With less than 200 residents, Floreana is the most isolated and least visited of the inhabited islands in the Galapagos. It has the most interesting human history of the islands as it used to be a water and food stop for pirates, whalers and merchants. Pirates used to hide in the island’s caves! Floreana is well-known for its eccentric early settlers and a few mysterious deaths which took place in the 1930s. Several books and even a movie have been made about these events.
Floreana is the only inhabited island that has no cell phone coverage. The residents actually declined it because they thought it would speed up the pace of life there too much. As a result, calls can only be made from landlines. There is spotty wifi coverage in the town of Puerto Velasco Ibarra. If you want a peaceful, unique experience where you can immerse yourself in nature and disconnect from the real world, consider spending a night or two on Floreana! Stargazing opportunities on Floreana are exceptional due to the lack of light pollution.
FLOREANA ISLAND’S HISTORY
Due to its fresh water supply and abundance of plants and animals, Floreana was a popular stop for whalers. In 1793, they set up the first post office (in the form of a wooden barrel) in the Galapagos.
In 1820, a sailor named Thomas Chappel from the Essex whaling ship set Floreana on fire as a prank. The fire destroyed many trees and shrubbery and may even have contributed to the extinction of some of the island’s species.
Floreana’s most famous residents arrived in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Friedrich Ritter was an eccentric doctor who removed all his teeth before coming to Floreana with his mistress, Dore Strauch. Margret Wittmer, her husband Heinz, and her stepson Harry. They built a house and started farming before Margret gave birth to Rolf Wittmer, the first person who was ever born in the Galapagos Islands.
A woman who called herself “the Baroness” arrived with her two lovers and started annoying Ritter and the Wittmer family by stealing supplies and bathing in the local drinking water supply. She later disappeared mysteriously with one of her lovers. The possible murders and mysterious disappearances that occurred on Floreana are the subject of a documentary film called the Galapagos Affair. Today, descendants of the Wittmers run a hotel in Floreana.
HOW TO GET TO FLOREANA ISLAND
Floreana is included as a stop on many cruise itineraries, but few land-based visitors make it there. However, a day trip or an overnight stay from Santa Cruz is possible – you just need to arrange everything in advance if you want to go there as boats only operate if there are enough passengers.
Visitors who want to spend the night on Floreana Island get there by taking the same boat as the day tour from Santa Cruz. The boat departs Santa Cruz around 8am and arrives to Floreana at 10am. The boat leaves for Santa Cruz around 2:30 pm, arriving around 4:30pm.
Typically, visitors who decide to stay on the island do a 3 day/2 night itinerary, arriving in Floreana on the morning of the 1st day and leaving on the afternoon on the 3rd day. They often join the day trippers on their tour on the 1st day. Galapagos Ocean Expeditions offers day trips there. The tour price is $145 plus tax and includes round trip transportation from Santa Cruz to Floreana, lunch, snorkel mask and fins. For more information, email Hans at goexpeter (@) gmail . com.
DAY TOUR OF FLOREANA ISLAND
Upon arriving in Floreana, you will board a chiva (an open-sided bus) to the highlands where you will visit the pirate caves, tortoise corral, and freshwater spring. You will head back to town for lunch in a local restaurant followed by snorkeling at La Loberia. After snorkeling, you will walk back to the pier along Playa Negra, a black sand beach.
WHAT TO SEE ON FLOREANA ISLAND
FLOREANA’S MAIN PIER
At the main pier, there is a statue honouring Rolf Wittmer, the first person born in Floreana. Sea lions nap on the pier, as well as many marine iguanas. Floreana’s marine iguanas are often called “Christmas iguanas” because of their distinctive green and red patches of skin. These “Christmas iguanas” can only be found on Floreana and Espanola.
POST OFFICE BARREL
A post office barrel, built in 1793, was used by pirates and merchants. There is a tradition that people check the mail from the barrel and if they live nearby the addressee, they must personally deliver it. The original mailbox fell into disrepair and has since been replaced by a replica at the docks in Puerto Velasco Ibarra. Today, tourists leave postcards inside a big ziploc bag in the mailbox and continue the tradition. If you visit Floreana, don’t forget to bring postcards to put in the mailbox!
