FLOREANA (SANTA MARIA / CHARLES)

Floreana, or Santa Maria, Island is the sixth biggest island of the Galapagos. The island is roughly rectangular, about ten by seven miles long. The highest point is 2,100 feet (640 meters) and its land area is 67 square miles (173 square kilometers). Floreana is comprised of a single inactive volcano, which is probably extinct. The official name of Santa Maria comes from one of Columbus' ships, but most people call it Floreana after President Juan José Flores of Ecuador. Previously, the English had called it Charles in honor of King Charles II.

Because it has a small spring that bubbles from underground (and occasionally dries up) it was a haven for pirates and whalers in the 17th and 18th centuries. Hence, its wildlife has suffered from competition with introduced animals, notably goats. Its subspecies of giant tortoises is now extinct due to the pirates and whalers who, scientists estimate, removed 15,000 tortoises for their meat. The early visitors also introduced rats that eat the eggs and hatchlings and so added to the demise of the tortoises. By 1840 the tortoises were gone. Several species of plants are unique to Floreana, but are threatened by wild goats. For shelter, pirates carved a marvelous complex of caves and tunnels in the soft volcanic rock. Visitors to Floreana can visit the caves and get a feel for a time lost in history. The island has been continuously inhabited since the mid-1800s, and was the first of the Galapagos Islands to support a permanent human population.

Floreana, surprisingly, has a population of about 70 permanent residents. There isn't much to do here if you choose to stay, but you can take a few good hikes (guided by a naturalist) and enjoy the peace of the island. There is only one passenger boat every two weeks from Puerto Ayora, but other transportation can be arranged.

Floreana - Santa Maria or Charles
   
General Information  
Area : 67 square miles (173 square kilometers)
Maximum Altitude : 2,100 feet (640 meters)
Population : 70
Geographic Features : Lava cave, green beach.
Getting There : Private tour
Getting Around : Walking
Major Sites : Post Office Bay, Punta Cormorant, Devil's Crown, Blacks' Beach, Flour Beach, Pirate caves .
Observations : Wet landing. There is one hotel on the island that offers food and telephone service.
Flora : Puncture Vine, Mimosa, Palo Santo, Cutleaf Daisy, Mangroves, Velvet Daisy.
Fauna : Puncture Vine, Mimosa, Palo Santo, Cutleaf Daisy, Mangroves, Velvet Daisy.
Activities : Walks, Snorkeling, Scuba diving, bird watching, restaurant, hotel, tours.