Arriving at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Patrick Watkins was the first in a long line of colonists to FLOREANA. As the sixth-largest island in the Galápagos (173 square kilometres), and just some 50km south of Santa Cruz, it was favoured for its good supply of both tortoise meat and fresh highland water. General Villamil began Ecuador’s first official colony on the islands, the Asilo de la Paz (“Haven of Peace”), using convict labour in 1832. He gave up after five years, handing the settlement over to the brutal Colonel José Williams, who kept a pack of vicious dogs to keep his unruly charges at bay, but the hounds weren’t protection enough and Williams fled the island after a rebellion in 1841. Almost thirty years later, José de Valdizán sought to rekindle the ill-fated venture, but after eight years his desperate settlers armed themselves and fought each other. Valdizán and several others were killed and the settlement fell apart. All this human interference has not been without effect on Floreana: its tortoise population is extinct, and feral cats so severely preyed on the Charles mockingbird that it’s now only found on the islets Enderby and Campeón, off the northeastern shore.
There’s a small settlement on the western coast of the island, PUERTO VELASCO IBARRA, home to around a hundred people. The Pensión Wittmer (t05/2520150; $51–80), for many years was the only place to stay, and run by Margret Wittmer, one of the protagonists of the Galápagos Affair, but now taken over by her family. As well as providing meals for guests, the Wittmers can give advice on the hikes around the island, including down from the Asilo de la Paz, the site of the island’s only water source; two daily work trucks depart for the highlands (30min; you’ll want the 6am one if you want to explore). Alternative lodging can now be found at Red Mangrove Floreana Lodge (t05/2526564, wwww.redmangrove.com; over $121 including breakfast; lunch and dinner $30 each), which offers clean but spartan pine cabins with bathroom and space for four, on the lava by the shore about ten-minutes’ walk south of the port on the way to La Lobería, where there’s a sea-lion colony. Apart from this, it’s a very quiet island, with little to see and do, but an unbeatable place to get away from it all. If you’re not on a tour, it’s not straightforward to get to Floreana.