Despite being uninhabited, Santiago Island has a long human history, starting as a favourite port for pirates and whalers. Originally called James Island after England’s King James II, it was a popular salt mining site in the 1920’s, then survived a colonisation in 1930. The island was rich in vegetation until feral goats were introduced in 1880 and, when their population thrived, reaching over 100,000, the flora and fauna was harshly impacted. This spectacular island was the second of the Galapagos to be visited by Charles Darwin, whose notes are now the only evidence of the land iguana prospering here, as it is now extinct; “we could not for some time find a spot free from their burrows on which to pitch a single tent”.
The island has a volcanic landscape, with cliffs and pinnacles attracting quite a few species of marine bird. On the popular visiting site of James Bay, you enjoy a wet landing on the dark sands of Puerto Egas and can follow the maze of trails to find evidence of some of the machinery abandoned there after the salt mining efforts. Walking along the rocky coast usually rewards with sightings of sponges, hermit crabs, snails and fish (including the endemic four-eyed blenny), in the tidal pools, as well as marine iguanas, fur seals and sally light foot crabs. Another great spot is Espumilla Beach where you follow a mangrove forest from the large beach which leads to a lake, usually home to flamingos, pintail ducks and stilts. You can also visit Buccaneer Cove, a haven for pirates in the 1600’s and Sullivan Bay where you will find an impressive lunar landscape of lava fields formed in 1890 due to eruptions.
Despite Santiago Island’s difficult path, it is an outstanding island to visit on your expedition around the Galapagos Islands and we include it in many of our itineraries. Steeped in history, wildlife and an incredible variety of landscapes, this island stays in the memories of travellers for a lifetime.
Just beyond the tidal pools you come to fur seal grotto where you have the opportunity to swim the azure waters among volcanic bridges alongside these endearing creatures.