South-east of Santa Cruz lies one of the oldest islands on the Galapagos archipelago, Sante Fe – also known as Barrington Island named after British Admiral Samuel Barrington. This small (24 square kilometers), arid, and relatively flat island is thought to be nearly four million years old. Unlike other islands in the region such as Genovesa, Isabella, and Santiago, Sante Fe’s is not volcanic, but rather it was created by a geological layer uplift. It is because of this that the island’s terrain is mostly leveled in comparison to the typical conical shape of most other islands you will find in the Galapagos Archipelago.
Key Visitor Sites on Sante Fe Island
The idyllic Barrington Bay is Sante Fe’s key visitor site; located on the island’s northeastern shore. Visitors wishing to explore this picturesque bay will have to dip their feet in its cerulean blue waters upon arrival as it is only accessible by wet landing. This small beach is often populated by colonies of friendly sea lions and is a great place to spot a variety of endemic species from iguanas and lava lizards to swallow-tailed gulls, shearwater petrels, Darwin finches and more.
It is here that explorers traveling on Aqua Mare’s east Itinerary will have the opportunity to enjoy this scenic oasis whilst taking part in leisurely water activities such as snorkeling, kayaking, or stand-up paddle boarding.
Exploring Sante Fe by Land
There are two hiking trails, both of which begin in Barrington Bay. The first is a 1 kilometer circular route which takes you along the coastline and leads you through an Opuntia (commonly called prickly pear cactus) forest before returning you to shore. This is the best opportunity to spot land iguanas, rice rats, and a variety of native birdlife.
The second of the trails is slightly more taxing as it climbs, relatively steeply, to the top of a cliff. However, the reward is more than worth it. From the viewpoint visitors avail stunning panoramic views across the pristine landscape of Sante Fe Island. While you soak in the scenery, keep a lookout for Galapagos hawks that nest on top of salt bushes and palo santos which are found in the area.
Endemic Wildlife on Santa Fe Island
Sante Fe is a sanctuary for wildlife and is home to two endemic species that can only be found on this island and nowhere else in the archipelago – the Sante Fe land iguana and the Sante Fe rice rat. The endemic species of land iguana lives alongside its more common cousin, the Galapagos land iguana, and can be easily identified by its larger stature and paler skin tone. Together, both species of land iguana are estimated to have a thriving population of nearly 7,000 individuals according to recent studies.
An ongoing challenge for authorities and conservationists in the Galapagos is preventing the introduction of new invasive species to the islands. This is of particular relevance to the Sante Fe rice rat as the species nearly went extinct following the arrival of black rats on the island. The population has since made a rebound after considerable efforts to protect the species.
It is also believed that there was once a population of endemic Sante Fe giant tortoises living on the island. However, due to hunting and environmental reasons, they sadly went extinct. At the international workshop on giant tortoises in 2012, it was decided that giant tortoises were to be reintroduced to Santa Fe. The first release of 201 young tortoises took place in 2015 and has since been an annual project planned to continue until 2025.
Endemic Flora on Sante Fe Island
Unique to Sante Fe is the Opuntia Echios Barringtonensis, colloquially known as the Sante Fe prickly pear. This breed of cactus is characterized by its large trunk and its broad, flat, green pads which grow on top of each other consecutively – an adaptation thought to protect the cacti from land iguanas and the now extinct Santa Fe giant tortoises. Thanks to these distinctive features, the Opuntia Echios forest on Santa Fe is particularly eye-catching and is a popular subject for photography aficionados. Not to mention, they grow up to a whopping 20 feet tall which is an impressive feat in itself.
Where do we go next?
After a morning on Sante Fe Island and a hearty lunch on board Aqua Mare, guests traveling on the Galapagos cruise east itinerary will disembark the ship for an afternoon on Plaza Sur Island. On this small but incredibly diverse islet, you will have the chance to head out on a two-hour hiking excursion led by an expert naturalist guide. On your journey you will discover the unique landforms of Plaza Sur and the history behind the formations. At the end of a day filled with adventure and excitement, guests can kick back under the starry skies of the archipelago with a glass of wine as Aqua Mare makes its way back to Santa Cruz Island.