The Beagle, carrying Charles Darwin arrived on the shores of Santiago Island on October 5, 1835. The second island they visited after San Cristobal, the naturalist met a party of Spaniards who showed him around.
One of his journal entries notes large groups of land iguanas, animals that eluded others who visited in the centuries to follow.
In the 1920s, a salt mine harvested the spice for export to the mainland and in the 1930s a small settlement developed with no avail.
Today the island is uninhabited. Visitors come to Santiago Island because of its wildlife, exotic landscapes, and the snorkeling and diving off of Santiago’s shores.
Galapagos fur seals, sea lions, giant tortoises, Galapagos petrels, flamingos, great blue herons, and Galapagos hawks are frequently seen along the inland trails and the coast of the much-visited island.
James Bay-Puerto Egas
James Bay is one of Santiago’s two landing sites, sitting on the northwestern side of the fourth largest island in the archipelago. The beach, the surrounding coast, the nearby volcano, and the interior of the island attracted pirates during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Buccaneers drastically reduced the giant tortoise population-which is still struggling to gain a foothold.
There are three trails from the bay’s black volcanic beach-where fur seals, sea lions, sally-lightfoot crabs, blue-footed boobies, and sea birds go about their daily routine of greeting visitors. Off the coast and along the beach are tidal pools.
The coastal trailhead starts at the southern end of the beach, skirting the water and ending at fur seal grottos. A second trailhead leads to a volcanic crater that was used as a salt mine.
The crater fills with seawater, creating a seawater lagoon seasonally, and then dries into salt deposits during the summer. The oasis attracts flamingos, white-cheeked pintail ducks, yellow warblers, Galapagos hawks, and different kinds of Darwin’s finches.
Along the northern end of the bay is Espumilla Beach, where sea turtles come to nest during their mating season. The soft, white sand is contrasted by the black lava flows of the area, twisting down into the sea in surreal forms and outcrops.
An inland trail from the beach leads past a second season lagoon where flamingos and a startling variety of birds come to feed. It continues into the arid zone of the island, looping through Palo Santo trees and volcanic fields that date back 750,000 years.
Activities-Hiking, snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, bird watching, photography
Wildlife-Fur seals sea lions, sally-lightfoot crabs, blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, flamingos, white-cheeked pintail ducks, yellow warblers, Smooth-billed Ani, Galapagos hawks, and different kinds of Darwin’s finches.
Marine Life- fur seals, tropical fish, sharks, moray eels, octopus, white-tipped reef sharks, sea lions, puffers, scorpionfish, sea turtles, and seahorses.
Sullivan Bay on the east side of Santiago is home to one of the most awe-inspiring lava fields in the archipelago. Sea lions welcome visitors on the white-coral beach of the landing site-before stepping foot on the century-old lava fields flowing into the sea.
Lava is frozen into tightly-bound, braided coils; creating a surreal panorama that is accentuated by volcanic sculptures and fissures that bubbled to the surface.
There are three kinds of lava on the slopes and coast of Santiago-pahoehoe or braided, schrict or ropy, and aa, referring to the sharp jagged rocks that can be painful on the feet!
There is little wildlife here except for lava lizards. Mollugo carpetweed and cactus plants dot the black volcanic landscape-providing color and contrast to the scene.
Looking across the bay and neighboring channel is Bartolome Island-a postcard perfect picture of Pinnacle Rock and the beaches of the island’s landing site.
The water’s off of Sullivan and James Bays are often referred to like some of the best in the Galapagos for a refreshing swim and snorkel. Exploring along the underwater edge of the long lava flow leads to sightings of sea lions, rays, brightly colored tropical reef fish, and sea turtles.
Activities-Sightseeing, snorkeling, hiking, swimming, photography
Wildlife-Lava lizards, crabs
Marine Life- Rays, brightly colored tropical reef fish, sea turtles, fur seals, white-tipped reef sharks, sea lions, puffers, scorpionfish, sea turtles, and seahorses.
A secluded cove on the eastern side of the island, Buccaneer Cove was used as a hide-out by pirates and whalers centuries ago. The steep cliffs surrounding the purple beach are home to Galapagos hawks, owls, cliff swallows, frigate birds, blue-footed boobies, and finches. Charles Darwin camped here for nine days in 1835, making some of his first observations of the wildlife of the islands.
