Floreana Island (Isla Santa Maria), Galapagos Islands
More commonly known as Isla Floreana or Isla Charles, Isla Santa Maria as it is officially known, is the sixth largest island in the Galapagos Archipelago at 173 sq km. With the fourth largest human settlement, this island has a very colorful history and has often been associated with whalers, pirates, buccaneers, convicts and colonists over the years. The first post office in the Galapagos can be found here, which was established by the British in 1793 to send and receive letters from England. The post office was actually just a barrel into which letters were placed, and this tradition continues on to this day.
A 4 to 5 hour boat trip from Espanola and Santa Cruz, Isla Santa Maria is among the oldest of the Galapagos Island’s. An important nesting site for marine turtles, sea lions and various other sea birds, this island is also inhabited by lovely pink flamingos, who act as Santa Maria’s prime attraction. Seasonally rays and sharks also visit the island, making one of the main highlights here snorkeling off Corona del Diablo or the Devil's Crown, which is rated as being the most outstanding diving spot in the Galapagos.
A half submerged volcano cone, Corona del Diablo is a semicircular formation of rocks that juts out from under the water. With a spectacular array of brightly colored marine life, this place is also a bird watchers delight, as a panga ride around the area offers great views of red-billed tropicbirds, herons, lava gulls and pelicans sitting on the rocks.
A short distance from Devil's Crown is Punta Cormorant, a green beach with some good snorkeling and playful sea lion colonies. The beach is green because of olivine minerals found in the sand here. Also some 400m from here is a lovely white sand beach, which is good for swimming. However, be careful of stingrays. Between these two beaches is a beautiful flamingo lagoon, here dozens of pink flamingos can be seen wading about, alongside black necked stilts, willets, oystercatchers, white-cheeked pintail ducks and whimbrels.
Another attraction of Isla Santa Maria is its only settlement Puerto Velasco Ibarra, a tiny coastal town. With a few stores, hotels, and restaurants, the main draw of this town is its intrigue and mystery, which is written about in a book called ‘A Galapagos Affair’. This book chronicles the lives of the Wittmer family, the original settlers on the island and how some members of the family mysteriously died.