Isla San Salvador (Isla Santiago, James Island), Galapagos Islands
More often known by its older Spanish name Isla Santiago, Isla San Salvador is among the more popular Galapagos Islands to visit, with a number of excellent tourist sites. Centrally located between Isla Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela, this island is the fourth largest in the archipelago at 585 sq km. Known to some as James Island; Isla San Salvador is a very interesting place to visit, especially if one is into volcanology, geology or succession. The rocks here are mostly black and since there is no real shade, it can get very hot on the island particularly around midday; this is why it is best to visit early in the morning or before dusk.
One of the best visitor sites on the island has to be Puerto Egas on James Bay, on the western coast. A long blackened coastline where lava has eroded, there are many lava pools found here as well as caves and inlets that are home to an amazing variety of wildlife. One can spot marine iguanas here along with hundreds of Sally Lightfoot crabs and herons. In the inlets, Galapagos fur seals can be seen swimming with many species of tropical fish, sharks, moray eels and octopuses. This place offers some wonderful snorkeling opportunities.
Towards the end of this coastal trail is a rock formation known as Darwin’s toilet. Caused by a vertical chute that lets water rise through it when waves crash against the rock face, Darwin’s toilet presents visitors with a truly one of a kind photo op.
Just behind the Puerto Egas shoreline is a 2 km pathway leading to Sugar Loaf Volcano, with some truly stupendous views of the surrounding landscape. A 395m high extinct volcano, lava lizards, Galapagos Doves, Darwin’s finches and a number of other birds can be seen around here. This area is also home to feral goats, Vermillion flycatchers and Galapagos hawks. Once a region rich in vegetation, the landscape here is now quite barren, due to the wild goats eating everything in sight. North of the volcano is an abandoned salt mine, which can be visited by walking along a 3 km long coastal trail. On the northern end of James Bay is Espumilla Beach, which offers some good swimming. Here one can spot a number of wading birds including pink flamingos.
On the northwestern end of Isla San Salvador is Buccaneers Cove, another popular tourist haunt. Known as a safe haven in the 17th and 18th century for buccaneers and pirates to stash their loot or refurbish their supplies, this cove is today the habitat of several species of seabirds.
Sullivan Bay on Isla San Salvador’s eastern coast is a barren landscape with lava fields left from a 100 year old volcanic eruption. Here one can see uneroded lava formations such as pahoehoe and schrict, as well as ‘hornitos’ or little ovens that are created when bubbles escaped from the hot lava. One can also find a number of colonizing plants here such as Brachycereus cactus and Mollugo carpetweed.