San Cristobal
N. Seymour
Galapagos Islands
Santa Cruz (Indefatigable)
Giant Tortoise
Giant Tortoise

Santa Cruz is the second largest island in the Galapagos and something of a hub for the archipelago. The small town of Puerto Ayora in the southwest of this large, round volcanic island is the economic center of the Islands, with the largest population of the four inhabited islands (approx. 10,000). Tourism, including refurbishing and resupplying yachts, along with fishing and boat-building, are major sources of commerce Puerto Ayora is home to both the Galapagos National Park and Charles Darwin Research Station, the center of the great restorative efforts taking place in the park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We visited the Giant Tortoise Breeding and Rearing Program run by the research station, which began by rescuing the remaining 16 tortoises on the island of Espanola in the 1970s. This program has restored the population of animals there to over 1,000 today. We saw many of these animals, with their sweet ET necks and faces, from hatchlings to juveniles to large, distinguished individuals like Lonesome George, the last of his particular race of tortoise, may be 150 years old!

A highlight oof the trip is a visit to the Santa Cruz Highlands, where the sparse, dry coastal vegetation transitions to lush wet fields and forests overgrown with moss and lichens. Our visit to the Tortoise Reserve enabled us view these friendly ancient creatures in their natural setting. This extends to the adjacent pasturelands, where farmers have given tortoise safe quarter in exchange for allowing paying visitors to see them. The best times to see tortoises here is during the cool wet season from June through December. Another attraction close by is a very large lava tube. A wooden stairway descends to the mouth of its arched entrance and continues underground to the narrow passage that marks its exit.

To the west we visit Las Bachas, a sandy white-coral beach that is a major egg-laying site for sea turtles. Bachas are notches, and the beach's name refers to the indentations left in the sand by both laying turtles and their departing hatchlings. On the shore, there are marine iguanas and in the lagoon, flamingos are commonly seen.

Then onward for a visit to Dragon Hill (Cerro Dragon) which is a brackish water lagoon that attracts flamingos, common stilts, pintail ducks and other species of birds. There is a short walk up a small hill, which rewards us with a nesting site for iguanas and a great view!

© Photos copyright Nova Fisher 2008