Santa Cruz Island

Nov 08, 2017 - National Geographic Islander


It is a beautiful day, albeit a little chilly. At this time of the years it is normal for it to drizzle early in the morning and a few hours later it clears up. Santa Cruz Island is the second biggest of the 17 islands which form Galapagos and it is the economical hub. The National Geographic Islander is anchored at Academy Bay on the southern slope of this island which has the largest human settlement.

Today we visited Puerto Ayora. This is a vibrant village with hotels, restaurants, banks and schools. Here we went to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station. This visit was a great opportunity to understand the natural history of the Galapagos giant tortoises and the human history as well.

A very interesting part of the visit was learning about the conservation programs carried out by the Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Research Station. As we explored this area we could identify two types of tortoises- the saddle back and the dome shaped. These animals are so different and so specialized to completely different ecosystems. Saddlebacks belong to dry dessert islands and dome shaped are typically found on humid regions of the higher islands.

At mid morning we still had some activities on the agenda. We boarded buses to explore the cloud forest of Santa Cruz. As we headed to the highlands we stopped to visit a local family that runs a small sugar and rum business. They have been doing this for decades in addition to the production of coffee. It was very interesting to learn about the life of the local farmers and also to taste their produce. On our way to the farm we stopped to see lava tunnels, incredible volcanic formations built by active volcanoes more than a million years ago.

Once in the highlands we explored the forest and grasslands. The highlights in this area are the Galápagos giant tortoises. These large reptiles still dominate the cloud forest of Santa Cruz. In the 60s there used to be around 3,000. In the last decade they have made a great comeback due to conservation work. Today we can say there are more than 4,000 tortoises!

Back to the town our guests enjoyed the charming town of Puerto Ayora. Then in the evening some local musicians and dancers came to our ship to perform and to have a great time with our guests. 

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About the Author

Christian Saa

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Christian was born on the island of Isabela in the Galápagos archipelago. He grew up on a farm and had a magical childhood devoid of cars, electricity, telephones—just pure nature and playful sea lions along the beach. At the age of seven, he moved with his family to Santa Cruz Island, the economic hub of the Galápagos Islands. His father began to work in tourism and took Christian around the islands during school vacations. It was during this time that Christian learned to love and understand the real value of this unique archipelago, and he decided to devote his life to its stewardship. A lifelong passion for nature and its creatures took root in his heart, and he eventually decided to become a naturalist, which he has now been doing for 18 years now.

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