This post is part 7 of 20 in the series Galapagos Islands Travel Guide

Located between Santa Cruz Island and San Cristóbal Island, Santa Fe Island is said to be where Charles Darwin made a bird observation that started him down the path to his theory of evolution. When we traveled to Santa Fe Island we saw that same pivotal bird and learned a lot more (including serious respect for sea lion poop). Here are our highlights of visiting Santa Fe Island in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.

Santa Fe Island Galapagos

Part of the sea lion greeting committee on Santa Fe Island in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.

You can visit Santa Fe Island, also called Barrington Island after Admiral Samuel Barrington, as a day trip from Santa Cruz Island (about 2.5 hours by boat each way). We visited during a zodiac excursion as part of our itinerary while traveling on the M/Y Grace.

galapagos iguana santa fe island

The land iguanas on Santa Fe were huge.

The landscape of Santa Fe Island

At just 9.3 square miles (24 square km), this is one of the smaller destinations in the Galapagos archipelago which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978. It’s also one of the oldest islands with some lava formations on the island dating back about 4 million years.

Santa fe galapagos

Hiking past a massive Opuntia cactus on Santa Fe Island.

That’s more than enough time for a bit of vegetation to have regained a foothold on the island including Palo Santo trees and Opuntia cactus so big they look like trees. Because the island was formed by volcanic uplift, not an eruption, it has a mostly flat profile with no classic cone.

wet landing Santa Fe Galapagos

Making our wet landing.

Hiking on Santa Fe Island

After a wet landing (pictured above), we explored a lovely white beach that was packed with Galapagos sea lions sunning themselves including a few pups, lots of females, and a very boisterous male.

santa fe sea lions galapagos

On Santa Fe Island, we were able to see Galapagos sea lions in all shapes and sizes including pups, females, nursing pups, and a large male.

The sea lions barely acknowledged us and certainly didn’t alter their schedule of sneezing (which our guide told us is a sign of affection as well as a way to get rid of salt from the seawater they drink), sunning, and scratching.

baby sea lion santa fe island

Sea lions pups are as cute as you think.

After carefully picking our way past the slumbering sea lions, we began observing them up close (including a young one nursing). Soon, we made an important observation of our own on Santa Fe Island: sea lion poop looks like dog poop, but smells much, much worse.

galapagos mockingbird

A Galapagos mockingbird feasts on an Opuntia cactus flower on Santa Fe.

Then we walked along a short and mostly flat loop trail with one small uphill section to see land iguanas (including a juvenile) and the mockingbird that got Darwin started down this (r)evolutionary path.

baby land iguana galapagos

We didn’t see many baby land iguanas in the Galapagos, but we did spot this little guy on Santa Fe Island.

Snorkeling at El Eden near Santa Fe Island

After our land explorations on Santa Fe Island, our itinerary called for a bit of nearby snorkeling. Our boat motored toward Santa Cruz Island to an eroded tuff formation called El Eden. In the water, the highlight, yet again, came in sea lion form. Despite our best efforts to adhere to the Galapagos National Park rule of staying at least 6 feet (2 meters) from all animals, the female Galapagos sea lions here were curious and interactive, often coming right up to us as we snorkeled.

See more from our time snorkeling at El Eden in our Galapagos travel video, below.


Pro tip: the playful and curious sea lions responded most enthusiastically when we dove below the surface or blew bubbles underwater.

We visited in: March

Activities: wet landing, hiking a short loop trail, nearby snorkeling

Animal highlights: On land, we saw Galapagos sea lions, land iguanas (including a juvenile), Galapagos mockingbirds (a species that helped spark Darwin’s theory of evolution), lava lizards, and swallow-tailed gulls. Sadly, we never spotted the island’s two endemic species: the Barrington land iguana and the Barrington leaf-toed gecko. While snorkeling we saw many more Galapagos sea lions.

Part of: the central group of islands

Here are more photos from Santa Fe Island.

galapagos land iguana

Some call land iguanas “dragons” but this one seemed too sweet for that nickname.

sea lion nursing

This Galapagos sea lion pup on Santa Fe Island seemed to be nursing and napping at the same time.

santa fe galapagos opuntia cactus

Tree-like Opuntia cactus on Santa Fe.

Santa Fe galapagos sea lions

Galapagos sea lions making the most of the beach.

More Galapagos travel tips

Use our Galapagos Islands Travel Guide index post to quickly navigate through the entire series, or choose specific posts below.


Here’s more about travel in Ecuador

Here’s more about Island Travel

Here’s more about Galapagos Travel

Here’s more about Adventure Travel


Series Navigation:<< Highlights of Visiting Genovesa Island – Galapagos Islands, EcuadorVisiting Punta Pitt, Cerro Brujo, and Kicker Rock Around San Cristóbal Island – Galapagos Islands, Ecuador >>

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