Santa Fe island is always popular with Galapagos visitors, and offers something for everyone. The Santa Fe landscape is picturesque, combining a beautiful turquoise water bay with giant prickly pear cactus forests. Santa Fe island has the largest variety of endemic wildlife species of any Galapagos island. Tourist activities are also varied, with treking, snorkeling and diving options. What’s not to like?
Read on for everything you need to know to plan your visit to Santa Fe island at Galapagos. What are the best Santa Fe wildlife highlights? Which visitor sites can tourists visit? What activities are possible? Plus learn all about the history and geology of this unique island.
Galapagos sea lions congregate in large numbers on the beaches in the bay. Santa Fe is one of the best places at Galapagos to dive with these playful creatures.
Santa Fe may well be the oldest of all Galapagos Islands. Geologists estimate that it could be at least 4 to 4 and 1/2 million years old. This data puts Santa Fe into a unique place in natural history, even by Galapagos standards. The old age of Santa Fe island means that more endemic species live here than on any other Galapagos island. So a visit to Santa Fe Galapagos is unusual in that you’ll find creatures on this small island that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet!
English Name: Barrington.
Ecuadorian Name: Santa Fe.
Total Area: 9.3 sq miles.
Population: Zero (uninhabited)
Santa Fe island is a small and relatively flat island. Geologically Santa Fe is a little different to most other Galapagos islands. It’s origin was not volcanic, but instead caused by the uplift of a geologically folded layer.
The Santa Fe landscape is an extremely attractive and photogenic mix of turquoise blue waters and green / red vegetation. The habitat is mostly made up of dry arid scrubland. Visitors can enjoy seeing the largest prickly pear cacti (opuntia Echios) of the archipelago, as well as palo santo forest. The massive height and girth of the cacti on the island is attributed to an evolutionary reaction caused by iguanas feeding on the lower limbs of the plant.
In truth this island has little human history of note. It’s English name, Barrington, is in honor of Samuel Barrington, a former British Navy Admiral from the mid to late 1700’s. Santa Fe’s sole visitor site, Barrington Bay, also bears his name.
Santa Fe’s big claim to fame is that it’s the Galapagos island with the highest degree of endemism. It is home to two species that can only be found on this island – the Santa Fe land iguana (Conolophus Pallidus), and Santa Fe rice rat (Oryzomys Bauri). Interestingly this endemic land iguana lives alongside the more common Galapagos land iguana. The endemic can be recognised by it’s paler skin color and larger size.
Two endemic subspecies have also been discovered as being unique here: the Santa Fe marine iguana & Santa Fe leaf toed gecko.
It is also believed that in the past there was an endemic Santa Fe giant tortoise population. There are two historic accounts from whalers of removing tortoises from Santa Fe for food (hence their subsequent extinction). DNA analysis of tortoise bone samples suggest that they were a unique species, most closely related to the Española giant tortoise. An ongoing giant tortoise repopulation project has recently released hundreds of Española tortoises raised in captivity onto Santa Fe Galapagos island.
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How to visit Santa Fe Galapagos? Santa Fe is a 40-60 minute yacht navigation from Santa Cruz island. It can be visited as part of a cruise itinerary, Galapagos island hopping land tour, or as a stand alone day tour. Day diving is another possibility.
Contact us for a FREE GALAPAGOS TOUR QUOTE or for help planning your Galapagos vacation. Be sure to let us know if you want to include Santa Fe island into your travel plans.
Visitors to Santa Fe island can enjoy a great variety of activities. There is just one visitor site, but two treking trails. Snorkeling and kayaking is also possible in the calm waters of Barrington Bay, and there are 3 sites for divers. Read on for more information about each Santa Fe island visitor site.
Landing Type: Wet.
Terrain: Easy to moderate treking trails over uneven ground.
Barrington Bay Santa Fe is a pretty, protected cove with rich turquoise waters. Noisy Galapagos sea lions greet visitors as they disembark onto the beach. There are two different tourist trails – a short coastal loop close to the beach, and a longer trek up to the clifftop.
The short loop gives visitors a close-up look at the huge Santa Fe cacti. These are the tallest and thickest prickly pear plants at Galapagos. This is also the perfect habitat to look for land iguanas. Unable to climb the tall spiney plants they wait patiently underneath the cacti for falling cactus fruit or pads. Land iguanas are not fussy and will eat anything that falls from the Opuntia, spines and all. Don’t forget that there are two different species of iguana on Santa Fe – the endemic Barrington iguana, and the more common Galapagos land iguana. Ask your guide to help you tell the difference between them. Galapagos hawks and lava lizards are also frequently sighted along this trail.
The second trail climbs up to the Santa Fe cliffs to see nesting Galapagos seabirds. The path is quite steep, but hikers are rewarded at the top by fine views across the island. A variety of sea bird species nest on the cliff ledges. Swallow tailed gulls, Petrels and boobies are numerous, and Frigates often fly overhead. Try to spot the attractive red billed Tropicbird too, with it’s elegant long tail feathers.
Barrington Bay is also an interesting Galapagos snorkel site, and one of the very best for snorkeling with playful Galapagos sea lions. These curious creatures are often inquisitive around humans, so don’t be surprised if they swim right up to you. They are like playful children in the water, swimming rings around tourists.
Just one brief word of warning – back in 2018 a British tourist was bitten on the foot by a shark at this snorkeling site. Galapagos shark attacks are certainly a rarity – there have only been 7 reported incidents ever, mostly involving surfers, and none fatal. Santa Fe snorkeling was canceled for some time after the 2018 attack for investigation, but it was deemed to be an isolated incident, so the site is open again now.
The underwater action at Santa Fe island continues with day dive tours that operate from Santa Cruz island. The waters are calm and suitable for beginner or intermediate divers, and visibility is usually very good. Santa Fe has three different dive sites: El Fondeador, La Encanada and Costa Este.
Santa Fe Galapagos is above all an amazing place to dive with sea lions! Other occasional sightings include: black striped salemas, stingrays, marbled and mobula rays, white tip reef sharks, sea turtles and invertebrates like the Galapagos eel. The Galapagos shark may also be seen at Costa Este.
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, Santa Fe Galapagos is a remarkable place. Here on a small, flat island live unusual creatures that can be found nowhere else on earth. Even the prickly pear cacti grow larger here than on the other islands. So, if you have the chance, include it into your Galapagos itinerary to experience something a little out of the ordinary!