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 island is located to the west of Isabela, which makes it the westernmost island in Galapagos. No foreign species have ever invaded this island, and as a result it claims one of the world's most pristine island ecosystems. On your walk across this island you will pass the largest colony of land iguanas in Galapagos, and if you're lucky and if the water is clear enough, you might see them feed underwater while snorkeling. Continue on your walk and pass a group of lazy sea lions, before arriving at the island's highlight - the flightless cormorant nesting site.
The flightless cormorants have earned their names from a truly evolutionary happening. They are flightless because they have no predators on the islands. Since it was easier to find food in the ocean, their feet and wings have adapted for swimming. As you will see, if you see them standing up in the breeze after coming out of the water to dry, their wings are quite undersized and naturally of no use for flying.
Genovesa is a sensation of unspoiled nature and is considered a bird-watchers paradise. The volcanic sea cliffs around Darwin Bay offer prime breeding places for frigate birds, swallow-tailed gulls, storm petrels, tropic birds and red-footed boobies. If you climb up the Prince Phillip's Steps onto the plateau, you will find that no matter where you look there will be a bird.
Genovesa offers good snorkeling opportunities at the beach or alongside the cliffs on the shoreline. Because of the richness of nutrients in the bay, you never know what you might encounter.
North Seymour was like a few other islands, uplifted by underground seismic activity. This tiny island is packed with countless sea lions and it's one of the most popular breeding grounds for sea birds. A very large colony of frigate birds nest here, and it's almost guaranteed to see a few males proudly displaying their red pouches to impress a mate.
It is also one of the best places to see blue-footed boobies and magnificent frigate birds. If you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of their courtship dance, which is quite peculiar and amusing. Also, while visiting this island, you might very well witness a great show of acrobatic flight, namely a frigate bird robbing a booby, a gull or even another frigate bird of their food.
One of the special features of Rabida is the remarkable red color, which is a result go the high percentage of oxidized iron in the composition of the lava.
Rábida is a bird-watchers delight. Some of the rarest species are in abundance, such as 9 varieties of finches, large billed flycatchers, Galapagos hawks and brown pelicans. The dark red sand beaches and a horde of snoring sea lions make for spectacular snorkeling. Also, the island is home to the skinny legged Flamingo, which can be seen in a salt-water lagoon near the beach.
From the observatory on the southeastern part of the island, you can appreciate the red color of the beach and the rocks surrounding it.
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.
This island was once home to a salt mining enterprise and its remains can still be seen if you walk from the black beach where you land, and continue along the coast. You will also see many inter-tidal pools that are homes to a large variety of invertebrate organisms.
Fur seals were thought to have gone extinct by 1905, but have since made a dramatic comeback. Santiago provides habitat for many of the 30-40,000 fur seals that call the Galapagos home. If you plan on taking pictures of the fur seals, Puerto Egas is an excellent spot. At dawn or sunset, the light is perfect for great photography. There are also plenty of sea lions on the black beach of Puerto Egas.
Take a moment after exploring the island and swim with the playful sea lions off the coast of two small coral-lined beaches.