Santa Maria Island Galapagos

Of the 13 islands that make up the Galapagos Islands, Isla Santa Maria, also known as Floreana or Charles, is the sixth largest. It was formed from a single inactive volcano that many think is now extinct. It is going through the erosion process, which accounts for the rich soil there. This island has the fourth largest human settlement of the Galapagos, along with a history that includes whalers, pirates, buccaneers and convicts. The only way to reach this island is through a wet landing.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, pirates and whalers used Santa Maria as a haven because the island had a source of fresh water from a small spring. When they came to the island, they found giant tortoises and used them for food, causing a steep decline in the number of remaining tortoises. Foreigners also brought with them some goats and rats, which unfortunately added to the destruction of the native giant tortoises by eating their eggs. By 1840, that subspecies of tortoise became extinct.

The only settlement on Santa Maria is the tiny coastal town of Puerto Valasco Ibarra. Travelers are drawn to this town, often after reading about it in a book called “A Galapagos Affair.” This book follows the lives of the Wittmer family who were the original settlers in this town. Some of the family members are said to have died under mysterious circumstances, thus making a visit to this town even more intriguing. Santa Maria was the first of the Galapagos Islands to have a permanent settlement.

Map of Galapagos Islands

One site worth visiting, especially for its history, is Post Office Bay. In 1793, a whaling captain named James Colnett set up a wooden barrel to collect any mail needing to go back to England. In those times, whalers were away from their loved ones for long periods of time. Santa Maria Island had many ships stopping there either coming from or returning to England. Those coming from England would put letters in the barrel, and those returning to England would remove those letters to take with them as they traveled back to England. Even today, when a guest visits Post Office Bay, they are given some letters from the barrel to take home and mail, while adding their own letters to the barrel.

Also at Post Office Bay, the traveler can visit what is left of a Norwegian fishing village set up in 1926. Although those involved had hoped for a successful operation, it was not profitable and they abandoned it a few years later.

Another popular spot on Santa Maria Island is Punta Cormorant. This area boasts two beaches, one with green sand and the other with fine white sand. The green beach is good for snorkeling, as well as viewing sea lion colonies. Between the two beaches, the guest can follow a trail that leads to a lagoon where pink flamingoes and other birds make their home. These include birds such as large-billed flycatchers and ground finches. The trail ends at the white sand beach where ghost crabs and rays can be seen in the water. This beach is good for swimming as long as one avoids the rays.

One of the most popular areas of the Galapagos Islands is Devil’s Crown, found just off the coast of Punta Cormorant. This site was formed from a partially submerged volcano in the shape of a semicircle. Many consider it the best diving and snorkeling spot in the Galapagos. There are many species of brightly colored fish for the diver to swim with as well as sea lions, king angel fish, sea turtles and white-tipped sharks. The section of volcano above the water is home to many birds including pelicans, frigates and red-billed tropical birds that live in the crevices of the volcano.

A visit to Santa Maria Island offers the traveler many options, from walking and bird watching to snorkeling and scuba diving. With each activity, the guest will observe a unique aspect of the island while being transported back in time. Santa Maria is one island that all should endeavor to visit when traveling to this unique archipelago.

Galapagos Islands





San Cristobal

Santa Cruz

Santa Maria





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