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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

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Highlights and Visitorpoints on Santiago

Chinese Hat
Chinese Hat

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.

Animals you might see on Santiago

Our trips to Santiago

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