Santiago Fe Island

In the center of the Galapagos archipelago offers lava fields and wildlife

Santiago, also called James, or San Salvador Island, is located in the west-central part of the Galapagos archipelago. It is the fourth largest island in the archipelago (following Isabela, Fernandina, and Santa Cruz).With the exception of some of the large western volcanos of Isabela and Fernandina, it is the also most volcanically active island, with many young flows and cones to be seen, particularly along the south, west, and east coasts. These may even be seen from the summit of Volcan Darwin and from space.

A number of historic eruptions have been reported over the last 2 centuries. Santiago actually consists of two coalesced volcanoes: a typical shield volcano on the northwest end and a low, linear fissure volcano on the southeast end. As is the case in many places in the Galapagos, life is abundant near the shore. Lava lizards are common on many parts of Santiago, as well as the other islands. Marine iguanas and the brilliant sally light-foot crabs are, of course, present, along with the more unusual Galapagos penguin, blue-footed boobies, and the lava heron. Vegetation in the interior of the island has unfortunately been decimated by feral goats, estimated to number as many as 50,000 or more. Goats have inhabited Santiago since at least 1813 when Caption Porter of the USS Essex allowed four of them to escape. The resulting loss of food sources threatens not only the native vegetation but the native animals such as the giant tortoise and land iguana as well.

Tourist Information 

Landing: Wet Landing

Wildlife Highlights: Galapagos penguins, Galapagos hawks, lava lizards, sea turtles, marine iguanas, mockingbirds, sea lions, shorebirds, fur seals, blue herons

Activity Highlights: Hiking, birdwatching, swimming and snorkeling

Conditions: Hot and Rocky bring good shoes and extra water.

Conditions vary at the different visitor sites, some walks at the beach and other various trails on the almost level ground.

Notes: If visiting Puerto Egas, be sure to spend time with your guide at the fur seal grotto and watch these fun creatures do their underwater acrobatics.

Visitor Sites

Buccaneer Cove

Cruise visitor site on Santiago Island

Less than an hour north of Puerto Egas, Buccaneers Cove served as a safe haven for pirates, sailors, and whalers during the 18th and 19th century. Anchoring in the protected bay they were able to make much-needed repairs to their ships while other men went ashore to stock up on salt, tortoises, fresh water, and firewood. Several years ago ceramic jars were found at the bottom of the bay, the disregarded cargo of some mariner from years gone by. Inside the jars, we found supplies of wine and marmalade.

Today, few boats stop at Buccaneers Cove. Though many cruises give visitors the opportunity to view the steep cliffs made of tuff formations and the dark reddish-purple sand beach. This dramatic landscape is made all the more impressive by the hundreds of seabirds perched atop the cliffs. Two of the more recognizable rock formations are known as the “Monk” and “Elephant Rock”. A large population of feral goats now frequents Buccaneers Cove and this portion of Santiago. The Galapagos Islands National Park Service has fenced off part of the area to protect the native vegetation from the destructive eating habits of these introduced species.

Espumilla Beach

Sandy beach with great snorkeling opportunities

Located at the north end of Puerto Egas (James Bay). A wet landing on the large coffee-colored sand beach is just north of the prized fresh water supply that once attracted pirates and whalers.

Galapagos Islands visitors who now come to Espumilla Beach come in search of birds rather than water. A short walk inland takes visitors through a mangrove forest normally inhabited by the Common Stilt. Sea Turtles also visit these mangroves to nest. Beyond the mangroves is a brackish lagoon where flocks of Pink Flamingos and White Cheeked Pintails can be seen.

The trail makes a loop heading over a knob into a sparsely forested area then back to the beach. Along the way, those with a watchful eye may spot a variety of Galapagos Finches or a Vermilion Fly Catcher. Once back at the beach visitors may have the chance to swim or snorkel time permitting. Sea turtles often lay their eggs in Playa Espumilla, so be careful where you step.

