Ecuador // The Galápagos Islands //

Playa Espumilla, Buccaneer Cove and Sulivan Bay


North of Puerto Egas, on the other side of a lava flow, lies Playa Espumilla, a tawny beach couched in mangroves, favoured by marine turtles as a nesting ground. Feral pigs that dig up and eat turtle eggs have been a serious problem here in the past, but a recovery is expected following the completion of the eradication programme. A trail leads inland from the beach, weaving through the mangroves alongside a salty lagoon into thick vegetation, home to Darwin’s finches and flycatchers.

Many boats cruise by Buccaneer Cove, roughly 8km north of Puerto Egas and a favourite hide-out of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century freebooters looking to careen their boats and stock up on food and water. Fifty-metre tuff cliffs, spattered with guano, taper down to a short, dusky beach and then rise in the north forming pinnacles and spurs. Pre-Columbian pottery shards discovered here led archeologist and explorer Thor Heyerdahl to suggest mainland fishermen had used the cove as a campsite long before the arrival of the pirates, probably in the wet season when a freshwater stream ran down to the beach.

On the eastern side of Santiago, Sulivan Bay, named after Bartholomew James Sulivan, a lieutenant on the Beagle, is one for lava fans. A trail leads across a vast, century-old flow of pahoehoe lava, a petrified lake of rumpled ooze, intestinal squiggles and viscous tongues, punctuated by oddities like hornitos, solidified pimples made by bursts of gas, and moulds of tree trunks that vaporized in the heat. Two large tuff cones dominate the lava field, and in the cracks and crevices you’ll see the layers of previous flows beneath. In this barren landscape, the pioneering Mollugo and the lava cactus Brachycereus are the only plants that can eke out life.

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