Highlands of Santa Cruz

Nov 29, 2018 - National Geographic Endeavour II


Today was a very different kind of experience than we have had so far on our expedition – a glimpse into local culture and science in the Galapagos. After breakfast, we hopped into Zodiacs and headed to the town of Puerto Ayora. Here we were zipped over to the Charles Darwin Research Station, an amazing facility which is conducting cutting-edge scientific research and conservation work. Our naturalists guided us around, telling us especially about tortoise conservation in the islands. Eggs are brought to the facility, incubated at specific temperatures, and hatched. We saw where young tortoises are kept in small pens for a few years, then upgraded to larger natural settings where they learn the skills they need to survive in the wild. After several years, they are released into the wild to repopulate the islands. We also got to visit Lonesome George (deceased), now on special display as the last of his species.

After visiting the research station, we wandered around town to look at the shops and watch frigatebirds and sea lions steal scraps from the local fish market, then reconvened at a local restaurant for refreshments. From there, half the group visited a local school and the other half visited a farm. On the farm, we watched how sugar cane is processed into sugar and its juice fermented and distilled into "fire water." Then we enjoyed a lovely meal at a restaurant in the highlands. The environment of the highlands is unexpectedly lush and green after spending several days in dry areas.

The afternoon was spent in the highlands with wonderful wildlife encounters. Giant tortoises were everywhere – on the roads, the trails, the pastures, the ponds. We watched them lumbering over the grass and grazing. There were also some good birding opportunities, including a photogenic woodpecker finch using a twig to pry its meal from a tree crevice (an extremely rare sighting), and Galapagos flycatchers perching on our cameras. We also explored a lava tube.

The day ended with local artisans on board to display their crafts and a musical performance and dance.

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About the Author

Emily Mount

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Emily grew up in Niwot, Colorado and Pullman, Washington. Her love of nature began as a child during family vacations spent hiking, camping and exploring the mountains and deserts of the west. In contrast to her outdoors interests, Emily pursued an intensive young career as a classical violinist, culminating in degrees in history and music performance at the University of Washington.  

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