Post Office Bay at the Galapagos Islands is perhaps the most unique postal service on the planet. Here visitors find no employees, no stamps, and not even walls or ceiling. Just an old wooden barrel and an honor system that has been respected for centuries. Post Office Bay Galapagos is a place where old school communications rule, and age old traditions still mean something. For Galapagos visitors Post Office Bay is a wonderful glimpse into the human history of the Galapagos islands, and a chance to join in the fun for yourselves.
Read on to learn more about the history and traditions of Post Office Bay Galapagos. How does the post office work? How did it all start? And how can visitors participate today?
Our tale begins back at the end of the 18th century. British whaling ships would spend years at sea, hunting whales to turn into valuable oil. It was a lonely and tough life for sure, never knowing when you might next see your loved ones back home. Of course back in those times there was no email, airmail or social media. So instead the sailors devised an ingenius method of communication. They set-up their own whalers post office at a point where they knew ships would frequently pass through: the Galapagos Islands.
As the legend tells it, in 1793 they left a wooden whiskey barrel on Floreana island. The system was simple: any passing sailor could leave a letter there, but he also had to check if there was any mail that he might be able to deliver himself when he returned home. For example, a sailor who was finishing his journey in London England would take any mail with a London address. When he finally reached port he was then responsible to deliver it. Bearing in mind that whalers could spend two years or more at sea, this was a very slow mailing system – sometimes letters were delivered more than a year after written. But it was a simple system, and it worked for centuries.
This is the heart of travel at its best, strangers helping each other in the spirit of doing what they love; a story that is still unfolding today in the islands.
Floreana was a logical choice for the post office. It was already a popular Galapagos stop to load up on provisions of fresh water and food. Floreana is home to one of the few fresh water sources of the whole archipelago, and also had a bountiful supply of fresh meat in the form of giant tortoises. In fact this pit-stop was so popular that the Floreana tortoise was eventually hunted to extinction.
The original whisky barrel is no longer here, but the post office bay tradition lives on. Tourists can participate in the post office bay custom, and are encouraged to leave their own postcards. No stamp is required, just a clearly written address, and a little blind faith.
Visitors should also have a rummage around the postcards in the modern day barrel. If you spot an address close to your hometown then take it away with you. Just remember the honor system when you get home – it is a big responsibility to deliver the letter or postcard to the addressee. More than that, the mail should be delivered by hand. Tour guides are known to say that slapping a stamp on the letter and dropping it in a mailbox is cheating.
An example of this is a story that the BBC ran about a couple who visited the island in 2011 and spent the next three years hand delivering 22 letters to people in 17 countries. The people they met and the difference they made touched lives, just as travel does to each person who sets sails on new journeys.
This Alabama family also had a fun and heart-warming Post Office Bay Galapagos experience, which they share on 4wornpassports. Congratulations to Delaney for successfully hand delivering the letter, and surviving the experience.
Post Office Bay is a Galapagos visitor site on the northern coast of Floreana island. In order to see Post Office Bay, visitors need to take a Galapagos islands cruise itinerary that includes this stop.
Today Post Office Bay Floreana still has a barrel, as well as driftwood bearing painted names and dates that have been piled around the site to commemorate long-ago letter deliveries. It is something of an eclectic assortment of weathered articles, grafitti and stickers, but it does make for a memorable photo.
The real charm of Post Office Bay though is the romance of the story. Take a moment to imagine the life of a lonely sailor, and all of the hopes and dreams that have passed through here on paper and ink. The fact that an honor system still functions through the centuries is also testament to an old world way of doing things.
Contact us for a FREE GALAPAGOS TOUR QUOTE, or for help to plan your Galapagos trip. Just let us know if you would like to visit Post Office Bay, and we can make it happen.
Post Office Bay is not just about the barrel post box, there are also other fun thing to do. For starters take a flashlight along with you to visit the lava tunnel cave. Lava tunnels are formed when slow moving surface lava solidifies over faster moving lava. There are wooden steps leading into the impressively large cave, just watch your step as you go.
Another worthwhile excursion is the trek to Baroness Viewpoint, affording wonderful vistas over Floreana’s impressive landscape. This is also another important site for Galapagos human history. Check out our blog about the Galapagos Affair, a true tale of murder mystery yet to be solved.
You could also witness another Floreana sailors tradition. Crews from Galapagos yachts like to challenge one another to soccer matches at Post Office Bay. As they run around and let off some steam, why not cheer your crew on to victory?
All of which brings us back to the beginning of this story. The spontaneity of travel in the Galapagos, the moments it creates, and the new friends along the way are the true treasures of the journey. New friends are made and adventures are shared around the world because of a small outpost in the islands.
The tale of Post Office Bay Galapagos is one to cherish. May the tradition live on!