Santiago Island, Galápagos
Fur Seals and Flamingoes
What you need to know about Santiago Island, Galápagos
Santiago Island has steep cliffs that make beautiful backdrops for photographs, as well as providing a perfect home for countless marine birds. 400 years ago pirates would stop here to resupply with fresh water, firewood and meat.
Originally named James Island, honouring the English King James II, Santiago was visited by Charles Darwin as his second port of call when he visited the Galápagos on the Beagle. There he found people living rough on the island catching tortoises for meat and oil. The island has a long history of being raided for its natural resources, including the building of a small salt mine which is now a visitor centre on the island. Santiago began to become more developed in the 1920s when commercial salt mining was attempted, as it was again in the 1960s when the small settlement of Puerto Egas was founded. At some point in the 1800s goats, pigs and donkeys were introduced to Santiago, and this caused massive problems for the native species and their habitats.
Santiago Island enjoys two excellent visitor sites at James Bay on the northwest coast and Sullivan Bay to the southeast. Just behind James Bay there is a wonderful seasonal lagoon which is home to flamingoes and several duck species. Visitors can often catch site of the Galápagos Fur Seals basking at Puerto Egas at the south end of James Bay. Santiago has smaller neighbour islands, some of which have visitor sites like Bartholomew. Others are excellent diving sites for those on approved diving tours.
Interesting facts about Santiago Island
Galápagos Fur Seals enjoy basking off Puerto Egas
Pirates and buccaneers used Santiago to resupply with water, meat and firewood
Charles Darwin met tortoise catchers living here when he visited on HMS Beagle
Flamingos can be seen in the inland lagoon by James Bay
Pictures of Santiago Island, Galápagos
Highlights and Visitorpoints on Santiago
Sited on the northwest coast of Santiago Island, Buccaneer Cove wasn't named as a romantic fancy, but because it actually was used extensively by pirates, privateers, buccaneers and whalers to set anchor and head ashore.
Of all the Galápagos Islands, Santiago was most frequently used as a stop over as it provided easy access to fresh water, wood, and meat. Used since the 1600s as a staging point, the easy-to-catch Giant Tortoises that lived here became a useful source of protein for the sailors. There was a more strenuous journey required up to the highlands in search of water, but the sheltered cove made this a better location than some of the more open coast elsewhere.
Today the steep cliffs above the cove are filled with nesting seabirds, wheeling in the air above the deep red sands of the beach. This is a good site for snorkeling or to stroll along the beach drinking in the sights and sounds of the Galápagos, and you will often find yourself sharing the sand and rocks with sea lions or Galápagos Fur Seals.
This is a famous site thanks to the wide variety of marine life you can encounter in just one dive, but it is for moderate to advanced divers only. Depths range from 10 to 90ft, with visibility between 30 and 60ft depending on the season. Currents here are moderate, and surges will be experienced in the shallows.
In the water you'll encounter sloping rock plate formations and a fantastic wall that drops far down out of sight. These rocky formations are home to seahorses, Galápagos black coral, octopus, a wide range of tropical fish and Galápagos sharks and hammerheads.
When you add to this the friendly sea lions who almost always come to play with divers and the elegant green turtles that cruise past, this dive site really does have it all.
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.
Sullivan Bay is on the eastern coast of Santiago Island. This visitor site is all about the geology and volcanic origins of the Galápagos, and although there is little wildlife here, the eerie landscape that was formed only 150 years ago has a real beauty all of its own.
On the hiking trail you will walk along lava that bubbled up from the ground, flowed and solidified in the second half of the 18th century. We recommend good sturdy shoes for walking in these lava fields. The landscape here is eerie and apparently barren - some of our Galapatours guests liken it to a "lunar landscape".
As the trail moves inland, the textures and colors change as you encounter much older lava fields. Here you can start to see signs of nature beginning to colonize this "new land". The small green plants that have started to grow in the cracks and crevices are called Mollugo.
Your Galapatours expert guide will be able to explain more about the volcanic processes that formed Santiago and all the Galápagos Islands, as well as how species begin to colonize the bare landscape.
Salt Mine Volcano
After a landing at Egas Port at the southern end of James Bay, a trail 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 the landing site here is given after the owner of the last company to try salt mining in the 1960s, Hector Egas.
The lagoon is often home to Galápagos flamingos and other birds, and the wonderful Galápagos Hawk can usually be seen circling above this area.
Albany Rock is a small crescent-shaped outcrop just off the northwest coast of Santiago Island.
The dive at Albany has a maximum depth of around 100ft and visibility here is from 40 – 70 feet, depending on time of year. There's a moderate current that shifts from north to south with the tides, and also some moderate surge.
This is a great dive site to swim with Galápagos Sea Lions who often come and say hello. There are a host of tropical fish to be seen here, as well as species such as manta and stingrays, Galápagos green turtles and several species of sharks. The rocky bottom and geological formations provide a great habitat for a wide variety of marine life and make for enjoyable exploring under water.
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.
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.
James Bay (named after King James of England) is a large and sheltered bay on the northwestern coast of Santiago (previously known as James Island). Charles Darwin writes about his visit to James Bay as he made landfall on Santiago here during his famous voyage on the Beagle.
This wide bay has three visitor sites, one at Espumilla Beach on the northern side of the bay, and two that are accessed from Puerto Egas on the southern side.
A popular destination for most cruises, the waters of the beaches here are good for snorkeling, and the inland sites have a good variety of bird life to explore.