Marchena island is an off the beaten path Galapagos destination. It’s infrequently visited, remote, and was only recently opened up as a visitor site. But that is part of Marchena’s charm. It’s a pristine island with few tourists, and some of the best snorkeling and diving of the entire archipelago. Marchena island also has a mysterious history and interesting geology to boot. So if your cruise itinerary includes Marchena island then prepare yourself for a Galapagos experience a little bit different.
Read on for everything you need to know to plan your visit to Marchena Island Galapagos. What wildlife to see? Which activities and visitor sites await? Plus what role did Marchena island play in the unsolved mystery of the baroness’s lover?
• Marchena Island is one of the top spots at Galapagos to snorkel with schools of scalloped Hammerhead sharks.
• Galapagos dolphins often like to frequent the northern waters around Marchena.
English Name: Bindloe
Total Area: 50 sq miles
Population: zero (uninhabited)
Similar to most Galapagos islands, Marchena is of volcanic origin. Visitors can easily spot the imposing elliptical caldera that measures an impressive 7 by 6 km. This is in fact the peak of a large under water volcano.
What is particularly unusual about Marchena is that the volcano is still active, despite being far away from the Galapagos volcanic hotspot. Marchena erupted as recently as 1991, and can often be seen with fumaroles of gas. Inside the crater is full of young lava flows (up to 500,000 years old), some of which have spilled over the sides.
Today, most of Marchena island is covered with young lava. As a result Marchena’s habitat is barren without much green vegetation. Eventually more pioneer plants will colonise and the landscape will change. But for now few land animals are able to live here.
Marchena Island was named after a Spanish monk, Frey Antonio de Marchena, who was one of the first visitors here. Similar to most Galapagos islands, Marchena also has a British name which comes from English ship captain John Bindloe.
A more intriguing side to Marchena’s history came in the form of two naturally mummified bodies that were found on the shore in 1934. One was identified as Lorenz, a former resident of Floreana island, and the other Nuggeröd who was a ship captain.
To understand the backstory we need to delve into the Galapagos Affair – a tale of pioneer settlers, family feuds, mysterious disappearance and perhaps even murder. Lorenz was one of three lovers of Floreana resident Baroness Eloise Wehrborn de Wagner-Bosquet. Shortly after the unexplained disappearance of the Baroness and one of her other lovers, Lorenz joined a passing ship on route to San Cristobal island. That was the last time that Lorenz was ever seen alive.
To add to the mystery, bear in mind that Marchena island is to the north of the archipelago, far away from eastern San Cristobal. So how and why their bodies came to arrive here remains a mystery, as do the whereabouts of the Baroness and her other lover.
Marchena island may be home to few Galapagos land animals, but the challenges faced by invasive species still exist. The Marchena Lava Lizard is endemic here, and Darwin finches also manage to survive. But for pioneer plants to stand any chance of survival, the delicate Marchena habitat needs to be protected.
The biggest environmental challenge on Marchena island has come from introduced feral goats. Goats were brought to Marchena in 1967, and wasted little time in breeding to a significant population size. The problem with goats is that they will eat pretty much anything. The sparse plant life that did exist came under threat, and native animal habitats were destroyed. So in the 1970s a goat eradication program was introduced, but it was only a decade later that the island could finally be declared goat free.
A more recent challenge on Marchena has come from little fire ant infestations.
How to visit Marchena Island? Unfortunately there are no day tours from Santa Cruz to Marchena, the distance is simply too far. So the only way to visit is aboard a cruise itinerary, although few regular Galapagos yachts pass this way.
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There are no land visitor sites on Marchena island, but the two excellent water-based sites more than make up for it. Marchena offers some of the best Galapagos snorkeling, and some pretty cool diving too.
Located on the south-eastern point of Marchena, Espejo point is a site for both snorkeling and diving. The waters are often clear, with good visibility from 9-18 meters. Currents and swell can be rather strong at times.
Punta Espejo is a great spot to observe sharks. The bucket list experience most travelers want to tick off is snorkeling with Hammerheads, a species that is fairly common here passing through in considerable schools. Galapagos sharks, dolphins, moray eels, sea turtles & sea lions might also be spotted. In terms of Galapagos fish species, try to find parrotfish, damselfish, cow-nosed rays, snappers, grunts, surgeonfish, and scorpion fish.
That’s a long and impressive list of species. We certainly weren’t exagerating when we said Marchena has one of the very best snorkel sites of the whole Galapagos islands!
Marchena’s other visitor site, Mejia Point, is found on the island’s south-west coast. This is a habitat of grottos and coves, territory of Galapagos fur seals. Although sharks are less common here, divers often come face to face with seals, rays, eels and various species of colorful fish.
Note: All wildlife sightings are by their very nature unpredictable, and activities may be subject to change by your guide or the National Park Authority.
In conclusion, Marchena island is a great place to escape the tourist crowds at Galapagos. If you enjoy activities in and under water then Marchena can be a top Galapagos trip highlight. This is one of the very best opportunities to spot schools of hammerhead sharks. It also has a long list of other cool marine creatures to seek out. So, step off the beaten path for a day, and come check Marchena island out for yourself!