Galapagos Islands Travel Blog

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Santa Cruz Island Galapagos

Chances are that your tour will begin here. A ferry from Isla Baltra provides transportation to the north side of Santa Cruz, land land transportation will continue to Puerto Ayora, where cruise vessels are docked.

Unfortunately, Santa Cruz Island is in grave danger as a result of continued development. In fact, it has the largest population of all the Galapagos Islands, with over half of the archipelago’s 20,000+ inhabitants. Its future will depend on a recent moratorium on immigration to the islands and effective regulation of agricultural expansion as well as other indirect impacts of tourism.

Puerto Ayora, the main town and focal point for tourism, lies on the south side of the island. Within walking distance is the Charles Darwin Research Station. Most tours stop by the station at some point during their visit. The walk from town to the research station passes through a unique “forest” of manzanilla, saltbush, and various cacti. Insect, which are relatively under represented on the islands compared to the mainland, abound in various shapes and sizes. Birders will enjoy Darwin’s finches, fly catchers, and Galapagos mockingbirds.

Santa Cruz Island Galapagos Turtles

The research station is important for understanding the magic of the Galapagos Islands and its struggle to survive. At the main visitor’s center are numerous exhibits that describe the archipelago’s natural history, geology, historical issues, and conservation efforts. Slide shows are also presented here in serval different languages. Farther along the main walkway is the tortoise conservation and rearing center. Learn about the natural history of the remaining endemic subspecies, as well as other ongoing projects. In addition, you can visit the center’s tortoise incubation and repartriation facilities, where repopulating efforts continue at full speed. There are several small beaches nearby that are great for relaxing.

Back in town, the ocean front street is a good place to pick up a souvenir or relax with a drink and a sunset view of the Academy Bay. Prices here are a bit higher than on the mainland. Don’t expect at the last minute to find an inexpensive, disposable underwater camera. They cost up to $25 here, compared to $15 in Quito. While you are lounging about near the shoreline, the wildlife – including marine iguanas, pelicans, and other shorebirds – may join you. Pangas, the little rubber motorboats, wait as water taxis at the pier to transport passengers between the island and their boats. Arrange to have a crew member pick you up, or take a water taxi for just over $1.

Just southwest of town lies another interesting sight – Turtle Bay, with one of the nicer beaches in the islands. Take the self guided trail near the Pacifictel  telephone office and walk for about 45 minutes to the white sand beach. There you may find various seabirds, marine iguanas, and perhaps a shark or two.

In the interior of Santa Cruz, you can also explore the highland ecosystem. There are a few trailed areas worth inquiring about if you have an extra day or two on the island before or after a tour, including lava tubes, sinkholes, and a tortoise reserve. There are tours of eight days or longer that explores the highlands, so be sure to inquire if you are interested.

Puerto Ayora is the hub of tourist activity on the islands and has the best modern facilities. Plenty of shops, restaurants, and Post and communications are also available here.

On the north side of the island are a couple of visitor sites for boat tours that generally begin or end at the nearby Baltra Island, a snorkeling destination. Las Bachas offers a beach landing just west of the channel to Baltra Island. There is a good swimming here, as well as a variety of wildlife that includes marine iguanas, crabs and great blue herons. Pink flamingos are sometimes found in the lagoon. Farther west is Caleta Tortuga Negra, a small cove that provides a breeding ground for green sea turtles and is a habitat for reef sharks, rays and blue herons.