Bartolomé consists of an extinct volcano and a variety of red, orange, green, and glistening black volcanic formations. It is the slope of this volcano that you climb to reach the viewpoint. The trail across the desolate landscape (rated as moderate) is on a boardwalk, which protects the fragile lava. Fabian mentioned that there is talk of introducing boardwalks on other islands for the same reason – maybe eventually all of them. I can see that this would certainly help with the conservation of these special landscapes, and would have other benefits too, making it harder for contrary visitors to wander off the permitted path, and also making the going underfoot a little easier for the less able walkers. But I can’t help feeling that a proliferation of raised wooden paths would detract considerably from the appearance of the islands and the experience of exploring them.
Anyway, back to Bartolomé. The boardwalk here alternates between some fairly even steps, some more shallow ones, and a few stretches without any steps at all, where you get a chance to catch your breath and admire the view. There are also a couple of points where you can detour to a viewpoint to the side of the path. There are 375 steps altogether and as I had been having a few problems with my knee I found it a little hard going, although not too bad if I took my time. The main challenge was trying to use my hiking pole to take the weight off my knee, as it kept wedging in the slats of the boardwalk! I could avoid this if I watched where I was placing it, but that meant missing the views and the striking scenery.
The landscape around you as you climb is rather desolate, especially on a dull day such as when we visited. The black lava, crumbled on the lower slopes and piled into bizarre formations such as spatter and tuff cones and lava tubes higher up, is enlivened with plants of the few species that thrive in this environment. The most striking and prominent is the lava cactus (photo three), which is often the first plant to colonise landscapes scarred by volcanic eruptions. You will also see the pale leaves of the tiguilia dotted over the dark volcanic sand (photo four). Its leaves are covered with small gray hairs, which help prevent moisture evaporation and reflect sunlight.
There are very few animals here. You will certainly see some Lava lizards enjoying the warmth of the rocks, or even of the boards, and of course there will be birds overhead, but not the proliferation of wildlife you may have become accustomed to already on the other islands. The main point of this visit is not the walk and the wildlife, it’s the destination at the end of the trail .
After our climb we returned to the Angelito and had a choice of snorkelling around Pinnacle Rock, swimming or spending time on the small beach. We chose the latter (Chris is not a fan of snorkelling or any form of swimming, and I had already had a good session that morning and felt like doing something more relaxing). Fabian came along with us and the two other members of the group who had also opted for the beach, as tourists aren’t allowed here (or on most other visitor sites) other than in the company of a guide. Meanwhile another crew member went with the snorkellers.
We had an enjoyable and relaxing time spotting a number of bird species, including a Galápagos penguin that swam up and down, parallel to the beach, right opposite where we were sitting. Other sightings included a great blue heron, pelican, Yellow Warbler, and a booby diving repeatedly for fish in their distinctively direct fashion. There were also some sleepy Galápagos sea lions, although not as many as on some of the other beaches we visited.
Much of the time though we simply relaxed and chatted to Fabian and the others, and enjoyed the views of nearby Pinnacle Rock.
On the way to our wet landing on the beach we made a brief detour in the pangas to explore the rocks around Pinnacle Rock. This is the very dramatic lava formation that features on so many photos of the Galápagos Islands. It was formed when magma expelled from the volcano reached the sea. The cold water reacted with the molten rock and caused it to explode. Particles splattered down in the shape of cone often known as a tuff cone or cinder cone, and fused together to create this huge rock which is in fact made up of many layers of these lava particles.
The rock was used as a target for US airmen during World War II. More recently it has featured in the 2003 film, “Master and Commander.” I haven’t seen the film, but t was clear from Fabian’s comments about it that they took some liberties with the geography of the islands, making it seem as if certain places were on the same island when in fact they are not – but that’s so often the case with film-makers! He offered to play the DVD for us one evening on board but we never got round to it, so I plan to look out for it so I can see it some time.
From the panga we were able to see a few of the Galápagos penguins that make their nests here, having established a small breeding colony in a cave behind the rock. There were also some Sally Lightfoot crabs here, although not in the large numbers we saw on some other islands.
This is my last tip on Bartolomé. Click here to return to my intro page.
The landing here is a dry one, and as you can see in the photo, we had someone to meet us as we set foot on the island! This is Geoff trying not to step on any stray flippers ;-) The stone steps are very even and easy to walk on – I think they must be fairly new. If you look at what’s going on in the panga you can see our usual dry landing routine – the boat would pull in close to the landing spot, we would take off our life jackets and pass them to the back of the boat, and a crew member or Fabian would be on hand at the bow to help us out – one at a time, from alternate sides of the boat for balance, and using the recommended secure grip which is easy to do but hard to describe! This is the second panga arriving (I was on the first) and as soon as all of us were on shore we started the climb to the summit.
