A crimson bill perfectly adapted to shuck oysters and mollusks
What you need to know about the American Oystercatcher
The American Oystercatcher is a favorite resident of the Galápagos. It can be identified from its characteristic long red beak, black and white body, and stout-looking light pink legs. The female Oystercatcher tends to be slightly larger than the male, sporting a longer bill.
On your Galápagos cruise, you will most often encounter them on the central, north and south beaches of the islands. You can spot them either from on board your boat, or during a beach excursion with your Galapatours naturalist guide. You may also encounter them among dunes, salt marshes or mud flats.
The American Oystercatcher feeds on bivalves, mollusks, and crustaceans which they dig out using their perfectly adapted strong and powerful red bill. This large and heavy beak is used by the Oystercatchers to pry open mollusk shells; they are named because oysters are a crucial food source in their diet.
During breeding season you may be fortunate enough to see the birds’ courtship rituals. The Oystercatchers walk together, with both adults attracting each other’s attention by using distinctive piping calls. Oystercatchers become very territorial over their nests and often hide their eggs, disguising them with pebbles or broken pieces of shells. This smart behaviour helps to protect them from possible predators. On your Galápagos cruise, you will be able to learn much more about these charming birds, as well as photograph their beautiful red bills.
American Oystercatcher: Interesting facts
Distinctive red beak is the perfect tool for opening shells
Courtship "dances" are wonderful to see
Disguise their nests with shells and pebbles to fool predators
Easy to spot from on board or during a beach excursion
American Oystercatcher: Pictures from our travelers
Spots where the American Oystercatcher can be observed
Chinese Hat ("Sombrero Chino" to locals) is an islet set just a short distance off the southeastern coast of Santiago. The small channel between Chinese Hat and mainland Santiago is fairly deep yet sheltered, and the water here is a glistening turquoise.
The islet gets its name because if you approach from the north, you will see that this small volcanic cone does indeed look like the traditional bamboo or rice hat. Viewed from above on a satellite image, however, you will see that this islet is actually more of an oval shape.
There is a short hiking trail on Chinese Hat that runs along the western coast of the islet. This is a harsh landscape of volcanic rubble and lava formations, a very atmospheric reminder of the fiery origins of the Galápagos.
Along the cost of both Chinese Hat and the opposite Santiago shore you are likely to see Galápagos Sea Lions and Galápagos Penguins, either basking in the sun or seeking shade to avoid the hottest parts of the day. Overhead, you might catch a glimpse of the magnificent Galápagos Hawk.
The stand-out reason for a visit to Chinese Hat however is to snorkel in that turquoise channel. Here you can see various species of sharks, rays, and a variety of tropical fish. Not all Galápagos boats can visit, and permits are only given to a select few boats and guides. Here at Galapatours we offer itineraries on all of these specially selected boats, so if a visit to Chinese Hat is important to you, speak to one of our Galápagos experts today to help choose the perfect itinerary.
Darwin Bay is a must-visit site for birdwatchers. Starting with a landing on a beautiful white coral beach you are able to follow an easy half-mile trail that will take you through bird-filled mangroves. Species that can be seen on this part of the trail include Nazca Boobies, Galápagos red-footed Boobies, and Swallow-Tailed gulls.
As the path continues you will find tidal pools - favourite spots for Galápagos Sea Lions to lazily swim and play. At the path's end you will come to the top of a cliff which will reward you with a spectacular view.
Dragon Hill is the site of a success story in the history of Galápagos conservation. In 1975 almost the entire population of land iguanas in this part of northeast Santa Cruz was wiped out by packs of feral dogs. The Charles Darwin Research Center swung into action with an emergency breeding and rearing program for land iguanas. The program was extremely successful, and the last captive-bred land iguana was released from the breeding center onto Dragon Hill in 1991. Iguanas continue to be released here every 3 or 4 years from other breeding centers in the Galápagos to ensure the continued success of the Dragon Hill Iguanas.
As well as being the landing site to visit the Hill, the rocky shoreline here is a great snorkeling site where you can swim with green turtles, sharks and rays. A trail leads inland past two saltwater lagoons which often play host to flamingos. As you continue to circle Dragon Hill on the trail you'll be able to see land iguanas in the wild, and you can find their burrows all along the path.
