Sombrero Chino Island Tour

Sombrero Chino Island Galapagos

The name Sombrero Chino means “Chinese Hat” and it’s simple to understand why: this islet off the coast of Santiago is shaped like an old-fashioned Chinaman’s hat, a gently sloping cone rising out of the clear Galapagos ocean. Sombrero Chino has captivated tourists for as long as they have been to Galapagos because of its unique form. Although it is one of the smaller Galapagos Islands, it boasts a fantastic visiting site with an outstanding vista!

The beach, volcanic scenery, and clear seas provide a stunning visual contrast. From the island overlook, visitors may also enjoy stunning Galapagos vistas. The Chinese Hat snorkeling site comes highly recommended as well.

Sombrero Chino, like the majority of the Galapagos Islands, is volcanic in nature. The adjacent Santiago Island volcano erupted thousands of years ago, blasting rocks and building what is known as a “spatter cone,” which is essentially a mountain composed of lava and debris from an erupting volcano. The mountain eroded away over time, and the ocean formed a passage between the Santiago Volcano and its spatter cone offspring.

Despite its convenient location, Sombrero Chino draws fewer tourists than other Galapagos Islands locations. This is because it is partially protected by the National Park Service. Because the island is so small, it is more prone to overcrowding, and access is limited to a few visiting ships in order to protect the fragile environment.

How to Get to Sombrero Chino Island

Sombrero Chino Island is located on the southern shore of Santiago Island. Today, the only opportunity to visit is on a Galapagos cruise that follows the northern itinerary circle. Check tour schedules carefully because Chinese Hat is not often included.

The limited size of the island complicates the conservation efforts of the Galapagos National Park. The island’s lava flows and fields are fragile and brittle. Only smaller cruise boats are permitted to visit Chinese Hat Island in order to protect the island from being eroded by excessive human traffic.

Wildlife in Sombrero Chino

  • A modest Galapagos sea lion colony, Marine iguanas, Sally lightfoot crabs, and a variety of shore birds may be found on Chinese Hat’s white sand coral beach.
  • Galapagos penguins can occasionally be seen on the rocks of Chinese Hat island or feeding in the ocean. Visitors who are lucky enough may be able to snorkel with penguins here.
  • Snorkel at Sombrero Chino Island to see Whitetip reef sharks and other shark species, as well as sea lions and Galapagos fish.

Exploring Sombrero Chino Island

Chinese Hat has just one landing site due to its modest size, but the list of available activities is extensive.

A short trip on land is required to experience the breathtaking views from the Chinese Hat Island. On the shore, you may see animals. Swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking are all possible on the calm seas (if your yacht carries kayaks aboard).

Sombrero Chino is near Santiago Island, with yachts anchoring in the pristine blue strait. The tourist route begins on a beautiful beach. We spotted vivid red Sally Lightfoot crabs and marine iguanas along the way. The trail also passes an endemic Galapagos sea lion colony before traveling across a lava field.

Check out the lava cactus blooming in the fissures. Also, keep a look out for the American Oystercatcher, a wading bird with a unique orange beak, on the beach. We also caught a glimpse of a few lava lizards on the trail. Our walk ended with a breathtaking vista of a cliff where waves crash into the coastline below.

The clifftop offers stunning views of Santiago and the Bartolome Islands.  The vista of the pounding waves and rocky beach is stunning. According to our guide, Galapagos penguins occasionally rest on rocky outcrops and ledges above the water. This is an excellent location for landscape photography, so take a minute to enjoy the beautiful landscape.

Snorkeling on Sombrero Chino Island

Sombrero Chino is also well-known for its great Galapagos snorkeling spot. The waters are shielded by adjacent Santiago island, making them ideal for swimming and snorkeling. The seas around here are quite chilly, making them ideal feeding grounds for Galapagos marine creatures. Remember to bring an underwater camera since the coral reef attracts colorful fish and reef sharks.

Snorkeling with Galapagos penguins is a bucket-list experience, but it is hit-or-miss, so you must be lucky. Whitetip reef sharks are regular sightings, but don’t be alarmed; they’re shy creatures who aren’t hostile to humans. Playful sea lions and gentle turtles frequently approach snorkelers to inspect them. Colorful fish, particularly Parrotfish and Puffers, flutter over the reef. Dolphins and whale sharks may also make an appearance on occasion.

If your Galapagos boat has sea kayaks, this is a great site for moderate paddling about the region. The waves are typically transparent, so investigate what you discover underneath you.

Best Time to Visit Sombrero Chino

The surrounding waters of Sombrero Chino are usually calm, making a visit here pleasurable at any time of year. In general, the fauna does not fluctuate considerably throughout the year, thus a visit may be made at any time.

However, it is worth noting that the currents in the oceans around the Galapagos Islands are often stronger during the cooler, drier season, particularly in August and September.

While this may not be as enticing on the surface, during the cooler, drier months (June to November), the Humboldt current carries more nutrients to the water in this area, attracting more animals.

On the other hand, there is plenty of wildlife during the hotter, wetter season, so this isn’t a major factor when visiting.

Bottom Line

Chinese Hat Island is a delightful and worthy spot on the Galapagos islands to explore. Its beauty and vistas make it an ideal location for landscape photography. Many of the expected Galapagos animal species, as well as unexpected surprises. If Chinese Hat is on your Galapagos cruise itinerary, you are in for a treat.

About the author

Oleg Galeev

I'm Oleg, and together with my wife, we've explored Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, journeying through more than 20 cities (Quito, Cuenca, Banos, Tena, Puyo, Guayaquil, Riobamba, Otavalo, Mindo and more) and nearly every island in the Galapagos (including iconic ones such as Bartolome Island, San Cristobal Island, Isabela Island, Santa Cruz Island and more). In this blog, I give you my real thoughts about each place we visited. This info can help anyone planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands or mainland Ecuador. I'm just a traveler, not a tour company, so I'm not trying to sell anything. That means I'll tell you the truth—both the good and the bad — about traveling in Ecuador based on what we experienced.

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