A local Ecuadorian friend and fan of my photography once told me that if I could only visit one place in the Galapagos, it should be Bartolome Island. Unfortunately, my first visit to the islands was filled with learning the ropes and last minute travel deals and one of the unfortunate lessons I learned is that it can be tough to get tickets for a day cruise to Bartolome.

Like other destinations in the Galapagos, Bartolomé has a limited number of visitors permitted on the island. Only certain boats are allowed to take people on certain days and that means finding a spot on a boat can be tough, especially during the high season. But it isn’t impossible. I was successful in visiting Bartolomé on a second trip. And I was able to do so by purchasing last minute tickets through Moonrise Travel on Santa Cruz Island. In fact, the easiest way to schedule last minute trips to a specific destination is to work with an agency… someone who knows exactly which boats are running on which days and where they are going. They can call the crew directly and see if their are vacancies. If you don’t care where you go and just want a great travel deal, you can often work with the captain or crew of the boats themselves.

The trip out to Bartolomé is a long one that begins well before you reach a boat. Your morning will be an early one with a guide picking you up at your hotel, a 45 minute drive across the island, and then an hour and half by boat to Bartolomé. Along the way, you pass the Daphnes, a pair of small islands located to the north of Isla Santa Cruz. Then the boat heads northwest towards Bartolomé. Depending on the trip you have arranged, you could be combining your visit with a snorkeling adventure. If so, you may also add another island to your life list.

A Daphne, one of two islands just off the coast of Santa Cruz, the Galapagos.
Greater Daphne Island, off the coast of Santa Cruz Island, the Galapagos.

Santiago Island

We stopped at Santiago Island, also known as James Island and sometimes San Salvador Island, and snorkeled in Sullivan Bay. It was an excellent morning stop. The beach itself was worth exploring with lizards and Lava herons and diving Blue Footed Boobies. The sand was burning hot and the nearby black rock only intensified the heat. But all that lovely sun meant spectacular landscape photos with turquoise blue waters, sandy white beaches, jet black rocky shores, and the uniquely shaped Bartolomé in the distance.

Blue-footed Boobies, Santiago Island, the Galapagos.
Lava Heron, Santiago Island, the Galapagos.
View of Bartolome Island from Santiago Island, the Galapagos.

Once back on the boat, we headed towards a famous destination on Bartolomé, Pinnacle Rock. Aficionados of naval films might recognize the location from Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, a movie about a British Naval captain who pushes ship and crew around the point of South America while in pursuit of a French war vessel. The huge rock is unmistakeable and serves as a magnet for photographers, myself included.

Pinnacle Rock, heading towards Bartolome from Santiago Island, the Galapagos.
Pinnacle Rock, looking from Bartolome towards Santiago Island, the Galapagos.

Bartolomé Island

Once past pinnacle rock, our boat slowed down in a small cove with a sandy shore line bordered by a dock built out of lava rock. The downside of traveling on a large boat is that it can’t often approach some of the docks on these islands. We took turns boarding a small Zodiac and made our way to land, our small-boat captain maneuvering past crashing waves. This small part of the trip was not for the faint of heart.

Approaching Bartolome by Zodiac

Once on land, we started hiking. And although we saw a lone pelican looking out to sea, the signs of other life were few and far between. Bartolomé was definitely created by volcanic eruption and the island sees very little rain. The landscape fades from stunning orange reds to dull ochre yellows to a crusty black like burnt toast. Stark sunshine guaranteed heavy shadows, especially since we were hiking near midday. I can only imagine how stunning the photography could be during the hour of golden light that takes place just before sunset.

The hike on Bartolomé ends with a destination in mind – you hike up, up, and up some more, past signs of lava frozen in rocky time, past cactus covered in long yellow spines, past the occasional lizard lazing in the sun, in order to reach a high point on the island. The trail has been built from wood platforms so the up and down is via staircase rather than rocky path. The heat of the day demanded we all drink a lot of water. Please be sure to carry plenty and to bring a hat to protect your head from the equatorial sun. Even during the rainy season, the sun can be punishing when in shines.

Bird's Eye View, Bartolome Island, the Galapagos
Wooden Trail on Bartolome Island, the Galapagos.
Volcanic Landscape, Bartolome Island, the Galapagos.
Landscape, Bartolome Island, the Galapagos.
Lava Cactus, Bartolome Island, the Galapagos.

We gained so much height that our view included not only the tiny Daphnes but the faint shadow of Santa Cruz Island far in the distance. The same view allowed us to see the changing weather pattern. Clouds were gathering in the distance and it was very clear that an afternoon thunderstorm was brewing. The Galapagos Islands are often like that – super sunny one minute, pouring rain the next. It was bizarre to take a photo in one direction and have to take into account stark, bright sunlight and then to turn around and adjust for an incoming dark cloud that threatened to take over the entire horizon.

Daphnes in the Distance, seen from Bartolome Island, the Galapagos
Incoming Storm, Bartolome Island, the Galapagos.
Pinnacle Rock as seen from top of Bartolome Island, the Galapagos

Our trip back in the Zodiac was fraught with urgency as the waves took on a new intensity and the incoming storm threatened to reach us before we could be on our way. Once we had boarded the boat, we headed in the opposite direction of the storm, leaving it and a pod of dolphins in our wake. Snapping photos of marine mammals was an entirely wonderful way to leave Bartolomé.

Daphnes in the Distance, seen from Bartolome Island, the Galapagos
Dolphins just off the coast of Bartolome Island, the Galapagos.

Information For Your Trip

Be prepared for a long boat trip. If you are worried about being seasick, you should purchase medication before you arrive to the Galapagos. Many people like to use a patch and others prefer to take motion sickness pills the night before. I have successfully used seabands, a type of bracelet that works by applying pressure on the insides of your wrists.

Although this trip includes lunch and drinks, it is always a good idea to carry your own bottled water and to bring high energy snacks that you can eat at on the boat. NO FOOD is allowed on the islands.

Weather is bound to change; come prepared for both extreme sunshine and for pouring rain and you won’t be disppointed! Most people bring a small backpack to carry extra items like raincoats or towels.

Santiago Island

Bartolome Island

Daphne Major