Santiago is the fourth largest of the islands and has several excellent visitor sites within its 585 sq km. In a long, flat black lava shoreline eroded shapes form lava pools, caves and inlets that house a great variety of wildlife. The landscape is shaped by numerous scoria and tuff cones and extensive recent lava flows on the east and south of the island. One major volcano dominates the western side, which is thickly vegetated and highly eroded. This island has almost all the vegetation zones, from arid to humid.
Puerto Egas (James Bay):
The wet landing on the dark sands of Puerto Egas (James Bay) leads to one of the rewarding visits on the Galapagos. First, a trail leads inland to the remains of a salt mining operation, one of several largely unsuccessful attempts to commercialize the Galapagos. Some groups will make the 1 hour round trip to the Sugarloaf Volcano (about 1000 ft/395 m elevation). But it is the Fur Seal Grotto that produces the most pleasure for visitors. Here one can get very close views of both fur seals and sea lions in a series of rocky pools. For many, this is the only opportunity to see the Galapagos fur seal, once thought to be on the verge of extinction. In addition to the fur seals, James Bay offers the best opportunity for tide-pooling on the Galapagos. From the black beach it’s possible to experience one of the most exuberant snorkeling sessions during your visit. Darwin describes his visit to James Bay in “Voyage of the Beagle”.
Just across a narrow channel west of Bartolomé lies Sullivan Bay on the island of Santiago. This landing offers one of the most outstanding volcanic sites in the Galápagos, providing a good opportunity to view a “recent” lava flow of approximately 100 years old. Just over a century ago, the island gave birth to a field of lava called pahoehoe (“rope-like” in Hawaiian), which gleams like a gigantic obsidian sculpture. It is stirring to imagine the once-molten lava lighting up the earth, flowing into the sea and sending plumes of superheated steam skyrocketing into the air. On the surface of the lava it is possible to observe some trees that were carried down by the flow of the fresh lava. The flow gave birth to new land as it engulfed vegetation, leaving some plants forever etched into the earth, while other plants are starting to colonize the small lava fissures.
Today the flow stands as a gallery of abstract shapes resembling braids, curtains and swirling fans. Brightly colored “painted locusts” and “lava lizards” punctuate the black volcanic canvas, as does the occasional finger of lava cactus and spreading carpetweed. Looking back across the bay from the source of the flow, a cinder cone of reddish lava, you are treated to a view of Pinnacle Rock nearby Bartolome Island.