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Once the site of a salt mine, Puerto Egas is today probably the best visitor site on Santiago (James) Island. The easy walk along wide trails and a scenic shoreline is a great chance to see birds, marine iguanas, sea lions, Sally Lightfoot crabs and the elusive Galapagos Fur Seal.
It's a wet landing on the black-sand beach, and visitors are likely to see a colony of sea lions up-close as they put their socks and shoes back on. The trail continues up through a break in the low ledge adjacent to the sea. Off to the left are the remains of the salt mine, which include some half-ruined buildings and a large, flat area used as a soccer field. This is a special place: it has been designated as a soccer field by the National Park and is one of only a few areas outside of the cities where the crew is allowed to freely disembark and play for a few hours, and the ship crews look forward to the visit as a chance to get ashore and blow off some steam. The owner of the salt mine, which lasted for a few years in the 1960's, was Hector Egas, and he left his name behind as well as the ruined buildings and some rusty equipment. The mine itself, a volcanic cone that has a small, shallow lake which fills up with salt water, is off-limits to visitors because it is home to flamingos.
The wide trail leads into the interior of the island, and visitors are likely to see some of the famous finches that were so important to Charles Darwin. It's also common to spot a Smooth-billed Ani, a large bird that looks a little like a crow. This is an introduced species and efforts are being made to remove it from the islands.
Later, the trail leads down to the shore, where visitors will see more sea lions and marine iguanas. Look closely: you may see a brightly colored yellow warbler darting up and down the shoreline. Although not technically shore birds, these little fellows have learned that the shoreline is a good place to hop along, nipping up bugs as they go.
Guides will usually lead visitors to the rocky volcanic formations along the far shoreline known at the "grottoes." These are great places to see marine iguanas and sea lions. They're also home to the seldom-seen Galapagos fur seal. At a glance, they're hard to tell from sea lions, but your guide will point out the lush coat and shorter snout that identifies them.
The rough volcanic rocks make for some interesting walking. Be sure to look for the pool informally known as "Darwin's Toilet" because it fills and empties rapidly with seawater rushing in from underground tunnels. There is also a natural "bridge" great for taking photos. Keep your eye open for isolated tidal pools: check them out, as they often trap stingrays, turtles and other interesting marine life. Even when there are no spectacular sea animals in them, they're a fascinating little ecosystem: look closely and you'll see an abundance of minnows, mollusks, plant life and more.
The visit to Puerto Egas takes about two hours.