Santa Fe & South Plaza – Galapagos Islands

Day 2: Santa Fe and South Plaza Islands

We adjusted to being on a boat quite quickly and had a good first night’s sleep, though we decided to take sea sickness tablets throughout the trip as a precautionary measure. We had a fairly early start and got ready for our first hike of the day. This was a ‘wet landing’ on to Sante Fe island meaning we jumped out the zodiac into the water and put our trainers on once we’d got to the beach. The beach and the rocky shores were covered with sea lions. The star of the show however, was a young Galapagos Hawk. He was perched only a few meters away from us on the tree. It was a young hawk because his colourings were a light brown, the adults are much darker. It was so incredible to be so close to a completely wild bird of prey who had no fear of us because he has no predators in the Galapagos and is the very top of the food chain on the island. After the photoshoot of him, we walked back to the beach and turned to see 5 hawks circle and land nearby! I dashed back to get a glimpse and got to see a mature, dark hawk too!

We then set off on our walk in pursuit of the unique specie; the Sante Fe land iguana. This iguana is unique to the island and is more yellow than other land iguanas in the Galapagos. We saw tracks in the sand and even the prints of the scales of the iguanas. The landscape and vegetation on the island was very different to what we’d seen the day prior in San Cristobal and Isla Lobos. Santa Fe is covered in what looks like dead bushes as they are really white, however, our guide said they are still alive and turn green for a couple months of the year around March! The island also has quite a few cacti, the Sante Fe iguanas are often spotted near them as they are lurking, waiting for fallen fruit that they eat. We managed to spot 6 on our walk all quite close to the trail though the highlight was seeing one iguana who was actually eating the cactus fruit and then a Galapagos Mocking bird landed on the iguana and was waiting for a bite. I was very happy I managed to get a photograph of such a rare sight; an iguana endemic to a 24 km2 island, eating the fruit of an endemic Prickly pear cactus that rarely falls and another endemic bird (to the Galapagos archipelago) sitting on his shoulder (see photo below!).

We headed back to the boat for a quick wetsuit change before going back out for our snorkelling session around Sante Fe. It was just as incredible as the day before. We saw a couple of sea turtles gliding effortlessly through the water. We saw interesting fish including quite a few of the beautiful King angelfish which are such a vivid blue colour. We saw an absolutely huge school of Yellowtail Surgeonfish. This was the biggest group of fish I’d ever seen in my life! These fish are about 20cm long and there must have been at least a thousand of them! We also saw a Marble Ray gliding along the ocean floor. The highlight of the snorkel however was when Dave and I were at the back of the group watching the few sea lions twirl in front of us, when a huge reef shark came on to the scene! It was bigger than the ones we’d snorkelled with in Fiji, at least 1.5 metres long! We then watched in awe as a sea lion swam up to pester the shark and tried to bite its tail. Not surprisingly the shark swam off in a hurry – definitely some of my favourite GoPro clips ever!

After lunch on the boat, we sailed on to the nearby South Plaza island for the afternoon.  I went up on the top deck to see about 10 massive Frigate birds sitting on the roof. They like to ride the wind pockets created by the boat so there are always loads perched at the top for a break. The South Plaza island, yet again, was a completely different landscape. It was covered in an extremely vibrant red plant called Sesuvium that changes colour through the seasons, Fabian (our guide) said soon it will turn completely green. We saw a sort of traffic-light effect with greens, yellows and reds! It is so interesting to think how different the Galapagos islands are at different times of the year, it sounds like if we are ever to return, we should come in March when lots of the vegetation changes. We saw quite a few land iguanas dotted around the island, many had what looked to be peeling skin. Apparently iguanas shed their skin twice a year; once before and once after mating. We actually saw lots of iguana carcasses too, which was quite grim but also really fascinating to look at. The island is really small, only about 2km long, though on one side, there are some big cliffs which make for interesting bird life. We saw our first Tropic bird, it is white with black markings on its back with a long, thin tail. Also nesting along the cliffs were Lava Gulls. Finally, we saw quite a lot of sea lions dotted around the islands though we saw one with a huge wound, all the skin on its hind was torn off leaving behind raw flesh. Fabian said it was likely the sea lion had been bitten by a shark and he made a call to report him. Hopefully he will be taken and looked after until he can be released back!

Join us next time as we embark on day three of our Galapagos cruise!

Sophie & Dave

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