Chinese Hat Island and Sullivan Bay, Santiago Island

Sep 29, 2017 - National Geographic Islander

Today we explored the east coast of Santiago Island starting at Chinese Hat Islet on the south eastern corner of the island during the morning, and moving up the coast to Sullivan Bay during the afternoon.

After breakfast we boarded our Zodiacs to explore the shallow, sandy channel that separates Santiago from Chinese Hat. The most impressive sight was a massive lava field from an eruption of the late 1890’s which stopped just short of engulfing the neighboring islets. One exception is a promontory just inland that has been taken over by a small forest of Candelabra cacti. The promontory is a small islet that did indeed get completely surrounded by the lava flow.

After getting back onboard we got ready for snorkeling. Our aim was to explore beneath the waves of the turquoise channel. We were lucky to encounter the best snorkeling conditions during this expedition with visibility in excess of 30 feet and a comfortable 72°F warm water. The calm waters of the channel where teeming with life. Massive amounts of young fish seemed to hug the shallow shore seeking protection from predators. This might protect them from larger predators, but not from snappers and groupers that slowly moved below only sporadically speeding up to the shallows to attack the tight schools of Black striped salema and anchovies. We even had a Galapagos penguin speed right through and around the group while chasing the small fish. The waters where teeming with life. From the colorful fish in the shallows, to the white tip reef sharks motionlessly resting bellow the ledges the rocky reef, it seemed as alive as a busy city center.

After lunch some of our more artistically inclined guests joined resident artist Amy on the observation deck to paint the landscape of surrounding Sullivan Bay while others felt obliged to respect the “mandatory siesta”. After all, “When in Rome…” Later on we all gathered in the lounge for a presentation on Charles Darwin, by naturalist Juan Carlos.

As our last activity in the afternoon we made our last landing on the pahoe’ hoe’ lava fields of Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island for a hike. Some of the guests who preferred to skip the hike across the sharp lava joined me on a Zodiac ride scouting out the best photo opportunities to see the Galapagos penguins, as these iconic birds made their way out onto the rocks during the late afternoon. We were delighted to not only find six different penguins, but also excellent opportunities to photograph brown pelicans, striated and yellow Crowned night herons as they tried to get one last meal before the sun set.

What an amazing way of finishing off an amazing day!

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About the Author

Benjamin Ayala


Ben is a German-Ecuadorian naturalist guide who grew up on San Cristobal, the eastern-most island of the Galápagos Archipelago, home to the political capital of the province.

About the Photographer

Julio Rodriguez

Video Chronicler

Born and raised in Ecuador, the son of Spanish and American parents, Julio developed a passion for storytelling and environmental conservation at an early age. After majoring in History at Carleton College (Minnesota), with a thesis on the Basque anti-Franco movement, he taught English in Spain and made short promotional films for an energy efficiency company in India and two environmental conservation NGOs in Greece and Galapagos. 

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