This site is no longer a landing site. Exploring is done by panga, where the cliffs, caves, and lava formations tell a story of the human and natural history of the islands. Look for the Elephant and Monk sculptures in the cliffs that the wind, rain, and seawater created after hundreds of years of erosion.
Snorkeling here is the other attraction that draws visitors from all over the world. Rays, sea lions, fur seals, and green sea turtles take to the water for food, joining intrepid travelers for a relaxing dip that explores the Galapagos Marine Reserve.
Wildlife – Sea lions, fur seals, Galapagos hawks, owls, cliff swallows, frigate birds, blue-footed boobies, and finches.
Marine Life -Sea lions, fur seals, rays, green sea turtles, tropical reef fish, and white-tipped reef sharks.
Scuba diving around Santiago Island proves that the Galapagos offer some of the best sites in the world for underwater adventures. Bainbridge and Cousin’s Rocks are classic Galapagos dive destinations where sharks, sea turtles, fur seals, hawkfish, and frogfish and sea lions swiftly move through clouds of brightly colored reef fish.
The variety of places to dive here leave the way for all levels of divers, from beginners to advanced. There are also opportunities for night dives- a rare chance to see the nightlife of the marine creatures of the archipelago.
An iconic favorite of all levels and snorkelers and divers, Bainbridge Rocks is a collection of islets where reef fish, sea lions, fur seals, a variety of rays, and sea turtles come to feed.
The most visited of the islets is the remains of a volcanic cone jutting out of the water. In the center of the cone, a turquoise sea water lagoon attracts flocks of flamingos-wading in the shallow depths beneath the sunny blue tropical skies.
Located northeast of Santiago, Cousins Rocks stands thirty feet above the water and a few hundred feet long. Depths underwater reach 90 feet.
Galapagos and white-tipped sharks, sting and spotted eagle rays, sea lions and turtles, and an astonishing array of mesmerizing and colorful schools of reef fish use the area as a cleaning station. Keep an eye out for black striped Salema, hawkfish, and frogfish around the walls of black coral along the rock’s walls.
The waters of Cousin’s Rock are suitable for all levels of divers. There can be currents that prevent divers from swimming around the outcrop, but a small channel nearby alleviates the situation.
A trio of three rocks rising above the surface of the sea off of the southeastern coast of Santiago, Beagle Rocks offers adventure for all levels of divers. Depths extend to 60ft or 12 meters, and light current and clear visibility make it the place to find some of the more elusive creatures of the Galapagos waters.
Hammerhead and white-tipped reef sharks spotted an eagle and small ray, sea turtles, and the occasional wandering whale shark are some of the marine life that comes to feed on clouds of colorful schools of reef fish.
Piedra Blanca at Buccaneer Cove
Diving in the clear waters of Buccaneer cove puts you face to face with sea lions, fur seals, a variety of kinds and sizes of rays, a myriad of ballooning schools of painted reef fish, and red-lipped batfish.
The dive is great for all levels of divers-the shallow depths and light currents make this a refreshing and relaxing dive in the tropics.
Puerto Egas, on the northwest side of the island, is a fun dive for all levels of divers for its shallow depths and lack of strong current. With a 40 ft. depth to the odd-shaped sandy bottom, this is a popular night dive from live-aboard cruises and a few land-based dive shops.
Sea lions, clouds of swiftly moving reef fish, sea turtles, rays, and fur seals crowd the waters.
Albany Islet, sometimes called Albany Rock, is a small island southwest of Santiago where divers explore the waters of a protected cove. It is a dive for all levels of divers-light currents and depths of 100ft give way to an underwater adventure includes sea lions, sea turtles, hoards of reef fish, rays, and sharks. There is a descending wall where black coral and intriguing rock formations form nooks and crannies where the marine life thrives.
Highlights – Swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking and exploring James and Sullivan Bays, Hiking to nearby volcanoes, exploring the surreal lava formations around Sullivan Bay, panga rides to Buccaneer Cove, scuba diving in the tropical waters around the island.
For more information about your options for land-based and cruise trips through the Galapagos Islands, contact a member of our team using our toll-free numbers or the contact form on this site.