Sombrero Chino and Santiago Islands

Jun 22, 2018 - National Geographic Islander

We left Santa Fe Island behind and after a long navigation, and early in the morning we arrived at Sombrero Chino, a small island that lies just off the southern tip of Santiago. Its barren landscape offers a spectacular view of the geology and the arrival of pioneer plants to the archipelago.  It was sunny when riding Zodiacs and we headed to the shore of the island. The water was so clear that it was possible to observe some sea lions and mullets swimming along the coralline bottom of the channel that separates Sombrero Chino from Santiago. While on the rocks, a juvenile Galapagos penguin tried to warm its body with the first beams of sun. Afterwards, we returned to the channel to discover the incredible underwater world. The visibility and temperature of the water were great, permitting our guests to observe a great number of colorful fish, Galapagos and white tipped reef sharks. Some sea lions were our companions during the last part and finally, we could observe two large stingrays swimming indifferently among of us.

In the afternoon National Geographic Islander was repositioned at the southern of Santiago or James Island. In the distance the barren landscape contrasted with the greenery of the highlands, making it possible to see huge black lava flows along the Island, which eruption occurred in 1897 and destroyed all evidence of life there.  At 4PM, with excellent weather conditions, we set foot in Sullivan Bay. We walked pahoehoe or ropy lava formations observing a great number of eroded tuff cones, mute witnesses of explosive eruptions occurred years ago. We observed some lava lizards, pioneer’s plants and large painted locust along the trail that led us to the old lava flows and formations, that looked brownish with spatter cones that formed a surrealist landscape like mars or a lunarscape.  It was late in the afternoon when we came back onboard, observing as the sun colored the mountains and illuminated our happy faces while in our minds those incredible and innocent creatures we observed today, will be remembered by us forever.

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About the Author

Paul Vergara


Paul grew up on the island of Floreana, one of the earliest islands of the Galápagos to have been inhabited, and one of Charles Darwin's centers of research. But just because Floreana has a long history of human settlements, does not mean that growing up there was a very modern experience. In the 1970s, there was neither electricity nor cars on the island. Not only that, but Paul and the rest of the inhabitants had to use donkeys for transportation, preserving their fish and meat using salt from the sea.

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