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Galapagos Islands tours - fun for the whole family!

A travel guide to Galapagos tours, boats, cruises & yacht charters

Galapagos Islands Guided Tour

Isla Santa Fe (Barrington)

Jose Miguel (Pepe) Salcedo with Giant Opuntia, Santa Fe Island, Galapagos
In memory of Jose Miguel Salcedo

We pull into the bay at Santa Fe (or Barrington) a half hour or so before the sun rises and we are all out on deck to see the orange orb rise from the ocean. In the early morning light we are able to get a good view of the Opuntia (or Prickly Pear) forest along the shore to the north. These are the famous Giant Opuntia of the Galapagos. Remember, gigantism is a characteristic of oceanic islands (due to their isolation).

Sea lion bulls are barking and we hear the baa-ing of the young on shore at the beach. A Green Sea Turtle can be seen popping its head up out of the water near a coral reef that is just above the surface at low tide. Above the cliffs near the peak of the island (Santa Fe is a fairly small and low lying island) is a Galapagos Hawk catching the early morning updrafts.


Sea Lion, Santa Fe Island, Galapagos
Jeff Waugh
Sea Lions on the beach
After breakfast we are into our panga and heading for the white sand beach where we still see hordes of sea lions. As we approach the beach we see the big bull making all the barking noise to let everyone know this is his territory. We will have to be careful disembarking. The cows and young on the beach barely lift an eye at our landing, and we gather at a discrete distance so as not to disturb them.

One of our group inadvertently gets too close to the bull and he (the bull) runs right up onto the shore and chases our friend halfway across the beach. Bulls are fast on land. I was chased by one once at Plazas. Soon, the bull has returned to the water after successfully chasing away a potential competitor for his cows (at least in his eyes). We can now begin our morning walk on the trail that will take us through the Opuntia forest.


Galapagos Hawk, Santa Fe Island, Galapagos
Jeff Waugh
Our first few steps off the beach and we see a Galapagos Hawk perched in the salt bushes (Cryptocarpus) to our left. We sit down to observe the hawk, and he, being curious, flies down onto the lava and takes a good close look at us, and we at him. We spend close to twenty minutes sitting on the lava and enjoying each others company, including the hawk.
Soon we are moving along the trail into the Opuntia forest. These cactus are big, especially when compared to the much smaller Prickly Pear of the U.S. Southwest. The Opuntia are in bloom and we are able to observe a Cactus Finch feeding on the pollen inside one of the flowers, its bill covered in the yellow dust-like substance.

Cactus Finch on Opunti Cactuts, Santa Fe Island, Galapagos
Jeff Waugh
Cactus Finch

Just up ahead we catch a glimpse of an iguana hoping it is the endemic Barrington Land Iguana, but we soon see its a Marine Iguana who has ventured up the cliff and along the trail. The Barrington Land Iguana is very similar to the land iguanas we have seen but are considered a distinct species as a result of the isolation of the islands (and iguana populations) from each other. One of our groups lets us know that  there is a land iguana up ahead.


Barrington Land Iguana, Santa Fe (Barrington) Island, Galapagos
Jeff Waugh
Barrington Land Iguana
We approach slowly and sit and observe this fellow feeding. The Barrington Land Iguana has more pronounced spines along its back and is a lighter yellowish-orange than the iguanas on Fernandina, Isabela, Santa Cruz, North Seymour, Hood and Plazas. I have also observed a lone Land Iguana on Bartolome. How he got there, by boat, swam or floated, is not known.  Iguanas used to occur on Baltra, which was called the "Eden of Land Iguanas" by William Beebe in 1923, but those iguanas had "disappeared" by the late 1940's. Land Iguanas have recently been reintroduced from North Seymour back to Baltra.

As we make our way back along the trail towards the beach, our guide spots a Galapagos Snake scurrying across the trail and catches it so my son can have a closer look.

Evan and a Galapagaos Snake, Santa Fe Island, Galapagos
Jeff Waugh Evan and the snake on Santa Fe

We continue along the trail and loop back to the beach where we landed earlier this morning. The sea lions are still basking in the sun and the bull still defending his territory. It is not a good idea to snorkel from the beach today. Our panga arrives and we are on our way back to the boat with a bunch of sea lions porpoising along beside us.

The best place to snorkel (if there isn't a very aggressive bull around) is along the peninsula and island that juts out into the bay. Over all my years in Galapagos, I have had great times playing with the sea lions here. We head back to the boat for some cold drinks and then into the water directly from the boat.


Almost immediately we see how playful these sea lions can be! A couple of sea lions are tugging away on one of the loose anchor lines and, when they see us, they are over in a flash. I pull off my red bandanna and let it loose in the water. One of the sea lions comes over, grabs it, and does a few twists before zipping right back around and heading straight for my face. At high speed and within inches of my face she does a 90 degree turn and is up to the surface for air. We swim up after her and you manage to grab hold of the bandanna. She pulls at it like a dog and then lets go. You are inches from her sharp teeth but not at all worried. I have done this many times and have never even been nipped by them. You let go of the bandanna and let it float for a second before another sea lion picks it up in her mouth and the two of them zip around us in circles teasing. When its time to get back aboard and start heading for Plazas you and I are the last aboard - I don't get on until our captain threatens to leave without me. I just love to play with sea lions! 

With engines running we are off... To Plazas

Cruising on a sailing yacht, Galapagos
Jeff Waugh




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