South Plaza and Santa Fe Islands

Jan 30, 2020 - National Geographic Islander

Located on the eastern coast of Santa Cruz, the Plazas are two small islets which were produced by the uplifting sections of the marine floor. North Plaza remains out of bounds for visitation, but South Plaza has a circuit trail that covers about two thirds of the island. Great management efforts have gone into South Plaza in order to eradicate introduced species, while at the same time restoration programs have helped bring this island back to its former glory. Today, the island is the perfect habitat for the endemic land iguanas, which thrive here due to an abundance of their favorite meal: the opuntia or prickly pear tree. The southern cliffs of the island bear the brunt of the Southeastern trade winds, with many seabird species nesting in the area or making the most of the updraft in order to save energy. Swallow-tailed gulls, Galapagos shearwaters, brown noddies and Nazca boobies are abundant and nest here. When watching these birds soar in the air, one cannot help but admire their beautify and incredible aerial acrobatics. South Plaza is also home to a large colony of Galapagos sea lions who seek shelter in the channel that divides the Plazas from large predators found in the deep surrounding waters.

After a beautiful sunny morning hike, we returned to the ship for a refreshing well-deserved dip in the sea, and many even jumped off the ship. This is the beginning of the warm season and the temperature of the water was just perfect! Midday we navigated southbound toward Santa Fe, considered one of the oldest in the archipelago. Its outline is rather flat; therefore, its vegetation belongs to the arid or dry zone typically represented by the opuntia cacti. Here, the Santa Fe endemic species distinguishes itself from other prickly pear species of the archipelago by reaching a girth of up to four feet wide for some very old individuals. Santa Fe has its own species of land iguana, the conolopus pallidus. They are found scattered on the very rocky terrain of the island, where they usually live happily ever in the vicinity of a cactus tree.

The calm bay of Santa Fe is the perfect place for kayaking, but it’s also sought out by species like sea turtles, rays and sea lions, who choose to rest or evade predators in the tranquil waters. The small, sandy beaches that line the central shoreline of the bay have become territories of a healthy colony of sea lions. They carry on with their natural behavior and activities despite the presence of the visiting humans. Santa Fe, with its terrain and unique species, really feels like a place forgotten in time.

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About the Author

Gaby Bohorquez


Gaby was born and raised in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Her first job in the Galapagos was on board a 90-passenger cruise ship as the cruise director’s assistant, and she fell under the spell of the Enchanted Isles. She returned to Guayaquil to study at the Espiritu Santo Technological University to obtain a degree in Tourism Management. Her fascination for the islands was still strong so, after finishing her studies, Gaby took the opportunity to join the Naturalist Guide’s course, jointly organized by the Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Research Station. That was back in 1992, and she has been a naturalist since, keeping her deep love and passion for the islands during all these years.

About the Photographer

Patricio Maldonado

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Patricio, better known as Pato amongst his friends, was born in the Galápagos Island. His family moved to the islands from the mainland and settled on the island of Santa Cruz over thirty-five years ago. Pato had an enchanted childhood in the islands, where his keen interest in the wildlife of the Galápagos was born initially through catching lizards and observing how they lost their tails. His experiences in the islands have led him to teach visitors about the need to protect this rare and unique environment.

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