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Santiago Island

Galapagos beach

This official name is used less often than the old Spanish name (Santiago), or the English name (James). A favorite island for pirates and whalers, Santiago has a long human history as well as some outstanding opportunities for wildlife viewing.

Human commercialism and volcanic activity have disrupted the island time and again. Santiago's volcanic cones, beachfront lava spires, gentle pahoehoe lava flows, and black sand beaches are reminders of the island's explosive past. As if liquid-hot magma weren't enough, four rather amorous goats were abandoned on the island in the 1880s, causing irreparable damage to the.

The island was further denigrated in the l920s and 1960s by two salt mines. Nevertheless, Santiago remains one of the most intriguing islands in the Galápagos, with numerous visitor sites chock-full of wildlife.

Santiago actually consists of two coalesced volcanoes: a typical shield volcano on the northwest end and a low, linear fissure volcano on the southeast end.



Puerto Egas also known as South James Bay, located on Santiago's western shore, packs a lot into one fun-filled visitor site. A black-sand beach, remnants of the island's habitated history, amazing geology, and unique wildlife all cluster in South James Bay. The tidal pools are populated by fur seals and Sally Lightfoot crabs. Birds include the Galapagos dove and Galapagos hawk, oyster catchers and night heron.

The island's more natural landscape, however, features brown layered tuff stone and black basalt volcanic rock that creates apertures, crevices, and natural bridges. Tours begin on a trail that runs along the coastline near an old road to one of the best tidal pool areas in the Galapagos. The black lava towers, basins, and craters are filled with crystal-clear seawater.


Trimmed with verdant mangrove trees, Playa Espumilla's long, golden-sand beach is one of the Galapagos’s most idyllic spots. Get there via a wet landing at the northern end of James Bay. A walk through a mangrove forest leads to a lagoon usually inhabited by a group of flamingos as well as pintail dicks and common stilts. This is a nesting site as well as a feeding area for the flamingos. Sea turtles dig their nests at the edge of the mangroves, and care must be taken not to walk on these large depressed areas in the dark-hued sand.


Located on the eastern coast of James Island, across from Bartolome. Sullivan Bay's unearthly topography is what fascinates most visitors. This eastern shore of Santiago consists of a 120-year-old basaltic pahoehoe lava flow, producing solid black-rock fields that look as if they just cooled yesterday. The roughest lava formations are nicknamed aa lava, to mimic the squeals made by fearless tourists that traverse the trail barefoot. Also notice the kipukas, tuff cones that were once autonomous rocky isles before the sudden attack of lava, and the shiny crystallized volcanic "glass" along the 2km trail that loops around the bay. The only signs of life that interrupt the plateau of hardened lava are the colonizing Mollugo carpetweed, rare lava cactus, and occasional black marine iguana that adeptly blend in with the terrain.


Located on the northwest corner of the Santiago Island, Buccaneer Cove was a haven for pirates during the 1600s and early 1700s.

Fresh water was often available in lava rock depressions, and the cove was a convenient place to keep boats.

Although today tour boats don't land in the cove, many pass by slowly, letting passengers enjoy the area's towering cliff walls rock formations. The shoreline is now populated by feral goats that do as much damage to the landscape as the pirates did on the high seas.

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