But as we did so there was something interesting to distract us beside the path. Another guide had arranged the bones of a long-dead Galápagos sea lion in a rough approximation of their arrangement in life (photo three). The bleached white bones looked rather striking on the dark ground, and it also gave us an opportunity to see the shape of the skull, the broad strong shoulder blades, and some of the bones of the flippers.
Once we’d had a good look and Fabian had explained some details of the skeleton, we started out on the Trail to the summit
Lava Lizards are endemic to the Galapagos Islands and there are seven different species. The Galapagos Lava Lizard (Microlophus Albemarlensis) can be seen on several islands, and then there are the Española Lava Lizard, Floreana Lava Lizard, Marchena Lava Lizard, Pinta Lava Lizard, Pinzón Lava Lizard and the San Cristóbal Lava Lizard. There is never more than one species on each island. The Lava Lizards are common in the dry areas near the coasts.
Lava Lizards are between 15 - 30 centimetres long, and it is the Floreana Lava Lizard that is the smallest and the Española Lava Lizard that is the longest. Colour and marking varies between species and the habitat they are living in. And like other lizards they change colour because of temperature or if they feel threatened. But in general one can say that the males are larger than the females, and often have a brighter colour with a distinct pattern. When the males are mature they are brown/black under the throat, while mature females have an orange throat.
Lava Lizards are active during the day. They are omnivores and feed on plants, but mostly eat insects. They can even eat baby lava lizards (I have seen that at Tortuga Bay on Isla Santa Cruz).
One of the highlights of Galapagos Islands is to see the amazing Marine Iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus). They are endemic to the islands and they are also the only lizards in the word that swim in the sea. The Marine Iguanas spend most of their time on land, but they feed on algae and seaweed. There are seven subspecies of Marine Iguanas in the archipelago and they can be found on all islands, often in the shore zone, on the lava rocks.
During millions of years the Marine Iguana has evolved to be well adapted to its environment. With a flattened snout and sharp teeth they can effectively feed on the algae on the rocks. Their tail helps them swim under water and with their long claws they can stand firmly on the rocks. Sometimes you can see the Marine Iguanas snort, that is when they get rid of excess sea salt with help from salt-eliminating glands in their nostrils. Most Marine Iguanas are black or dark grey in colour but on some islands the male can have a red or green colouring, a colouring that becomes brighter during the mating season.
Males become around 1m long, but some subspecies become longer and others shorter. The females are shorter than the males, and the spines along their back are not as large as on the male.
Females and young iguanas feed along the shore when it is low tide. It is mostly the males that feed in the sea and they can stay up to an hour under water. As the water is cold the iguanas must get warm when they come up on land, and then you can often see them basking in the sun with their face to the sun and their body raised from the ground (they must get warm, but not too warm so by raising the body they will allow the air to circulate under the body).
The breeding season is from November - March. The females will then lay the eggs in an underground nest where they are incubated for three months. The baby iguanas are small and are therefore vulnerable to predators. They risk getting eaten by owls, hawks herons or mocking birds.
I have only got one photo of a Marin Iguana on Isla San Bartolomé. It was on the boardwalk, running away as we approached, so the photo is not good at all.
Bartolomé is 168 metres high, but the trail stops a little below this, at 115 metres. – although I am not sure if this is the height at the end of the boardwalk steps, or at the top of the stony slope that you can walk up to get a little higher.
Whatever the exact height, from this point you can see Pinnacle Rock, Bartolomé’s “trademark”, immediately below you, and beyond it, nearby Santiago and the black lava flows at Sullivan Bay, beyond it Daphne Major and Minor, and in the channel between here and there, some other smaller islets and rocky outcrops. Further away Santa Cruz, Baltra, North Seymour and Rabida are all visible. The contrast of white sand beach, green scrub-land behind it, volcanic island and blue sea is dramatic and memorable. It looked great even on a dull day, and photos I have seen show that on a bright one it is spectacular. It’s not difficult to see why this is the most photographed spot in the Galápagos!
We spent some time here taking photos and relaxing after the climb. Fabian offered to do “couple photos” for each of us – you can see ours as photo three here. He also did some trick ones for some people, creating the illusion that they were leaning on Pinnacle Rock – very clever, but I prefer the straight-forward version. This is such a great view it doesn’t need any gimmicks!
After a while though it was time to descend and return to the Angelito. There was more to do here for the second half of the afternoon, and a choice of activities. Some opted to snorkel but we were heading for the beach.