SANTIAGO & NORTHERN ISLANDS
Santiago (James) Island
A chance to walk over a recent barren lava flow. The black, basaltic lava is about 100 years old, but looks like it only just cooled into shapes reminiscent of ropes and ripples on a pond. It has flowed around older cinder cones.
Once a haven to pirates and salt miners. A beautiful natural landscape – the path goes along a rocky shore - where large marine iguanas and sally lightfoot crabs abound. In the tidepools brittle stars, urchins and sea snails hide among anemones. Moray eels slither, octopus keep a wary eye or two on you. The trail ends at the fur seal grottoes: enchanting natural pools where both species of sea lion rest and play.
Few boats land here now, but during the 17th and 18th centuries this was an important site for sailors to careen (haul and clean) their ships, hunt for meat and collect firewood and water. The high tuff cliffs to the south of the bay are an impressive sight, whilst the contorted cinder to the north has been eroded into many shapes, including the famous ‘Elephant’ and ‘Monk’. The beach is well populated with sea-lions.
Espumilla is a long, golden, sandy beach with a mangrove backdrop. It can be a tricky wet landing due to the breakers. Marine turtles nest here, ghost crabs keep the beach free of intruders, and wading birds dodge the surf. Behind are saline lagoons, once an important flamingo site, but after floods in 1983 the flamingos went elsewhere. Feral pigs have decimated the turtles’ breeding chances. A short trail goes up into the vegetation of the transitional zone. This is a good place to spot some of the ten species of finch found on Santiago, and the vermilion and broad-billed flycatchers.
The most photographed landscape in the islands is the dramatic view from the summit of an eroded cone that leans into the bay. A small family of Galápagos penguins lives in the shadows of the Pinnacle, and surprise bemused swimmers as they 'fly' around in the waters of the bay.
A short walk across dunes takes you to the beach where you can look out to see and spot reef sharks, rays and Ghost crabs). Often a juvenile Galápagos hawk hovering overhead. From January to March you may see marine turtles coming ashore to nest in the sand.
Genovesa (Tower) Island
It is a long sail up to Genovesa but worthwhile, you sail into a huge sunken crater bordered by cliffs. Genovesa is home to the biggest colony of red-footed boobies and many great frigatebirds.
There is a small white coral sand beach and tucked behind is a lagoon which gives the impression of a rock garden. In abundance you can see herons, white-cheeked pintail ducks, Galápagos doves, lava gulls, swallow-tailed gulls, great frigatebirds, red-footed boobies, finches and marine iguanas.
Along the cliffs you can find fur seals in the crevices, red-billed tropic-birds screech overhead with the greedy frigatebirds in pursuit. The trail has plenty to see, masked boobies, red-footed boobies, storm petrels and owls.
The bright red beach is backed by saltbush which hides a saltwater lagoon, with mangrove trees beyond . Brown pelicans, pintail ducks, black-necked stilts are found and flamingos have been known to breed. A short trail goes up steeply to a good vantage point where you can find Darwin's finches and Palo Santo trees.
Back on the beach the rocks to the east make a perfect place to learn to snorkel. Schools of reef fish like damsels, surgeons, triggers and larger groupers and puffer fish make it an attractive place to plunge beneath the waves.
This area is only visited by the smallest yachts, Sombrero Chino has one of the most picturesque anchorage's set in a turquoise coloured bay. The name comes as the island is one cinder cone, with a steep sided crown like a Chinese hat. The island is barren apart from sparse lava cactus. Sea lion cubs are left in a 'nursery' by the beach, and a solitary male keeps guard. Sally lightfoot crabs and iguanas congregate on the rocks.