Plaza Sur, Galápagos

Plaza Sur is an islet – about .05 square miles in size – yet filled with vibrant landscapes, dramatic cliffs plus seabirds, sea lions and iguanas. You will also enjoy panoramic views of neighboring islands such as Santa Cruz Island.

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1 Gordon Rocks near Plaza Sur and Santa Cruz in Galápagos, EC

There are two pairs of isles just off the northeast coast of Santa Cruz Island. These are Gordon Rocks. Unlike most other islands described in these Galápagos travel guides, they are not explored on land. Instead, they offer some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the archipelago. Swimming here – the water averages 60 to 80 feet – are most of the large endemic species of fish including hammerhead sharks. Nearby are crescent-shaped twins named Islas Plazas. The visitor site you will explore is on Plaza Sur.

Gordon Rocks, Ecuador
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2 Sea Lion Welcome to Plaza Sur near Santa Cruz in Galápagos, EC

As you arrive for a dry landing at Plaza Sur, there will be sea lions of all ages playing in the water, following your inflatable raft and hauling out on a small concrete pier and the shoreline. The pups are inquisitive and adorable. A watchful dominate bull can weigh up to 550 pounds. The colony consists of about 1,000 Galápagos sea lions. This is remarkable given the tiny size of the island. Plaza Sur measures only 32 acres or .05 square miles. Alternative names are South Plaza Island and Isla Plaza Sur.

Isla Plaza Sur, Ecuador
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3 Vibrant Landscape on Plaza Sur near Santa Cruz in Galápagos, EC

Within the first few steps of your 60 to 120 minute nature walk, you will marvel at the vibrant landscape. Stop and savor the spectrum of colors bursting from the gray lava rock. Then thank a consortium of conservation groups for restoring the ecosystem on Plaza Sur. In 2012, they eradicated an infestation of rodents. These non-native pests were destroying the prickly pear cactus, eating eggs and threatening the islands’ fauna such as tortoises, iguanas and seabirds. Since then, the balance of nature has been recovering into this picturesque scene.

Isla Plaza Sur, Ecuador
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4 Galápagos Carpetweed on Plaza Sur near Santa Cruz in Galápagos, EC

A visually dominant plant growing on Plaza Sur is the Galápagos carpetweed. From January through April, the fleshy leaves are green with delicate white, star-shaped flowers. During the cool arid season, this perennial herb blossoms into incredible shades of orange and red. Scientists call them Sesuvium edmonstonei. They are named in part for Thomas Edmonston, a 19th century naturalist. The plant’s seeds are an important source of food.

Isla Plaza Sur, Ecuador
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5 Geological Formation of Plaza Sur near Santa Cruz in Galápagos, EC

The rocky trail on Plaza Sur starts at the waterline and moves up hill. This sloping terrain warrants a rating of moderately difficult. What you are traversing is the result of a dramatic uplift of the seabed or oceanic crust. North Plaza Island has a nearly identical topography. You can see Plaza Sur’s sibling across the channel (partially visible on the left) from this elevation. These islets were formed about two million years ago during the same event. The cause was non-volcanic. It probably occurred during a clash of tectonic plates.

Isla Plaza Sur, Ecuador
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6 Dramatic Cliff on Plaza Sur near Santa Cruz in Galápagos, EC

Plaza Sur only reaches an elevation of 82 feet. But the southern cliff is dramatic. Shaped like a saw blade, the steep black rockface is filled with crags until it reaches the thundering and swirling waves. Stand near the edge if you dare. Watch the patrolling seabirds. Become mesmerized as the aquamarine sea churns into a froth. Enjoy the impressive beauty of the Plaza Sur.

Isla Plaza Sur, Ecuador
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7 Swallow-tailed Gull on Plaza Sur near Santa Cruz in Galápagos, EC

The swallow-tailed gull is mostly endemic to the Galápagos Islands with an estimated population of about 35,000. Their red eye rims encircle irises unique to all other species of gulls. They amplify light at night. This allows the swallow-tailed gull to be the only nocturnal feeding seabird in the world. Other birds on Plaza Sur include the Nazca and blue-footed boobies plus red-billed tropicbirds.

Isla Plaza Sur, Ecuador
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8 Juvenile Swallow-tailed Gulls on Plaza Sur near Santa Cruz in Galápagos, EC

The Galápagos is unique and special in so many ways. One amazing aspect is watching how different endemic creatures live, feed, nest, breed, parent and interact. This show of nature all happens a few feet from where you stand. It is as if the fauna are oblivious to your presence. An example is these two juvenile swallow-tailed gulls next to the trail. Based on size and plumage, they are clearly different ages. Then you listen as a guide explains how swallow-tailed gulls can breed at any time. That a female lays a single egg but can produce another in nine months. So these siblings are still under their parents’ care. The lives and habits of each seabird species are different. You have the opportunity to observe all of it.

Isla Plaza Sur, Ecuador
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9 Trail’s Peak on Plaza Sur near Santa Cruz in Galápagos, EC

The walking trail on Plaza Sur reaches its peak elevation near an orange beacon. From this promontory, you have a great view of Santa Cruz to the east, North Plaza Island to the north and Gordon Rocks in the west. You can hear the crashing waves below the precipice and watch the birds circling overhead. This experience is enthralling. You can follow the path to the headland before reluctantly retracing your steps back to the awaiting boat.

Isla Plaza Sur, Ecuador
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