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.
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.
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. It’s also one of the oldest with some lava formations on the island dating back about 4 million years.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More Galapagos travel tips
- Part 1 in our Galapagos Islands Travel Guide series gives you the facts you need to plan your trip to the Galapagos Islands.
- Part 2 is our Santa Cruz Island Travel Guide including what to do and where to sleep on this tourist hub island.
- Part 3 tells you what to expect during boat trips to landings around Santa Cruz Island.
- Part 4 covers highlights from North Seymour, South Plaza, and Daphne Islands.
- Part 5 is our San Cristóbal Island Travel Guide.
- Part 6 covers what to expect during boat trips to Cerro Brujo, Punta Pitt, and Kicker Rock around San Cristóbal.
- Part 8 tells you what to expect on Genovesa Island.
- Part 9 gives you travel highlights from Fernandina Island.
- Part 10 helps you explore Isabela Island.
- Part 11 takes you around Santiago Island.
- Part 12 tells you what to expect on Floreana Island.
Here’s more about travel in Ecuador
Here’s more about Island Travel
Here’s more about Galapagos Travel