Galapagos, Ecuador. The animal landmarks of the Galapagos National Park are the giant tortoise and the hammerhead shark. But the scenic landmark of Galapagos is the volcanic island of Bartolome with its lunar landscape and the enchanting panoramic view of Sullivan Bay. A visit to this island should not be missed on any Galapagos trip. Read on to find out why you shouldn't miss Bartolome and what makes snorkeling here so special.
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Volcanic Isla Bartolome - a Surreal Lunar Landscape
Isla Bartolome is an extinct volcano and was formed 1.5 to 2 million years ago. This makes Bartolome one of the youngest islands of the Galapagos archipelago. Its volcanic origin is hard to miss: A surreal, barren lunar landscape of black, red, orange and greenish lava formations spreads over an area of 1.2 square kilometers.
The volcanic rock is hardly weathered or overgrown. Contrast this with the bright blue sea, a golden sandy beach and a small green mangrove forest in Sullivan Bay. The icing on the cake of the scenery is the bizarre rock needle Pinnacle Rock. Today, Pinnacle Rock is a natural monument. But during the Second World War, the rock needle was the target for US Air Force exercises.
Isla Bartolome is one of the most beautiful landscapes of the archipelago and also offers interesting insights into the evolution of the islands.
The lava flows, rocks and sandy areas have long cooled down but are still extremely hostile to life. The vegetation on this dry island is accordingly sparse. Only some pioneer plants like the endemic Tiquilia nesiotica, the lava cactus and Scalesia bushes grow here. Now and then you can see a lava lizard scurrying over the stones.
The island was named after Sir Bartholomew James Sulivan of the British Navy. He sailed with Charles Darwin on HMS Beagle in 1835 as a lieutenant and chief surveyor.
Bartolome, like most of the islands in the Galapagos archipelago, is uninhabited. It rises to 114 meters above sea level. At the highest point of the island there is a small lighthouse. From up here you have a magnificent panoramic view to the neighboring island of Santiago and over the beach and turquoise sea of Sullivan Bay.
Walk to the Bartolome Viewpoint
Our boat anchored in front of Pinnacle Rock. With the Zodiac we first made a small round to greet the penguins of Bartolome. Afterwards we landed at a narrow concrete dock and could enter the island on dry feet. From here a wooden path leads through the volcanic landscape all the way up to the small lighthouse. That is after all 372 steps. On the way there were always smaller viewing platforms where we stopped and our guide told us interesting facts about the island.
Tip: The climb takes about 45 minutes and is easy to do in sandals. So you don't need to bring sturdy shoes, as you'll be walking on the wooden path the whole time.
Why you should not miss Bartolome Island?
Bartolome is a landmark of the Galapagos Islands and one of the most popular photo motifs of the archipelago. And not without reason. The view of the bay and Pinnacle Rock is magnificent. On a clear day, you should even be able to see up to ten other islands.
But Bartolome also has a lot to offer underwater. Upwelling deep water provides abundant nutrients, making the area particularly interesting for fish. And the small fish in turn attract larger fish, sharks, sea lions, penguins and seabirds.
What makes snorkeling here especially rewarding? With a little luck you can see Galapagos penguins underwater.
Snorkeling with Galapagos Penguins
A special highlight of our day trip was snorkeling with Galapagos penguins. There is a small colony living at Pinnacle Rock and also at the surrounding islands. We went snorkeling at one of the neighboring islands, Sombrero Chino. The penguins hunt here at the rocks for fish and let us watch them. For a longer time I was all alone with the penguins, the other snorkelers of my group were just at another place. The animals swam around me, sometimes came directly to me and looked at me.
Besides the penguins, the schools of colorful fish and the sea turtle were so fascinating that I didn't even notice how cold the water was. Others in my group even encountered a whitetip reef shark.
Tip: The water at Bartolome is cold. Take at least a shorty for snorkeling.
By the way, green sea turtles come to the golden sandy beach of Bartolome from January to March to lay their eggs. Maybe you will be lucky and see some.
How can one visit Bartolome Island?
Most cruise ships and liveaboards call at Bartolome Island. But also the tour operators on Santa Cruz have day trips to Bartholome in their program. The island, is one of the most visited places in Galápagos. Mostly the excursions are combined with snorkeling at Bartholomé or one of the smaller surrounding islands.
The boat trip to Bartolome takes about two hours. In addition, there is a bus ride of about 45 minutes from Puerto Ayora to the Itabaca Channel, where the boats start. The journey sounds awfully long, but there is a lot to see on the way. It is guaranteed not to be boring. First, the highlands of Santa Cruz are well worth seeing. The vegetation is dense and green, the trees overgrown with lichen and you can even spot giant turtles from the bus. Once you are on the boat, make sure you get a seat with a good view. With a little luck you will see jumping mantas or mobulas, dolphins and of course seabirds. Especially when you pass the island of Daphne you have a good chance to see blue footed boobies and nazca boobies.
You can find trekking sandals, waterproof bags, sun hats and everything else you might need for your trip to Bartolome at Bergzeit.
The tour is one of the more expensive day tours on Santa Cruz, but also an absolutely unforgettable experience. We went with Book-ec and paid over $500 for two people. The provider's prices range from $230 to $392 per person, depending on the yacht and availability. Snacks, lunch, coffee and cake were included. The boat was large and very comfortable and our guide extremely engaging. Snorkeling equipment was also included. Wetsuits, however, cost extra. You should definitely have those, at least a shorty. The water was only about 17 degrees in January. It is best to check in advance with your tour operator if wetsuits are available. If necessary, you have to rent a suit in one of the many stores in Puerto Ayora (about 5 euros per day).
Conclusion. Is it worth it?
Bartolome is a very worthwhile excursion in the Galapagos Islands. The island inspires with one of the most beautiful landscapes of the archipelago and certainly the most beautiful panoramic view. And where can you go snorkeling with penguins if not on Bartolome?
Book Recommendations for Galapagos
You want to know where the journey goes? Then I can recommend these books*.
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Recommendations for further Reading
Do you love wildlife as much as I do? Then you might also be interested in my articles about the King Penguins of Tierra del Fuego or Diving with Sea Lions near La Paz, Mexico.