife, including the endemic but now extinct Floreana tortoise. Conservation efforts are still underway, with the hope of restoring healthy populations of various species such as hawks, barn owls, rails, finches and, most significantly, the once endemic Floreana mockingbird.
Main Visitor Sites
Puerto Velasco Ibarra – Most of Floreana’s 100 or so residents live in the tiny port town of Puerto Velasco Ibarra. It’s a historic spot, and descendants of one of the first families to live in the Galapagos still run the only hotel, the Pension Wittmer (which also houses the island’s only telephone).
Punta Cormorant (Cormorant Point) – This is one of the island’s wildlife hotspots, especially for bird watchers. Galapagos flamingos wade through the lagoon at Cormorant Point, along with a wide variety of birds such as pintail ducks, a few species of finches, stilts and large-billed flycatchers. If you’re lucky (and can arrange a nighttime trip), you might be able to spot the nocturnal joint footed petrel. There are two interesting beaches along the point. One is a green sand beach whose color comes from olivine crystals in the sand, and the other, Flour Beach, is made of very fine powdered coral. Green sea turtles, red rock crabs and several species of rays can be seen along the shoreline.
Post Office Bay – Way back in 1793, a group of enterprising and probably homesick whalers put a wooden barrel in a Floreana bay and optimistically declared it a post office. Amazingly it worked, and still works today. Back then, sailors would leave their letters in the barrel, clearly addressed for whichever destination, in the hope that a later seaman would be heading that way and would therefore deliver the letter. The same system is still in place; today’s tourists still leave postcards in the barrel, and take any that they themselves can deliver. Another attraction in Post Office Bay is the lava tube, which extends for a few hundred yards. It’s a short walk from the barrel and tourists are allowed to walk through it (don’t forget your torch).
Cerro Alieri – Cars from Puerto Velasco Ibarra take tourists up into the highlands in the heart of the island. The first stop, after about 15 minutes, is Cerro Alieri. The main attraction here is the incredible abundance of native and endemic plant species, more than 48 in total. These include the critically endangered Floreana flax, once believed extinct until it was rediscovered by park wardens in 1997.
Asilo de la Paz – Further into the center of Floreana and about 45 minutes from the port is the Asilo de la Paz (Asylum of Peace), a 1,476-feet-tall volcanic cone. At its base you can visit the island’s old pirate cave and also the vital fresh water spring that provides residents with most of their water.
Devil’s Crown – This is Floreana’s main marine site. Once a volcanic crater, it has since been largely eroded away, with just a handful of rocky spears sticking out of the water in a rough semicircle. Seabirds like to hang out on these spikes, including boobies, pelicans, frigatebirds and red-billed tropicbirds. Below the surface is a snorkeler’s paradise. The coral reefs here attract plenty of species including sea lions, white-tipped sharks, hammerhead sharks, sea turtles, king angel fish, balloon fish and eagle rays.
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