Santiago Island: Puerto Egas, Salt Mines, Espumilla Beach & Buccaneer Cove
Breakfast service. Wet landing.
Visit Puerto Egas: nature walk, salt mines and fur seal grotto. Shallow water snorkeling.
A visit to Puerto Egas begins with a wet landing on the dark sand beaches of James Bay. Taking a walk along the rocky coast offers visitors the opportunity to view some of the Galapagos Island's best tide pools. Sponges, snails, hermit crabs, barnacles and fish including the endemic four-eyed blenny can be seen. The walk also presents visitors with a variety of shore birds, marine iguanas, sally light foot crabs and sea lions.
There are two interesting excursions conducted from Puerto Egas. The first is a short walk from the landing site that brings visitors to the site of one of the Galapagos' first entrepreneur endeavors. For decades salt was extracted from a local salt crater. The industry was abandoned in the 1950's leaving behind a variety of rusted old machines and parts of buildings. The trail follows the path once used by wagon trains to the crater cone. The steep trail is easy, but can often seem one of the hottest hikes in the islands. Feral goats prune the arid vegetation, which lines the trail. The goats feed on any leaf within reach leaving little left for the endemic island creatures. Bird lovers will be delighted with the opportunity to catch a glimpse of one of Darwin’s finch, the endemic Galapagos hawk, or the colorful vermillion flycatcher.
Finally reaching the crater rim presents an incredible vista. Looking into the crater you are able to see this extinct volcano whose floor has sunken below sea level. Salt water seeps into the crater creating a small salt lake. The sun evaporates the water, leaving the salt that many have tried to mine without success.
Looking away from the crater are the older orange lava fields supporting vegetation including the Palo Santo trees and the younger desolate black lava fields.
The second excursion begins just a short distance beyond the tide pools and heads to the fur seal grotto. Fur seals and sea lions can be seen swimming in the rocky lava ringed pools. This may be the only opportunity visitors have to see and swim with fur seals.
Fur seals were once hunted to near extinction for their coats. The Galapagos Fur Seal is the smallest of the fur seals found in the southern hemisphere, now compare in numbers with the sea lions. During the day they hide from the hot equatorial sun in shelves or caves of the rocky lava cliffs. At night they feed on squid and fish avoiding the sharks, which are their natural predator.
The crystal clear water, volcanic bridges, fur seals and sea lions make this a magnificent place for swimming and snorkeling.
Visitors who now come to Espumilla Beach mostly do so in search of birds rather than water. A short walk inland takes visitors through a mangrove forest normally inhabited by the common stilt. Sea turtles also visit these mangroves to nest. Beyond the mangroves is a brackish lagoon where flocks of pink flamingos and white cheeked pintails can be seen. The trail makes a loop heading over a knob into a sparely forested area then back to the beach. Along the way those with a watchful eye may spot a variety of Darwin finches or a vermilion fly catcher. Once back at the beach visitors may have the chance to swim or snorkel time permitting.
Lunch service. Panga boat ride to Buccaneer´s Cove. Deep water snorkeling.
Less than an hour north of Puerto Egas, Buccaneers Cove served as a safe haven for pirates, sailors and whalers during the 18th and 19th century. Anchoring in the protected bay they were able to make much needed repairs to their ships while other men went ashore to stock up on salt, tortoises, fresh water and firewood. Several years ago ceramic jars were found at the bottom of the bay, the disregarded cargo of some mariner from years ago. Inside the jars were supplies of wine and marmalade.
Few boats stop at Buccaneers Cove today. Though many cruise by at a slow speed giving visitors the opportunity to view the steep cliffs made of tuff formations and the dark reddish-purple sand beach. This dramatic landscape is made all the more impressive by the hundreds of seabirds perched atop the cliffs. Two of the more recognizable rock formations are known as the "monk" and "elephant rock". A large population of feral goats now frequents Buccaneers Cove and this portion of Santiago. The National Park Service has fenced off part of the area to protect the native vegetation from the destructive eating habits of this introduced species. A wet landing on the large coffee-colored sand beach is just north of the prized fresh water supply that once attracted pirates and whalers.
Guide briefing. Farewell cocktail. Dinner service and navigation to Daphne Island.