Sombrero Chino and Santiago Islands

Nov 22, 2019 - National Geographic Islander

We navigated on calm waters north, and then west to anchor at dawn off a tiny islet appropriately called “Chinese Hat!” Across the channel and along the shores of the large island of Santiago, we saw miles of barren black lava that whalers in the area noted in their logbooks as erupting in 1897.

After breakfast, we explored the edge of this extensive lava field by kayak or Zodiac. We saw many brilliant red Sally light foot crabs feeding, striated herons stalking fish and baby crabs but we could not find any penguins.

Back on board we wiggled into our wetsuits and boarded Zodiacs for a snorkeling outing in the calm, turquoise channel between Sombrero Chino and Santiago. Now we found the penguins! First, we found 4 on shore. Then some of us snorkeled among them! A very curious juvenile swam among us and delighted our guests. We spent an amazing hour snorkeling with dozens of species of colorful fish, several white-tipped reef sharks, huge schools of tiny baitfish and many invertebrates, too: pencil and green sea urchins, chocolate chip and cushion sea stars, etc. It was only the chilly water that finally got the better of us and forced us to return to the ship for a hot shower!

Our afternoon hike was on the northern end of this same extensive lava field, where we walked across the pahoehoe flow. This is ropy lava and it comes in an amazing array of textures and even colors. In places, it looks like folded curtains or woven baskets, less pleasantly; some imagined cow pies and intestines! The lava is nearly barren, but our naturalists pointed out a few pioneer plants: the brachycereus cactus and mollugo carpetweed. We spied only a few finches and lava lizards but enjoyed taking photos of the spectacular lava, and of one another. As the sun set, we returned to the ship and tonight we enjoyed a delicious sky deck barbecue dinner.

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About the Author

Lynn Fowler

Expedition Leader

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, and one of seven children, Lynn grew up in various university towns where her father was a professor of physics. Lynn obtained her B.A. in biology from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, followed by a master’s degree in zoology from the University of Florida, which encompassed a study of marine turtles in Costa Rica. She arrived in Galápagos in 1978 and became one of the first female naturalist guides working for the Galápagos National Park.

About the Photographer

Vanessa Gallo


Vanessa Gallo’s grandparents arrived in the Galápagos Islands in 1936, making her the third generation of her family to live and work in this magical archipelago. She left the islands for the capital city of Quito for high school, where she discovered that learning foreign languages was one of her main interests. Coming from a family of naturalist guides, it was not a surprise that she also became one at the age of 17. Vanessa left the islands once again for Switzerland, where she earned a diploma in tourism and strengthened her language skills and knowledge of the travel industry. She has also travelled extensively to destinations including as Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, Canada, the Canary Islands, Mauritius, and many European countries.

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