Floreana Island rich human history contrasts the natural attractions found around the archipelago. The island was home to the first inhabitant of the Galapagos, Irishman Pat Watkins was set ashore by his boat and lived on the island trading fruits and vegetables that he crew to whaling ships for rum between 1807 and 1809.
Pirates and whalers used the island as a base to hide out from the Spanish fleet and restock on freshwater and supplies-mainly in the form of giant tortoises.
After Ecuador gained its independence from Spain, General José María de Villamil started the first colony on the island in 1837-consisting of a ragtag mix of disgraced soldiers who etched out a living growing crops and selling wares to passing ships.
When Villamil left the island for the last time, the colony had failed-his departure also marked the end of the Floreana tortoise, hunted to extinction by pirates, whalers, and settlers alike.
Don José Valdizán, a Spanish businessman, moved to the island in 1868 to harvest lichen-using convicts sent from the mainland as labor. Ten years later he was brutally murdered by one of his men. The remaining colonists left the island and moved to the neighboring Santa Cruz Island to work for another businessman, Manuel Julián Cobos, who harvested sugar to supply most of mainland Ecuador.
The island’s tumultuous history continued in 1932 when German colonists moved to the islands and set up shop in the highlands. Heinz and Margret Wittmer, Dr. Friedrich Ritter and his partner Dore Strauch, and Baroness Eloisa von Wagner Bosquet-Philipson and her two lovers lived on the island.
Tensions deepened when the Baroness started intercepting Ritter’s dispatches to the States in Europe, published in newspapers and detailing life in the Galapagos. Von Wagner rewrote the text to present herself as the main character before sending it to be published.
This chapter in Floreana’s history ended when the Baroness and one of her lovers mysteriously disappeared, never to be heard from again. The remaining lover fled the island, only to be found dead on a nearby island-shipwrecked with no food or water. Ritter died soon after of food poisoning, and Strauch returned to Germany-leaving the Wittmers as the sole remaining residents of the island. Today the descendants of the Wittmers still live on Floreana-running one of the few hotels on the island.
Floreana is home to less than two hundred residents, a handful of hotels, restaurants, and visitor sites that reflect on the intriguing history of the island.
Post Office Bay, located on the northern tip of the small island, is the site of a makeshift post office created by Captain James Colnett in 1793, using a barrel to keep letters safe from the elements. Whalers heading out to sea on a two-year voyage left missives for loved ones at home, picked up by vessels on the return trip, that were hand delivered once in port.
Today the tradition continues, those who visit the site take postcards to people in their country and leave a few for others to find.
Behind the Post Office are lava tubes that extend into the Earth. Explored by descending a ladder, the tunnels offer an insight into the creation of the island around 1.5 million years ago.
The highlands, nicknamed “Watkins’ Oasis” were the chosen site for pirates and settlers because of the freshwater spring, Asilo de la Paz, located there. Today, travelers visit Pirate Caves, where chimneys and cooking hearths give a glimpse into the pirate’s life centuries ago. Other points of interest are the homesteads of Don José Valdizán and the German migrants from the 1930s-including the Mirador de la Baronesa. (Baroness’ Lookout) Asilo de la Paz refers to the nearby volcano. A small giant tortoise breeding center is located at its base.
Black beach, on the western side of the island, is also known as Watkins Landing after Floreana’s illustrious first settler. The Wittmer Lodge is located on the seafront, and behind the beach is the island’s main town, Puerto Velasco Ibarra. Visitors to the Wittmer Lodge can have their postcards stamped with one of the lodge’s four stamps. The beach is a great place to snorkel and swim with Galapagos penguins and sea turtles and lions.
Activities-Swimming, snorkeling, and sightseeing
Wildlife-Sea lions and turtles, reef fish, flamingos, pintails, stilts, and Galapagos storm petrels
Cormorant Point’s two beaches- a green sand swath of coast made of olivine crystals and a bleached sand beach are well-known nesting grounds for sea turtles. In the waters, offshore Galapagos penguins dive for food and rays are sometimes seen in the shallow waters. A brief walk from the coast is expansive saltwater lagoon flanked by mangroves where flamingos feed in the shallow waters.
Activities-Hiking and birdwatching
Wildlife-Flamingos, sea lions and turtles, rays, flamingos, sea birds, and marine iguanas
Devils Crown is often regarded as the best place to snorkel in the Galapagos Islands. The site is a sunken volcanic crater where the abundance of marine life includes marbled rays, schools of king angelfish, sea turtles, octopus, hieroglyphic hawkfish, white-tipped reef sharks, and sea lions. Red-billed tropicbirds, herons, pelicans, blue-footed boobies, and pelicans fly overhead and nest in the crevices of the volcanic rocks above water. One note-the current around Devil’s Crown are strong and can be problematic for those not used to swimming in open waters.
Activities-snorkeling and diving
Wildlife-sea lions, different kinds of sharks including hammerheads, reef fish, rays, sea turtles, red-billed tropic birds, blue-footed boobies, and pelicans
Sometimes seen– Galapagos penguins
Note: All information is intended as a general guide of what you might be able to see or do on this island. In reality, wildlife sightings are by nature unpredictable, and activities may be subject to change by your guide or the National Park Authority.