Santiago Island, which is made up of two overlapping volcanoes, was historically a stopping place for Spanish sailors to refill their water barrels and stock up on perishables. The island is currently uninhabited, though there were colonization attempts throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. At one time there was a salt mine on Puerto Egas. The mine was closed in the 1960s, but you can still tour the site today. Santiago was the second island Charles Darwin visited in the Galapagos. When he arrived, the land iguanas were so abundant that he and the crew of the HMS Beagle had trouble finding a spot to pitch their tents for the night. Yet today, there are no land iguanas remaining on Santiago Island. Conservation of native wildlife has presented something of a challenge here: Feral pigs, donkeys, and goats, which were brought by early island settlers and passing mariners wreaked havoc on the endemic plant and animal life over the years and taxed precious resources. At one point, the goat population was estimated to have blossomed to around 100,000. To date, all three species have been eradicated.
While you’re on Santiago Island, you’ll have the chance to stop at Puerto Egas, which is home to a colony of playful fur seals. You can visit them at the sea caves and grottoes (essentially collapsed lava tubes) where they enjoy swimming and lounging on the rocks. You’ll also pay a visit to Espumilla Beach, renowned as a sea turtle nesting site. At Sullivan Bay, you’ll see firsthand the effects of volcanic eruptions and have the unique experience of walking across a recent lava flow.
Puerto Egas was once the site of a salt mine, but today it’s known for its black sand beach, grottoes, and a colony of fur seals. A leisurely trail takes you through the otherworldly terrain of black lava deposits to the grottoes. This is where you’ll spot the timid fur seals, easily distinguished from the sea lions by their lustrous fur coats, resting on the rocks or paddling around the grottoes. A natural lava bridge also makes for a great photo opportunity. Head to the black sand beach for a swim or snorkeling. You may even be joined by curious sea lions!
Located on the northern coast of Santiago Island, Espumilla is the largest beach on Santiago Island and a great place for a swim. Each year sea turtles return to Espumilla Beach to nest. Follow the trail from the beach for a gentle hike through a mangrove forest past a lagoon where you can sometimes see flamingoes and white-cheeked pintail ducks. You’ll see many land birds, such as Darwin finches and Galapagos hawks as you continue on the trail loop back toward the beach.
Geology enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to Sullivan Bay where it’s all about the lava. In 1897 a volcanic eruption covered the area with pahoehoe lava, leaving behind a truly otherworldly landscape. Take a hike over the hardened ropey lava flows, where you’ll find volcanic debris cones and “hornitos” or lava ovens. Along the way, watch for pioneer plants such as carpetweed cropping out through the fissures in the lava in this unique volcanic terrain. You may also have an opportunity for snorkeling, conditions permitting.