South Plaza and Santa Fe Island

Aug 17, 2017 - National Geographic Islander

As first light breaks the National Geographic Islander has already set anchor in the protected waters of the northern end of the channel that separates the large island of Santa Cruz from the Plaza Islets.

After breakfast we made our way to shore aboard our Zodiac landing craft. The plan for this morning was to explore the trail on South Plaza Islet. This islet is made of an old uplifted volcanic plateau that used to be part of the ocean bottom which lies tilted, with a gentle slope falling into the channel that separates it from North Plaza Islet and a high cliff edge to the south on the windward side.

This small islet offered an excellent opportunity to spot Galapagos land iguanas which actively fed on the Opuntia prickly pear actus fruit. As we followed the trail along the edge of the cliff we all wondered why Galapagos sea lions climb all the way to the top of the cliff to bask on the edge. Meanwhile, to the surprise of many, several seabird species, like swallow tail gulls, red bill tropic birds, and Galapagos shearwaters passed us surprisingly close while riding the updraft.

Once back on board it was time for a Global Explorer kid’s activity which proved as popular between the young, as the not so young. The captain allowed us to jump off the ship. A surprising number of guests braved the twenty-foot jump from one of the upper decks on our ship.

After having sailed south for a few hours we reached the anchorage at Santa Fe Island.

Here, following kayaking and paddle boarding, we had a chance for snorkeling in a protected bay with sandy bottom which gives the waters a beautiful turquoise color.

It was only while disembarking for our last landing of the day that we realized the sheer number of spotted eagle rays in the bay after some guests reported spotting a few while snorkeling. We estimated there being a few hundred of this gracefully gliding elasmobranchs in the area.

After a wet landing, we hesitated in leaving the inquisitive sea lion pups to move inland. But this decision proved right, as we saw plenty of the rare Santa Fe land iguanas basking on the rocks along the trail and even the very elusive “hamster-like” Santa Fe rice rat.

We finished off our afternoon looking out for the spouts of Humpback whales from our Zodiacs as we made our way back to the ship.

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About the Author

Benjamin Ayala


Ben is a German-Ecuadorian naturalist guide who grew up on San Cristobal, the eastern-most island of the Galápagos Archipelago, home to the political capital of the province.

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