Santa Cruz

Jan 30, 2019 - National Geographic Islander

Today began with a bit of rain as we disembarked at Puerto Ayora, heading toward the Darwin Research Station. We were on our way to visit the tortoise center. The complex is near town and sits among a forest of centenary giant cacti, some of which top out in height at an astounding 30 feet!

The center has a beautiful wooden boardwalk along the corrals where baby tortoises are sheltered. Continuing our walk on the same trail, we found large tortoises of various shapes and sizes. The variation between shell structure is remarkable. We had a chance to see something like fifty tortoises from five different islands here at the center.

We then visited the exhibit of the famous Lonesome George, a Pinta giant tortoise known for being the very last individual of that island. He died in 2012, and after a very careful taxidermy process developed in New York, was brought back to the center. Before leaving, we visited the Darwin souvenir shop, where we observed a team of specialists as they assembled the skeleton of a dwarf sperm whale—one of the rarest species of whale on earth.

Later on, we walked through Puerto Ayora. Along the way, we stopped by the fishing dock, where we saw the daily catch of the local fishermen. Also here were a few sea lions, a pair of pelicans, and several frigates trying to get the residual bits of fish not cleaned up from the market.

After the visit in town, we reached the town of Bellavista. Here we visited a lava tube and a sugar cane farm. We saw the traditional way to make brown sugar, melaza syrup, and the spirit aguardiente (translates as “hard water”). We also saw how coffee and cocoa beans are processed after harvest. We tried each, in addition to a very good cold sugar cane juice.

After a wonderful lunch at a local farm, we walked for about an hour to see the wild tortoises of Santa Cruz. It was absolutely wonderful seeing them in their natural environment, peacefully living as they have for all these years.

By the end of the day, we enjoyed cocktails on board our vessel, resting and recapping in the company of a fine sunset.

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About the Author

Lenin Villacis


Lenin was born in the capital city of Quito, where he grew up surrounded by the mountains and volcanoes of the Andean region of Ecuador. At age 17, he received a scholarship to study in Mexico, and a few years later traveled to the U.S. and finished college with a degree in Earth sciences. In 1994 he returned to Ecuador to undergo a training course to become a naturalist guide for his incredibly rich and biodiverse home country, and started working in the Amazon rain forest of Ecuador. 

About the Videographer

Joshua Vela

Joshua Vela

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