Santa Cruz is one of the two islands in the Galapagos that has flights to the mainland, so it gets quite a few tourists. Still, its most populated town of Puerto Ayora is small and quaint. Before we explored the town, we had a day full of activities. We started our morning very early, looking for sea turtles in a cool-sounding place called Black Turtle Cove. I was surprised to find that the sea turtles were even harder to spot than the penguins the day before. I didn’t really get any good photographs of them, but we enjoyed seeking them out and checking out the other life in the water – mangrove trees, a group of golden rays and a Spotted Eagle Ray!
Next up was Dragon’s Hill, where we snorkeled and hiked. This was my favorite hike on the Galapagos. We saw so many varied plants and animals in one place, and it was really odd yet cool to see them all together. There was desert, lava, blue lagoon; there were crabs, land iguanas, marine iguanas, cacti, flamingos, and donkeys (which unfortunately we did not see). And the colors – brown, red, and green. What a combination! Normally we’d have to travel to many different places to see all of these things; Florida, Arizona, Hawaii, and more.
Finally in the evening we sailed into Puerto Ayora, and after dinner our guide offered to let us get off the ship and explore the town a little. Our favorite things were the social sea lion, the baby sharks swimming off the pier, and the people eating in the streets. We also took a local water taxi back to the Aida Maria. All you have to do is tell these guys the name of your boat, and they know *exactly* where it is in the crowded marina. We wondered how in the world they do that?!
The next morning we disembarked once more in Puerto Ayora to explore the Darwin Research Center. On the way we enjoyed watching the local fish market and the “pet” pelicans and sea lions who begged until they were given treats (aka fresh fish bits). The research center is primarily concerned with helping strengthen the Galapagos species that have dwindling numbers in the wild. We saw our more land iguanas, and our first giant tortoises here. Later, we checked out a cool ceramic garden and shopped a bit until we found a magnet and patch – Puerto Ayora is a good place to look for souvenirs.
In the afternoon, we took the zodiac ashore (where we saw an adorable swimming iguana) and then we drove in a bus up to the highlands to a ranch where we could see the giant tortoises in the wild. It’s a nice arrangement; private land owners can charge people to come see the tortoises, and in return the owners must agree to let the tortoises live freely. This means no feeding, touching or even approaching the animals; a far cry from the old days when our guide used to ride them, holding a banana on a stick in front of their nose to encourage them to move faster!
We also saw a cool caterpillar and a very poisonous tree:
Before heading back to sea level, we visited a lava tunnel. We’ve been in lava tubes before, but they’ve looked much different. This one must be very old, as it’s not even black inside! And it was huge and cavernous, as opposed to the ones where we’ve had to duck our heads and use flashlights. We couldn’t go too far in this one where we entered because they filled it in underneath the road they built nearby. But it was still pretty cool to be inside it and see the piles of rocks everywhere – mini avalanches? Mini cave-ins?
Santa Cruz was as beautiful as the rest of the Galapagos Islands, but we both agreed that we like the spots with fewer tourists much better.