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.
This is southernmost island and because of its remote location, it has a high proportion of endemic fauna. For example it is the breeding site of nearly all of the world's 12,000 pairs of waved albatrosses. These large birds perform one of the most spectacular rituals of the animal world. Watching them take off is an unforgettable moment. Espanola teems with mockingbirds, blue-footed and masked boobies, Darwin finches, Galapagos doves, hawks, red and green marine iguanas, and sea lions. Watch Blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos Islands with Adventure Life
Gardener Bay offers great opportunities for enjoying some beach time in the Galapagos. Here the mockingbirds will be the center of your attention as they keep you company on top of your hat or investigating your belongings.
Punta Suarez is quite an amazing site and one of the most attractive in the Galapagos, because of the quantity and variety of wildlife. The trail along the island will take you past sea lions surfing the breaking waves, iguanas basking in the warm sun and boobies nesting right in your path. The trail continues towards the cliffs and the blowhole, which is a fissure in the lava where water spurts high in the air like a geyser.
This is one of the islands that has the most interesting human history. It was one of the earliest islands to be inhabited. In 1793 a post office barrel was erected on Floreana to facilitate delivery to the United States and Europe. Today, this area of the island is of course called Post Office Bay. You will also find the remains of a Norwegian commercial fish drying and canning operation in this area and a lava tube that extends to the sea.
At Punta Cormorant more than 50 volcanic cones rise in an 80-mile area. Pink flamingos, clear water and interesting coral growths make this a perfect spot for snorkeling.
The Devil's Crown is a volcanic crater near Floreana that has been eroded by the waves. Here snorkelers are immersed in a world of color and movement filled with schools of fish that move as one: king angelfish, yellowtail surgeonfish, and needlefish. There are also parrotfish, Moorish idols, and damselfish, sea cucumbers, sea stars, sea urchins, sleeping sharks, turtles, rays and many more, making this one of the best snorkeling sites in the Galapagos.
Santa Cruz is the second largest island in the Galapagos and 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 Research Center, where visitors can observe tortoise research and breeding programs. A trip to the Highlands offers the chance to see enormous pit craters, lava tunnels, and giant tortoises roaming freely.
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.
Unlike most of the islands in the Galapagos that were formed by volcanic eruptions, Santa Fe was formed by an uplift caused by tectonic activity. This means that the island does not have the typical cone shape. Santa Fe has one of the most beautiful coves of all the visitor sites in the region - a turquoise lagoon protected by a peninsula of rocks and small islands that extends from the shore.
Hike along the coastline and discover colorful flora and fauna. The well-known land iguanas here can grow over five feet long. The Sanfa Fe species of iguana are more bright yellow and have uncommonly large spikes on their spine. In true Galapagos style the opuntia cactus, a favorite food of the land iguana, has responded by growing tall and woody - up to 33 feet high and are the largest of their kind in Galapagos. Manta rays and sea turtles flit by as dark shadows against the sandy bottom of Santa Fe's beautiful anchorage.
After a long hike, relax with a swim in the calm waters of the beautiful bay, or snorkel along in the company of sea lions at the base of the rocks.
This small steep-cliffed island was formed by uplifted lava and is covered by opuntia cactuses - a tree like cactus endemic to Galapagos. It is also home to one of the largest sea lion colonies. Be careful not to get too close! Each colony is lead by a bull and consists of 15-20 females. After about 3 months of playing king, these bulls retire to the "Bachelors" colony and rest. These colonies consist also of very young bulls that are still too young to hold a territory or be a threat to the reining bull.
Also, on South Plaza, you will find the lazy but colorful yellow and red land iguana. This animal likes this island because of its richness in the opuntia cactus, which is an iguana delicacy. There are about 700 iguanas on the island and this species seems to be one of the smallest iguana species.