As well as the land iguanas, the area around Dragon Hill is full of other species including Darwin's Finches, Galápagos Mockingbirds, and the native Opuntia cactus. This is one of the longer walking trails, and your Galapatours guide will recommend you use good footwear, especially as the trail can be uneven in places and gets slippery and muddy after wet weather.
The islet of Eden is the remains of a volcanic "tuff cone" - a type of volcanic feature formed when molten lava comes into contact with cold sea water with explosive results. Eden is just off the northwestern coast of Santa Cruz and is usually circumnavigated by panga.
There is an abundance of wildlife here, on land, in the air and in the water. Among other seabirds, you'll see Blue-Footed Boobies diving to catch their prey. Snorkeling from your boat, you're likely to see Galápagos green turtles, rays, and sharks in the clear, shallow waters, particularly if you are close to the mangroves on the shoreline.
There's no landing site here, but your Galapatours guide will sail you around the island, pointing out sites of interest, and letting you know the very best places to go into the water.
Puerto Egas (Port Egas) is a sheltered landing site at the southern end of James Bay on the northwestern coast of Santiago. This landing site is the trailhead for two hiking paths.
The first trail runs along the coast to visit the so-called "Fur Seal Grottos". The Galápagos Fur Seals like to seek shade from the equatorial sun, and they prefer rocky shores with caves or other nooks and crannies in which they can keep cool. The grottos here are perfect for them, and the tidal pools are also popular with Galápagos Marine Iguanas who can be seen feeding in and around them.
The second trail from Egas Port heads inland to the "Salt Mine Volcano". This hike is just under 2 miles long and takes you to the rim of a salt mine crater. This "mine" is actually a small volcanic cone that is filled with a salt water lagoon that dries up in the dry season. At several points in the 20th century individuals or companies attempted to mine salt from it, but without commercial success. The name of your landing site is after the owner of the last company to try salt mining here, Hector Egas.
The lagoon is often home to Galápagos flamingos and other birds, and the wonderful Galápagos Hawk can often be seen circling above this area.
Espumilla Beach is located at the northern end of James Bay, a large bay on the northwestern coast of Santiago. This is a pretty beach that is fringed with lush green forests.
The beach itself is home to marine iguanas who feed among the rocks at either end of the beach, and it is a good place to snorkel, with visitors often reporting sightings of sharks, rays and octopus. This is also a nesting site for Galápagos green turtles.
There is an inland hiking trail here that takes visitors past a seasonal lagoon that's often bright green thanks to the algae in the water. Here you can find Galápagos flamingos and pin-tail ducks. The trail then loops through the arid zone, where you can see further bird species including Galápagos Hawks that often circle overhead.
This small, pretty beach is across the other side of the island from the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, and it can be accessed by a walking trail from the road that runs past La Galapaguera at Cerro Colorado.
With its white sand and turquoise water, Puerto Chino is a wonderful place to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Pacific Ocean. It's good to swim and snorkel here, and if you do, you may see Galápagos green turtles and stingrays. Sea Lions also sometimes bask on the rocks beside the beach, and you can often see Blue-Footed Boobies.
Here at Galapatours, this is one of our favorite spots as it's out of the way and takes a little effort to get to - but that effort is rewarded with a wonderful location, perfect for a relaxing sunbathe or snorkeling adventure.
The brilliant white coral sand beach at Witch Hill ("Brujo Hill") is, in our opinion, one of the very best in the Galápagos. The hill itself is the remains of a volcanic "tuff cone" - one made up of compacted volcanic ash and debris. This was one of the first sites where Charles Darwin made landfall on his famous journey here on HMS Beagle.
This is a wonderful place to see many Galápagos species, both in the sea and on the land and in the air. Among the creatures you are likely to see on a visit to Brujo Hill are Galápagos Sea Lions, marine iguanas, pelicans, and Galápagos Blue-Footed Boobies. It's possible to walk right along the beach at a leisurely pace, taking in everything around you.
We really recommend you snorkel here, and if you do you'll be rewarded with likely sightings of Galápagos rays, green sea turtles, sponge coral and a wide range of beautiful fish. If you aren't a swimmer, then a panga ride will still let you see plenty of wildlife thanks to the crystal clear waters off this stunning beach.