Just off the southeastern tip of Santiago Island lies Chinese Hat (Sombrero Chino), so named for its shape, that of a gently sloping cone rising from the sea. It was created when the Santiago volcano erupted, forming a spatter cone made of lava and rocks. One of the most recognizable of all the Galapagos islands, Chinese Hat is thought to be a comparatively recent volcanic cone with a few lava tunnels still intact.
A scenic 1,300-foot visitor trail begins on a small, white-sand coral beach nestled in a protected cove, then meanders past a colony of endemic Galapagos sea lions before passing a lava field, where prehistoric-looking lava cactus sprout from the cracks, while marine iguanas and lava lizards scurry along.
The path follows the island’s coastline, where the American Oystercatcher, a distinctive wading bird with a bright orange beak, can be seen fishing, and bright red Sally Lightfoot crabs battle the tides’ ebb and flow. The trail culminates at a spot with a breathtaking view of a cliff with waves pounding the shore below.
Over centuries, the ocean has carved out a narrow channel, which can only be navigated by small vessels, between Santiago and Chinese Hat. The clear blue waters of the channel are fairly calm, but deep enough to attract a wide variety of dazzling marine life, including white-tipped sharks, brilliantly colored tropical fish, playful sea lions and the occasional tiny Galapagos penguin.
Several species of Charles Darwin’s finches are found on the island, along with the endemic Galapagos hawk, which, as the archipelago’s most ferocious predator, resides at the top of the food chain. Protected by the Galapagos National Park Service to preserve its fragile ecosystem, Chinese Hat remains one of the world’s most beautiful meetings of earth, sea and sky.