Island Profile; Santa Fe

Written by GCT volunteer, Sam Lewishon

Santa Fe, sometimes known as Barrington island, named after Admiral Samuel Barrington, is one of the oldest islands in the Archipelago. It is estimated that the island is at least four million years old.

Santa Fe land iguana © Luis Ortiz-Catedral
Santa Fe land iguana © Luis Ortiz Catedral

Santa Fe is one of the smallest islands in Galapagos, only covering an area of 24 km². It is located to the south-east of Santa Cruz in the centre of the Archipelago and is relatively flat in comparison to the other islands, with a maximum altitude of 259 m. Santa Fe is one of the only islands that are not currently volcanically active.

The island is densely populated with Optunia echios, a large cactus, characterised by its large trunk, which is thought to be an adaption that protects the plants from iguanas and the now extinct Santa Fe giant tortoises. The landscape is also filled with palo santo trees.

Optunia – © Clare Simm

Santa Fe is home to an endemic species of land iguana and another endemic species – the Santa Fe rice rat. There are many birds that live on the cliffs around the island. These include swallow-tailed gulls, shearwater petrels, red-billed tropicbirds, as well as mockingbirds, finches and Galapagos hawks. Other wildlife you can expect to see on Santa Fe are lava lizards, which can be identified by their green/brown body and bright red colouring on the side of their heads, which gives them their name.

Galapagos giant tortoise © Ian Dunn
Galapagos giant tortoise © Ian Dunn

The main aim of conservation on Santa Fe is the prevention of the introduction of invasive species to the island, such as, the black rat, which could pose a threat to the endemic rice rats. Another concern to the island is fire ants, which were discovered and eradicated from the island in 1975 and again in 1988. It is thought that giant tortoises were once present on the island of Santa Fe, so in 2012 a decision was made by the Galapagos National Park Directorate to reintroduce tortoises to the island. As Santa Fe giant tortoises were extinct, a similar substitute species was used – Española giant tortoises. In June 2015, 201 juvenile Española tortoises were released into the wild and annual releases are planned for the next ten years.

There have never been any human settlers on the island, mainly due to the fact that there is no freshwater on the island. Tourists visiting Galapagos can visit Santa Fe, but as there isn’t a pier, or anywhere to dock boats, the only way to get onto the island is via a wet landing. On the island, there are two trails for walking. Visitors can also go snorkelling and diving in the waters that surround the island.

Galapagos Hawk © Mark Overy
Galapagos Hawk © Mark Overy

Find out more about visiting Galapagos using our Responsible Tourism webpages.