Discover Galapagos - A travel guide to Galapagos cruises, tours, boats and yacht charters

Galapagos Islands tours - fun for the whole family!

A travel guide to Galapagos tours, boats, cruises & yacht charters

Galapagos Islands Guided Tour

James Bay, Isla San Salvador

Yellow-crowned Night Herons, James Bay, Galapagos

Charles Darwin c 1840 "October 8th. -- We arrived at James Island... One day we accompanied a party of the Spaniards in their whale-boat to a salina, or lake from which salt is procured. After landing, we had a very rough walk over a rugged field of recent lava, which has almost surrounded a tuff-crater, at the bottom of which the salt-lake lies. The water is only three or four inches deep, and rests on a layer of beautifully crystallized, white salt. 
The lake is quite circular, and is fringed with a border of bright green succulent plants; the almost precipitous walls of the crater are clothed with wood, so that the scene was altogether both picturesque and curious. A few years since, the sailors belonging to a sealing-vessel murdered their captain in this quiet spot; and we saw his skull lying among the bushes." - Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle
Map of James Bay, Santiago Island, Galapagos After a nights journey we arrive early in the morning at James Bay on the east side of Isla Santiago (or San Salvador). We anchor on the south side of the bay near the site of an old salt mine at Puerto Egas. California Sea Lions and Brown Pelicans are out to meet us but no people live here now.

British buccaneers used this bay as an anchorage during the 1600's as they found it an excellent area for firewood, water, salt and tortoises. 

The buccaneers raided the Spanish galleons laden with gold that plied the west coast of South America on their return to Spain. Storytellers are still spinning tales of lost and buried gold in Galapagos.

After an early breakfast we take the panga to the beach and immediately see some old dilapidated signs of human habitation. After a brief pause, we start eastward on the trail to the old salt mine. 

USS Essex in the Galapagos Islands
USS Essex in the Galapagos Islands c. 1813

After an hour of leisurely strolling up the dusty trail through the Palo Santo forest we arrive at the crater and gradually ascend to a good view of the salt lake and mine below. The mine was last used during the 1950's and 60's as a source of sea salt for locals and for export to the mainland.

This is a good area to see the infamous feral goats of Galapagos. At one time there were an estimated 100,000 goats on Isla Santiago. All were descendants of goats released onto the island by buccaneers, whalers, early fishermen and salt miners in hopes they would proliferate. Well, proliferate they did to the point of seriously out competing the islands native Galapagos Tortoise.

Feral goats on James Island, Galapagos
Jeff Waugh
Feral goats on Santiago

The national park and the Darwin Station undertook a goat extermination program on Santiago and other islands in the 1970's and 80's and still continue some form of program today. Goats were successfully exterminated on some islands, but not on Santiago . The size of the island and its rugged terrain were factors too great for the hired guns (until very recently).

We are able to take a break at the viewpoint before returning on the same trail to the beach and a refreshing swim with the sea lions. After a nice rest on the beach we return to our boat for lunch, our afternoon siesta, and perhaps time to write in our journal.

After our afternoon break we are back on the beach and along the trail on the south side of the bay heading for the Fur Seal Grotto. This is an open visitor site and a great place to take some time for yourself, wander along the beach, sit and observe the wildlife, or swim and snorkel with the Galapagos Fur Seals. This is one of my favorite places!


Fur Seal in the Grotto, James Bay, Galapagos
Jeff Waugh
In the fur seal grotto
* It is no longer permitted to swim in the fur seal grotto

"Into the fur seal grotto at Puerto Egas with fur seals and sea lions upside down with flippers out of water. I assume the same position to see the world differently, but then only long enough to run out of air and turn myself back around for a fresh breath. Swimming upside down underneath fur seals looking up at them bewildered. What is the meaning of this interspecies confrontation? A fur seal nibbles at my flipper and speeds away as I pursue turning weightless twists through the rays of light like rays of photons that sparkle through our bubbles rising to burst on the surface." - My journal


The grotto is a collapsed and flooded lava tube that provides some protection from rough seas for fur seals. These fur seals can be wonderfully playful in the water, bit very shy on land. I remember one time (when it was permitted to swim in the grotto) when a fur seal took one of my thongs from along the side of the grotto and swam off with it. It took me about 15 minutes to get it from him as he and his friends teased me with it as I swam after them. 
Fur Seals at the Fur Seal Grotto, James Bay, Galapagos
Jeff Waugh
Fur seals at the grotto...

Unfortunately, the fur seals were hunted almost to extinction during the fur sealing era of the last century. Thanks to protection of the Galapagos Islands by the national park, the population is doing very well.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron, James Bay, Galapagos
Jeff Waugh
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Always standing somewhere along the cliff at the grotto are a pair of Yellow-crowned Night Herons. They are usually standing in exactly the same spot, but at high tide do move along the grotto looking for fish - paying no or very little attention to the human visitors. I have also observed Lava Herons and Striated Herons in this very same spot.
I once observed a Galapagos Hawk attack and devour a Marine Iguana near the grotto. Galapagos Hawks often frequent the area as there is a good population of iguanas along the beach. Besides iguanas these hawks feed on Lava Lizards and scavenge for whatever else they may find.

Marine Iguana at James Bay, Santiago Island
Jeff Waugh
Marine Iguana at James Bay

Galapagos Hawk, James Bay, Galapagos
Jeff Waugh
Galapagos Hawk
"17 February 1980 Puerto egas A.M. juvenile hawk observed along lava rocks on way to fur seal grotto. Then flew on further to grotto. There observed one half hour later feeding on marine iguana. Observed for 45 minutes.

Appeared disturbed at presence of large numbers of tourists (10) and noise made by tourists (loud talking). Observed feeding when small number of people present and no noise.

Ate fore half of iguana in my presence. 1 other hawk observed flying overhead. Finally flew off with half of iguana in talons to some Castela sp. bushes in shade on ground. Probably disturbed by tourists.

Fed by holding onto iguana with both talons and pulling at flesh with a twisting motion. Observed swallowing iguana foot with claws and leg attached. Highly mottled bird. Very light in coloration. Orange eye." - My Journal

After a wonderful afternoon with lots of time to observe and ponder, we wander back along the rocky shore to the landing beach. Along the way we here some chattering and wonder what's going on. It's a pair of American Oystercatchers that seem to be giving the young one a hard time.

We also sit and observe a Lava Heron standing still and patient.

Lava Heron, James Bay, Galapagos
Jeff Waugh Lava Heron

We return to the boat at our own pace, and before dusk (national park regulation). We dine in comfort before pulling up anchor and cruising north and west...

To Fernandina



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The Galapagos Archipelago
Baltra (Arrival)
Santa Cruz - Caleta Tortuga Negra
San Salvador - Sullivan Bay
San Salvador - James Bay
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Hood Island - Gardner Bay
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