Santa Cruz Island

Jun 15, 2018 - National Geographic Islander


Named after the Holy Cross, Santa Cruz was original known by its English name, Indefatigable, in honor of the British vessel HMS Indefatigable. Santa Cruz hosts the largest human population in the archipelago and its biggest town, Puerto Ayora, is home to the Galapagos National Park headquarters and the Charles Darwin Foundation. Just outside of town are small villages, whose inhabitants work in agriculture and cattle raising. 

After breakfast we disembarked at Puerto Ayora. After a short bus ride, we arrived at the Galapagos National Park’s breeding center. For more than 50 years, this institution has helped preserve endemic species and reestablish and protect ecosystems in Galapagos. We visited the corral of Espanola giant tortoises and its most famous resident, Diego. 

Diego has been key to a successful breeding program that helped save from extinction the devastated populations of giant tortoises in Espanola. In the 1960s, they numbered 14 and now there are more than 3,000.   

Next, we headed to the highlands. Near Bellavista (a village mostly inhabited by farmers), we stopped at the farm of the Gallardo family and explored one of the island’s largest lava tunnels, formed by a volcanic eruption more than one million years ago. The tunnel was wide and it was possible to observe the layers of calcium carbonate, a result of thousands of years of organic material filtering through the cracks. Afterward, we visited “El Trapiche Farm,” where the owner and his family produce on a small-scale coffee, sugar and alcohol with traditional techniques that do not involve electricity. 

Moving onto the higher elevations, we arrived at “El Manzanillo Farm,” where we enjoyed a delicious lunch surrounded by native trees and many giant tortoises roaming close to us. Afterward, we followed narrow trails where we came across giant tortoises feeding on grass or wallowing in a muddy pond to cool off. Upon returning to Puerto Ayora, we browsed the local shops and enjoyed the kindness of its inhabitants.   

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About the Author

Paul Vergara

Naturalist

Paul grew up on the island of Floreana, one of the earliest islands of the Galápagos to have been inhabited, and one of Charles Darwin's centers of research. But just because Floreana has a long history of human settlements, does not mean that growing up there was a very modern experience. In the 1970s, there was neither electricity nor cars on the island. Not only that, but Paul and the rest of the inhabitants had to use donkeys for transportation, preserving their fish and meat using salt from the sea.

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