Playa Negra is a gorgeous black sand beach located right in front of the Wittmer Hotel. You can often have the whole beach to yourself, except during the afternoons when tour groups come to snorkel. It is also a wonderful place to watch the sunset.
Walk past Floreana Lava Lodge and take a short walk along a trail to La Loberia, You can see sea lions, sea turtles, and iguanas at this beach. La Loberia is an excellent spot for snorkeling or kayaking.
ASILO DE LA PAZ
From Puerto Velasco Ibarra, a long road leads to the visitor site of Asilo de la Paz. You can get here with an organized tour, or alternatively, by chiva. The chiva leaves twice daily at 6am and 3pm from the main road in the village (12 de febrero) and it picks people up and returns after an hour and a half.
There are three main attractions at Asilo de la Paz: the giant tortoise corral, the freshwater spring and the pirate caves.
None of the tortoises who live in the tortoise corral are endemic to Floreana. The original Floreana tortoises became extinct after the first visitors to the islands captured them to eat during their long ocean voyages. As well, they were the main source of food for the inhabitants of the penal colony. The tortoises at Asilo de la Paz are originally from other islands and used to be pets of families in Floreana until the National Park was founded and it became illegal.
The freshwater spring provides water to the people of Floreana.
The pirate Patrick Watkins spent two years living in the pirate caves while he was marooned on Floreana. Dr. Ritter and Dora Strauch were the next inhabitants followed by the Wittmer family.
At Asilo de la Paz, you will see the borrachero tree, from which the notorious drug Scopolamine is derived.
WHERE TO STAY ON FLOREANA ISLAND
On Floreana Island most visitors stay at the Floreana Lava Lodge or the Wittmer Lodge. There are also guesthouses available, usually run out of residents’ homes.
FLOREANA LAVA LODGE
The Lava Lodge has private cabins next to the ocean. At night, you can hear the waves crashing against the shore while you rest in your cabin. On clear nights, the stars are amazing! Bring a tripod if you want to get good photos of the stars. A full breakfast of fruit, yogurt, granola, toast and eggs is served in an outdoor dining area. Hungry finches will definitely join you for breakfast!
The cabins are equipped with modern conveniences such as hot showers and air conditioning. When my boat arrived at the pier, Lourdes, one of the owners of the lodge, met me and took my luggage to the hotel while I went on my day tour. Claudio Cruz, the other owner, helped me arrange dinner at his sister’s restaurant and gave me a ride there in his truck. If you plan to walk to and from town after dark, be aware that the path leading to town is pitch black (no streetlights) and there are lots of insects, so bring a flashlight and insect repelllant.
This hotel is run by the daughter and granddaughter of Margret Wittmer, one of Floreana’s first settlers. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are available to guests who stay here. If you are interested in the island’s history, there is a small museum here.
WHERE TO EAT ON FLOREANA ISLAND
There are only four restaurants on the island, so if you need lunch or dinner, you will need to make a reservation in advance. You can do this by going to the restaurant or asking staff from your accommodation to help you. If you are coming with a day tour, lunch will be included. The four restaurants are Canchalagua, Devil’s Crown Bar-Restaurant, Oasis de la Baronesa and Lelia’s Restaurant. They all have outdoor or semi-outdoor seating.
I ate dinner at Canchalagua, where soup, fish and dessert cost about $15. The wifi there was also excellent (well, for the Galapagos).
If you are the type of person who gets hungry easily, you should bring snacks as there is no convenience store on the island. There is a small bakery but it has sporadic hours.
BOOKS TO READ BEFORE VISITING FLOREANA
You will probably find your visit to Floreana more interesting if you read about its history before your trip.
This autobiography by Margret Wittmer describes her life on Floreana.
This is Dore Strauch’s version of what happened on the island in the 1930’s.
Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase through one of the links in this post I will earn a small commission at NO additional cost to you.