As the lush hills of Floreana come into view, it’s difficult to believe that such a serene island could have such a troubled history. The population of the island today stands at less than 200 residents, but Floreana was actually the first island in the archipelago to be populated.
This tiny port, with less than 200 inhabitants, lives in comparative isolation from the rest of the islands. There are few basic services here, which is why most visits are confined to day trips. There are no banks, limited electricity, and the only mail service is through the Post Office Bay barrel.
There are a couple of hotels on the island, and it’s possible that in the next decade Floreana may develop further, but that’s anybody’s guess. The Pensión Wittmer (tel. 5/252-0150 or 5/252-9506, $30 s, $50 d) has guest rooms and bungalows overlooking the beach with fans, private baths, and hot water. Three meals cost an additional $20 pp.
Red Mangrove Lava Lodge (Floreana tel. 5/252-4905, Santa Cruz tel. 5/252-6564, www.redmangrove.com , $168 s, $186 d, breakfast included) has been built recently—10 oceanfront pine cabins sleep 2–3 with private baths and porches overlooking a black lava beach.
Buses leave for the highlands early every morning. The island’s only water source, Asilo de la Paz, is eight kilometers into the highlands, a half-hour drive or a three-hour walk. If you decide to stay on the island, you can sometimes hitch a ride back to Puerto Ayora with one of the day tours.
The visit to this site on the north side of Floreana starts with a wet landing on a green-tinged beach, colored by olivine minerals. A 720-meter trail leads up to a saltwater lagoon, which is a good spot to see flamingos and other wading birds such as white-cheeked pintails, stilts, and gallinules. Along the trail, Floreana’s comparatively lush surroundings can be appreciated. Among the vegetation is abundant birdlife, including yellow warblers and flycatchers.
Beyond the lagoon is a beautiful white-sand beach, nicknamed Flour Beach for its incredibly fine sand. Stingrays and spotted eagle rays are common near the beach, and sea turtles nest here November–February. There are signs to keep you out of their nesting areas, but you may be lucky enough to see them swimming. Note that snorkeling and swimming are not allowed. The only drawback of this site is its perplexing name—there are no flightless cormorants here.
This is one of the quirkiest sites in the Galápagos . You wouldn’t imagine that a mailbox would be of much appeal, but it has an interesting history and is also a bit of light-hearted fun. Back in 1793, whalers began the practice of leaving mail in a barrel for homeward-bound ships to collect. Crews would then hand-deliver the letters to their destination in a remarkable act of camaraderie.
These days, the tradition has been carried on, mainly by visitors. Leave a postcard for a fellow national to collect, and take one home with you. Tradition dictates that you should deliver it in person, but paying the postage is probably preferable these days to turning up on a stranger’s doorstep. The barrel has evolved into a wooden box on a pole surrounded by an assortment of junk.
The visit lands you directly on the brown-sand beach. Just a few meters beyond the barrel is a lava tunnel, which you often need to wade through water to reach, and the rusted remains of a Norwegian fishing operation dating back to the 1920s. There is also a soccer field used by boat crews, who may invite you to join in a game. Be aware that there are sizeable populations of introduced wasps here, and their sting is painful, so be careful.
Offshore from Post Office Bay, the jagged peaks of this submerged volcanic cone poke out of the water and supply its name, Devil’s Crown. Its nooks and crannies offer some of the best snorkeling in the islands, either outside the ring or in the shallow inner chamber, which is reached through a side opening. There is a rich variety of tropical fish—parrotfish, angelfish, and damselfish—and you can occasionally see sea lions and sharks. Note that the current can be quite strong on the seaward side.
These two sites are very popular with snorkelers and divers. Enderby is an eroded tuff cone where you can snorkel with playful sea lions, and Champion Island is a small offshore crater, a popular nesting sight for boobies. Landing is not allowed, but the snorkeling is good.