Plazas and Santa Fe islands

Apr 11, 2019 - National Geographic Islander


At 8:00 a.m. we disembarked to South Plaza to explore this small wildlife-rich island. At about 4 million years old, South Plaza is one of the earliest and oldest land masses across the archipelago.

South Plaza is home to one of the largest sea lion colonies. Arriving here, we see an abundance of lion pups playing in and investigating the calm waters of the bay while adults hunt for fish off the coast. Uphill there is a colony of Galapagos land iguanas. They too are hungry, and we find a great deal of them occupying the base of prickly pear cacti to forage for fruit that happens to fall nearby. Lava lizards are skittering everywhere, in search this or that insect (food is a big deal here), while a small assortment of sea birds fly along and station themselves along the nearby cliff.

Diverse as many of these islands are, the struggle to survive is an animating theme of life here. The environment can be downright inhospitable at times, and the ability to adapt means everything. Examples of adverse conditions include certain lizards that resort to cannibalism to subsist, and finches that will turn to bloodsucking of larger birds for nutrition. Survival is a prime and at times unpleasant state of affairs for the wildlife inhabiting these islands. They eat, they reproduce, they compete to ensure the continuation of their species. In that sense, Galapagos acts as a sort of a living lab, where evolution and survival can be seen at an almost granular level.

We returned to our ship for an afternoon swim to cool off from the day’s climbing temperatures.

In the afternoon our captain brought us to Santa Fe island. Along the way, we found a great a unique display of something like 50 or more bottlenose dolphins jumping around in a feeding frenzy. We went to the bow of our ship to see them riding the waves our ship generated.

Later, guests explored the bay of Santa Fe by kayaking, others by Zodiac rides, for an intimate island-wide view. We found many turtles occupying the turquoise waters of the adjoining bay as well as a few eagle rays and sharks. We found ourselves at a small beach filled with sun-basking sea lions basking under the sun. We walked further inland to find a colony of Santa Fe land Iguanas: This makes for yet another species of land iguana found on this archipelago. Galapagos hawks occupy the tip of the food chain, a few of which we spot skyward looking for prey. Along the trail we found numerous lizards and finches. After reaching the highpoint of our walk and enjoying the breathtaking view afforded, we returned to board National Geographic Islander. Back aboard, the sky ran to orange and red. We were very happy for a day filled with so many experiences.

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About the Author

Christian Saa

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Christian was born on the island of Isabela in the Galápagos archipelago. He grew up on a farm and had a magical childhood devoid of cars, electricity, telephones—just pure nature and playful sea lions along the beach. At the age of seven, he moved with his family to Santa Cruz Island, the economic hub of the Galápagos Islands. His father began to work in tourism and took Christian around the islands during school vacations. It was during this time that Christian learned to love and understand the real value of this unique archipelago, and he decided to devote his life to its stewardship. A lifelong passion for nature and its creatures took root in his heart, and he eventually decided to become a naturalist, which he has now been doing for 18 years now.

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