Santiago and Sombrero Chino Islands

Aug 03, 2018 - National Geographic Islander

Santiago and Sombrero Chino Islands are two islands that lie just off the center of the archipelago with unique landscapes and flora. Like snapshots taken millions of years ago, both places offer a spectacular view of the geology and the arrival of pioneer plants to the archipelago.

After breakfast, with excellent weather conditions, we headed to Sombrero Chino Island. Ridding the Zodiacs we observed huge lava flows along Santiago Island. This eruption occurred in 1897 and destroyed all evidence of life, leaving a barren landscape contrasting with the greenery observed along the highlands. Galapagos hawks, lava herons, as well as some pelicans and sea lions were the delight of our guests who took many pictures of these beautiful creatures.

After our Zodiac ride, we came back to the island to discover the incredible underwater world, and snorkel along the channel that separates Sombrero Chino with Santiago. The visibility and temperature of the water was great, allowing our guests to observe a large number of colorful fish, Galapagos sharks, and white tipped reef sharks. Toward the end of our snorkeling adventure, we had some sea lion companions, and observed stingrays swimming indifferently among of us.

In the afternoon, we set foot on the young black lava fields of Santiago Island. It was very windy with a cool breeze as we walked along the huge fields of solidified lava, and observed the remains of hornitos, some conical formations, and lava tubes beneath. At the end of a new lava flow, we saw tuff cones which had a reddish hue and formed a surrealist landscape, similar to that of mars or perhaps the moon.  We also saw the last branches of black lava filling the path that a few years ago was full of cactus and palo santo trees. Now converted into a barren inhospitable place, but at the same time so unique and beautiful. In the air, some blue-footed boobies returned to their nests, and the sun illuminated our happy faces as we headed back to National Geographic Islander on this magical day.

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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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