SANTA CRUZ

ISLAND

It is located on the center of the archipelago, the reason why it is the biggest human settlement, with a population of about 18 thousand people. This island is the most developed in terms of human population that started when one man was abandoned and survived in an old scientific settlement as the Course of the Tortoise tells. The highlands of Santa Cruz are one of the biggest green areas of the archipelago; therefore agricultural activities started on the early 40s and grew rapidly from there. The Charles Darwin Research Station was developed in town on 1959 and has allowed scientific research and conservation projects progress. In between the facilities there is the tortoise breeding center which objective is to rebuild an almost extinct population in Española island where only six individuals where remaining. Today, these efforts have restored the population to over one thousand individuals. Also named Indefatigable after the military British vessel,

The largest accessible lava tunnels.  Underneath the ground hundreds of lava tunnels have been formed by different temperature kinds of lava flow. Some of these tubes are several kilometers long and even though most have collapsed with time and erosion, a couple of them are still there to be visited. They offer the visitor the chance to understand why the stories of pirates and treasures are related to these geological formations.

The biggest tortoises in accessible visitor site. The highlands of Santa Cruz have a big wild population of Tortoises, they walk freely around the private and National Park lands. In our visit to this area, one can notice the difference in size from these animals to others in other visiting sites. There are 15 subspecies of land tortoises in the Galapagos, 4 from which are extinct. They present two different tortoise shell shapes, the Saddleback and the Dome shape. Santa Cruz has tree tortoise subspecies that show both kinds of shells and allow visitors to notice the difference and once understand the evolutionary process that shaped them into this giant prehistoric like animals.

This island has six vegetation zones, each one very different to the others. The contrast of the arid or littoral zone located on the base of the island just a few meters from the ocean, and the scalesia and miconia zones, only to be found in San Cristobal and in this island at about 700 meters above sea level, is portrayed by the landscape and the ecosystems. One of the rarest bush forests stands in the center of the island, spread on top of the Twin Craters.

This island also has some of the largest mangrove areas, a very important ecosystem for all marine life and many terrestrial species. These zones are the nursery of most marine fish and shark.

Tortoises, lava tunnels, white-sand beaches and a picturesque modern town bring lift to one of Galapagos greenest, most tropical islands.

SITES OF VISIT

HIGHLANDS

ISLAND INFORMATION

Age: 0.7 – 1.5 millions years

Area: 612.6 mi2 /986 km2

Maximum Elevation: 2,834 ft /864 m

DESCRIPTION

A 45-minute bus ride will take us to the Santa Cruz highlands, located to the northwest of Ayora Port, where we will find a natural reserve with giant land tortoises in their natural habitat. These enormous and slow- moving reptiles are responsible for the island’s name and therefore, approaching them in their humid and forested abode is always an inspiring adventure. They can weigh between 250 and 300 kg and can live up to 200 years. They have few predators; their principal threat has always been men.

We will also visit lava tubes or tunnels, which are the result of the many eruptions that have occurred on the island since its formation.

The Twin Craters or Gemelos are, geologically speaking, seen as sink holes and its formation is not directly due to volcanic action. They were created as a result of the collapse or sinking of surface materials into cracks or manholes. It’s a great place to spot vermilion flycatchers as we walk inside an endemic Scalesia forest.

Once the visit has concluded, we return to Ayora Port for some shopping and sightseeing time. Do not forget to bring money.

  • Disembarking: Dry landing.
  • Type of Terrain: Flat, sometimes the trails can be muddy and slippery.
  • Difficulty level: Intermediate.
  • Duration: 45 minutes drive, 1:30 hour hike.
  • Physical condition required: Medium.
  • Highlights: Opportunity to observe giant tortoises, a lava tunnel, Scalesia forest, vermilion  flycatcher, the Twin Craters: unique geologic formations.

BACHAS BEACH

ISLAND INFORMATION

Age: 0.7 – 1.5 millions years

Area: 612.6 mi2 /986 km2

Maximum Elevation: 2,834 ft /864 m

DESCRIPTION

It’s a site full of sun, beaches and water, where we can find the remains of barges that sank and had once been used by the United States when they had an airbase on the island of Baltra during World War II. That is why the beach is called “Bachas” because the word “barges” in English pronunciation was hard for local people, so in the attempt to maintain the same word, the locals came up with the Spanish phonetics.

We shall walk for about 10 minutes toward the coastal ponds that can be found at both tips of the beach, because here we can usually find flamingos feeding.

  • Disembarking: Wet landing.
  • Type of Terrain: White sandy beaches
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Duration: 1 hour hike, 1 hour snorkeling/swimming.
  • Physical condition required: low.
  • Highlights: Behind the beach lies two small flamingo ponds where they can be spotted occasionally with iguanas, coastal birds, Darwin finches, mockingbirds, and gulls, as well as interesting native and endemic vegetation, red and black mangroves, salt bushes, and much more. We can also promenade along the beach.

DRAGON HILL

ISLAND INFORMATION

Age: 0.7 – 1.5 millions years

Area: 612.6 mi2 /986 km2

Maximum Elevation: 2,834 ft /864 m

DESCRIPTION

To the northwest of Santa Cruz Island, there is Dragon Hill, where you will find various species of flora and fauna. Behind the beach, you shall enjoy the pond that is often home to flamingos. Along the trail, you can see a variety of reptiles, especially land iguanas, which look like dragons because of their claws and spiky crests. Young iguanas are easily preyed upon predatory birds and snakes; otherwise, they can live up to 60 years of age.

You will see extensive vegetation such as a forest of holy stick trees (burseras), whose appearance changes depending on the season. The forest is home to a variety of birds, such as mockingbirds, Darwin finches, yellow warblers and Galapagos doves.

  • Disembarking: Dry or wet landing.
  • Type of terrain: A rocky trail for the first 300 meters that later becomes eroded tuff, which makes it very easy to walk on towards the end.
  • Difficulty level: Intermediate.
  • Duration: 2-hour hike, 30 minutes snorkeling.
  • Physical condition required: High.
  • Highlights: The trail that leads up to Dragon Hill offers a beautiful view of the bay which is a site for a number of reintroduced land iguanas, find Darwin finches and mockingbirds. There is also a beautiful view of the Palo Santo “holy stick tree” forest.

BLACK TURTLE COVE

ISLAND INFORMATION

Age: 0.7 – 1.5 millions years

Area: 612.6 mi2 /986 km2

Maximum Elevation: 2,834 ft /864 m

DESCRIPTION

On the north shore of Santa Cruz Island, accessible only by sea, we’ll find four species of mangrove crowd from the shore out into the lagoon. We will also see turtles swimming and poking their heads above the surface of the calm waters while fish, rays and small sharks circle below.

White-tipped reef sharks and rays can be seen beneath the boat, as well as sea birds, pelicans, herons and egrets feeding in the cove. This cove has been declared as a “Turtle Sanctuary”.

  • Disembarking: None
  • Type of terrain: Dinghy ride
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Physical condition required: Low
  • Highlights: Four species of mangrove, declared as a “Turtle Sanctuary”

Interested to visit this island? Available itineraries:

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