Puerto Egas

Galapagos kayaking, snorkeling, and wildlife viewing at Puerto Egas

A land dominated by a beautiful black sand beach, which marks the ancient ruins of a so-called salt company, and the evident remains of the volcanic activity from the past, Puerto Egas is an entirely unique tourist attraction in the Galapagos. Situated in the northwest of Santiago Island, the place is blessed with an exotic landscape featuring cliffs and rocks whose formation took place ages ago. Also known as James Bay, Puerto Egas invites you for a splendid hiking activity followed by Galapagos kayaking and snorkeling. Packed with spectacular wildlife, the lava rock beach is really worth a visit.

The best way to visit Puerto Egas is to sail in one of those Galapagos yachts that enlist James Bay on one of their itineraries. Usually, most of the cruises feature the destination in their itineraries. And, of course, the site activities such as hiking, snorkeling, and kayaking are included in their packages.

You can hike the dry trail, which will take you to the tide pools abounded with marine animals. There is an extreme possibility of capturing marine iguanas in your camera on your way to the tide pool. Apart from iguanas, there are, of course, Sally Lightfoot crabs and exotic Galapagos Fur Seals, which are endemic to the islands. You can also observe lava herons waiting motionlessly for fish to pass by.

The black coastline is coarsely covered with volcanic tuffs and small coastal vegetation. Those given to snorkeling can plunge into the sea, which usually experiences a low or minimal tide, and swim with the seals. There is a whole new world down under—the marine life is alive with the fish, plenty of them, in different colors.

Once you are done with snorkeling, you can get back to the rocks and look for the Galapagos Hawks while you glide towards the Pan de Azucar, or Sugarloaf Hill, which is surrounded by black sands apart from a few low tuff cliffs formed dramatically by the wind and the sea. Hiking inward to the rocks lying at the western end of the beach, you might stumble upon sea lions basking in the sun near the rocks. There is also a high probability of catching a glimpse of more marine iguanas loitering across the rocks.

The vivid sight of the wild is no less than an adventure. In between your hikes, you can stop by and photograph the sea lions, iguanas and endemic birds. The black sand beach and the enigmatic rock sculpture will make the overall scene more picturesque.

Sullivan Bay

Galapagos landscapes: lava field at Sullivan Bay

There is a discernible diversity in Galapagos landscapes if you travel from one island to the other. Most of the archipelago is characterized by volcanic hot spots marked by lava formations. Sullivan Bay is a must-visit place for those interested in taking a real stroll down the lava field. Located on the southeastern coast of Santiago Island, almost across Bartolome Island, Sullivan Bay is a place given to amazing lava formations, which were the eventual aftermath of volcanic eruptions that took place almost a century ago. The bay is not only a tourist attraction but also a land that draws geology students and scientists from various parts of the world because of its erratic and abrupt volcanic formations.

There is a lot to discover and explore on this isolated bay. Lying roughly about 114 meters above the sea level, Sullivan Bay boasts of a variety of land birds and seabirds apart from a colony of black marine iguanas and fur seals. You can also catch a glimpse of the enigmatic Galapagos Penguin, a penguin species confined only to the Galapagos.
Reaching Sullivan Bay is no issue once you board one of the Galapagos yachts that enlist Sullivan Bay in their itineraries. Hiking is the major activity; nevertheless, there is also provision for snorkeling. As soon as you get down from the ship, you can take a stride across the lava paths and witness the miraculous rock structures along the way. You will come across various lava types, including pahoehoe lava, which resembles a pile of ropes, and the aa lava, which looks like sticky, dry stuff resembling clinkers. You can also see little ovens called hornitos along the way. Talking about the land flora, there is little vegetation. However, you can still see small tuffs of Brachycereus nesioticus (the lava cactus) and Mollugo (carpetweed).

The walk takes approximately an hour to an hour and a half. Returning to the shoreline, black and white Oystercatchers can be seen fishing for crabs and mollusks in the tide pools. While taking a stroll across the lava fields near the bay, you can catch a glimpse of Galapagos Penguins, Sally Lightfoot crabs, and lava lizards. Apart from these, you can see Blue-footed Boobies and the Galapagos Hawk hovering in the background. Once you are done with hiking, you can trail back to the bay and take a plunge into the cool ocean water. Snorkeling will be a real fun after hours of hiking in the lava fields.