A shipwrecked Irishman, Patrick Watkins, washed up on the shore of this southern island in the late 1700s and became the Galapagos' first human resident. And that's just the beginning of the colorful history of Floreana, also known as Isla Santa Maria.
It was colonized by Ecuadorians in 1832 and became a penal colony late in the 19th century. In the 1930s, three groups of eccentric Germans arrived, including a baroness and several of her lovers, all of whom disappeared or died under mysterious circumstances. Then there was a dentist who had all his teeth removed before going to the island and later died of food poisoning. Several accounts of who-done-it have been published in books and magazines, giving the island a lingering air of intrigue.
Most visitors stop on the north coast at Bahia Post Office, or Post Office Bay, where whalers once deposited mail in a barrel. Passing ships picked up the mail and delivered it to their next port of call. Today, there's another barrel where visitors can pose for pictures and leave cards and notes for other passersby to read and maybe even deliver. Near the bay is a good swimming beach.
Farther away is Punta Cormorant, a greenish beach with colonies of sea lions and nesting areas for sea turtles. There's a flamingo lagoon between the two beaches where visitors can usually see several dozen of the pink birds, as well as other wading birds and ducks. There are more varieties of plants on Punta Cormorant than can be seen on any other island in the Galapagos.
Also near Punta Cormorant is a mostly submerged volcanic cone that's a wonderful place to snorkel and see colorful tropical fish, as well as sea lions and sharks. Islets such as Devil's Crown and Champion also offer delightful encounters with the Galapagos marine life.
In the agricultural zone of the highlands, visitors can see Asilo de la Paz, which reaches a height of 1,475 ft/450 m. At the base of the cone is a cave once used by Watkins and later by the Wittmer family. There is also a freshwater spring, the main source of water for Floreana residents.
Asilo de la Paz is within walking distance of Puerto Velasco Ibarra, the town on Floreana, but it is more than 5 mi/8 km, and it is easier to take a bus.
For an easy hike, visitors should check out Mirador de la Baronesa in the northwest portion of the island in Olia Bay. This site was greatly appreciated by the German Baroness Eloisa von Wagner, and the ruins of her home are only 98 ft/30 m away. For a moderate to difficult hike, visitors should try Cerro Alieri, to the east of Asilo de la Paz. A 15-minute bus ride is required to get to the entrance of this site.
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