Visit the world famous Charles Darwin Research Center where efforts to protect and preserve the native and endemic animals are developed. Learn about the giant tortoise rearing programs.
The Charles Darwin Research Center was created in 1960 by an international committee in order to promote research, conservation, and education in the Galapagos Islands. The center is located on Isla Santa Cruz, a short walk away from Puerto Ayora. At the center, visitors can tour the Van Straelen Exhibition Center where staff members are available to answer questions about the islands and the ongoing restoration process. The center also runs slide shows (narrated in several languages) that describe the history of the islands and the current conservation efforts.
In addition to the exhibition center, the tortoise rearing house and the adult tortoise house, provide opportunities for visitors to observe the 11 subspecies of tortoises up close. In the rearing house, hatchlings and young tortoises are nurtured until they can be released, at about four years of age, to their home islands. Nearly 2000 young tortoises have been released so far!
Tortoises that cannot be released back into the wild find their home in the adult tortoise house, an area with several different enclosures for the education and protection of tortoises from each subspecies. Handling the tortoises is prohibited, but this is a great place to get close up photos of the tortoises feeding on cacti and snoozing by the artificial pond.
Beyond the tortoises are several shaded patios along the elevated boardwalks that weave throughout the center. Here visitors can take a break from the crowds and observe many of the native bird species, including Darwin's famous finches.
Leon Dormido, "the Sleeping Lion", is a much-photographed rocky formation on the western side of the Island of San Cristobal. The remains of a lava cone eroded by the sea, the two vertical rocks rising 500 feet from the ocean form a small channel that is perfect for zodiac rides. This Galapagos Islands natural monument has become a favorite site for cruises due to the many sea birds that frequent the air and nest on the rocks.
It is also an excellent dive site with tropical reef fish, coral and colorful invertebrates. The mild current passing between the rocks often attracts hammerhead and Galapagos sharks. The water at the bottom is cool and clear, and among the boulders you can expect to see a variety of wrasses, starfish, and angelfish, among others. Sightings of large rays and turtles are not uncommon.
Located between North Seymour and Baltra Island is the small island of Mosquera. The island consists is a long narrow stretch of white sand, rocks, and tide pools. Created by geological uplift, the island is flat rather than the conical shape of the volcanic islands. Mosquera Island is a great place for snorkeling, strolling on the beach, and enjoying wildlife without the tourist crowds common at many of the more popular islands.
San Cristobal is the Eastern most island in the Galapagos, located in the southeast corner. It is home of the oldest settlement in the islands, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, which is also the capital of the province Galapagos. Here, the Interpretation Center was recently opened by the Galapagos National Park. This is an amazing educational and informational contribution to the island community and travelers.
San Cristobal claims some of the most spectacular landscape. The cloudforest in the highlands is perfect habitat for giant tortoises.
Frigatebird Hill is a short distance walk from the Interpretation Center. Here you can see Magnificent Frigatebirds and Great Frigatebirds in the same colony, which offers great opportunities for studying and learning to distinguish the two species.
El Junco Lagoon is one of the few permanent fresh water lakes in the Galapagos. It is located at an altitude of 2,300 ft/700m, about 45 minutes with bus from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. On your way to El Junco Lagoon you will pass different vegetation zones, before you reach the panoramic site, where the bird watching is exceptional as well as the view.
About 1 hour travel across a small channel, will take you to Isla Lobos. The name means Sea Lion Island, which is certainly appropriate since many sea lions frolic, leap and make their homes here. This island is also a great place for snorkeling opportunities as well as to view blue-footed boobies.
Kicker Rock (or Leon Dormido) is an enormous rock, located off the north west coast of San Cristobal, that rises 500 feet straight up from the ocean. It has the shape of a sleeping lion, and a split with towering verticals on either side, forming a narrow channel.
Santa Cruz is the second largest island in the Galapagos. The small town of Puerto Ayora is the economic Turtle crossing sign on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands center of the archipelago, with the largest population of the 4 inhabited islands, approximately 8,000. Tourism, fishing, boat building and commerce are the major productive activities. Santa Cruz is also the only island where six different vegetation zones can be seen: Coastal, Arid, Transition, Scalesia, Miconia and Pampa zones.
Santa Cruz is home to the Charles Darwin Station, where visitors can observe tortoise research and breeding programs. Scientists, park rangers, and park managers among others conduct the conservation of the islands and make huge efforts to preserve this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A trip to the lush greenery of the Santa Cruz highlands offers a welcome contrast with the arid scenery of the smaller, lower islands. You will get a chance to see enormous pit craters, lava tunnels and giant tortoises roaming freely.