Did you know there is a post office that will deliver your mail anywhere in the world and it’s absolutely free?! Yep, that’s correct, FREE. The only problem is that dropping off your mail may be a little tricky. This gem of a free service just happens to be located at Post Office Bay on Floreana Island in the Galapagos.
Floreana Island History
Although Floreana was the first of the Galapagos Islands to become inhabited back in the early 1800’s, it currently has the smallest population (~100 people) of the four inhabited islands. Today, the three other Galapagos islands capable of hosting overnight travelers–Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela–see far more visitors thanks to their well developed tourism infrastructure.
Most visitors to the Galapagos islands come in search of iconic giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies, and colonies of marine iguanas and sea lions. Floreana, however, boasts the most interesting of all the man-made structures in the entire Galapagos archipelago–an historic post office dating back to the late 1700’s! In fact, the post office was in place even before the first settlers arrived in the early 1800’s.
In the late 18th century, whalers used Floreana as a pitstop during their long-term whaling expeditions. Seaman would leave letters in a barrel for their loved ones back home. As other whalers stopped by while traveling in the opposite direction, they would pick up any letters addressed to locations near their destination and would hand deliver them. More than 200 years later, this mail delivery tradition remains unchanged besides one small exception: Today’s cards and letters are left by travelers, not whalers.
Visting the Floreana Post Office Today
In reality, this “post office” is nothing more than a wooden barrel filled with postcards stuffed in gallon-sized ziplock bags. The mail is waiting to be picked up by travelers and delivered to destinations around the world.
Many Galapagos cruise itineraries include stops on Floreana. Most visitors to Post Office Bay will arrive on a Zodiak launched from their small cruise boat. After hopping out of the dinghy and wading to shore, a short walk past sea lions and marine iguanas will bring you to the historic spot.
Your guide will retrieve bundles of postcards and letters and distribute to you and your fellow travelers to “sort.”
Travelers are encouraged to take any postcards they find that they are willing to hand deliver within a reasonable amount of time.
After sifting through dozens of postcards addressed to people living in every corner of the globe, we came across one addressed to a man in Montgomery, Alabama. Although we have no personal connections to Montgomery, it is only an hour and half from our home and it’s a city we pass through each time we drive to the beach. We stuff it in our backpack.
We shuffled through a few dozen more and came across a card addressed to the Davidson family in Auburn, Alabama. Although Auburn is two hours away, Delaney quickly claimed this one to personally deliver. She will be attending Auburn University in the fall and is already making frequent trips to the charming town.
With just a few postcards remaining, we discover one addressed to two boys in Homewood, Alabama. Homewood is the community adjacent to ours and where Dale and I lived when we met and married. We get to deliver this postcard to a home that is located just a few blocks from our old house!
5 Tips for Visiting Floreana Island in the Galapagos
If you are lucky enough for your future travel plans to include visiting Floreana Island in the Galapagos, consider these tips:
- Bring postcards with you!!! We didn’t know about this in advance and, therefore, were not prepared to leave postcards. Some boats provide them for their guests. If yours does not, be sure to buy some in Santa Cruz or San Cristobal before embarking your boat.
- Only take postcards and letters that you can hand-deliver. I read a rant on TripAdvisor by a man who was irate because the postcards he left were picked up by someone and stamped and mailed. This defeats the whole point of the tradition. I’m sure the person thought he was being nice, but if someone wanted his postcard mailed, he would have mailed it from the Galapagos so at least it would have Ecuadorian postage and a cool postal mark.
- In addition to a physical address, be sure to include a phone number or email address of the recipient. This makes it easier to connect before stopping by to deliver the mail. Otherwise, you could end up making multiple trips or just leaving it in their mailbox (which, again, spoils the fun).
- Look through all of the postcards. Our traveling companions were from much larger cities than Birmingham (Atlanta, Quito, Munich), yet we found more postcards to deliver than all of them combined. Don’t assume that there won’t be any postcards near your hometown. You just never know.
- Take a flashlight, cell phone with flashlight app, or a headlamp. Just past Post Office Bay is an underground lava tunnel. You will descend a ladder deep into the tunnel and then attempt to navigate treacherous lava rock in the pitch dark without breaking an ankle. Only one person in our group had her phone, and the guide had a dim flashlight. We managed to get through it by using my camera’s flash to provide millisecond bursts of light.
The Best Feature of this Post Office
Thanks to the Galapagos National Park regulations restricting the number of daily visitors to its sites, the only lines that you’ll ever encounter at this post office look like this!
Have you ever been to Post Office Bay, or received a postcard from there? If so, we’d love to hear about it!
Want to know how this ends? Be sure to read Will Galapagos Vacation Lead AL Family to Serial Killer?