Jun 19, 2019 - National Geographic Islander
Santa Cruz is the second largest island in the Galapagos Archipelago, and contains the largest human population. We dropped anchor at Academy Bay, in the south of the island. From our ship, we could see rows of buildings and the small port of Puerto Ayora in the drizzle of the early morning. This town is where the headquarters of the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Research Station are located, which make it a popular tourist hub. On our first excursion, we set off to the Fausto Llerena Giant Tortoise Rearing Center, in order to learn about one of the most successful conservation projects they carried out. A tortoise that has become the symbol of this success is Diego. Espanola tortoises were doomed to disappear if it wasn’t for a timely operation in the early 1970s where the remaining population was brought to the Charles Darwin Research Station in order to reproduce under the protection of park rangers and scientists. These fifteen individuals are the parental stock of close to 2,000 tortoises that have already been repatriated to Espanola Island.
After our visit we had some time to enjoy the town of Puerto Ayora, with its numerous souvenir shops, and busy yet picturesque and charming atmosphere. In the afternoon, we had a unique opportunity to explore the Santa Cruz Highlands; the endemic population of giant tortoises thrives here. Tortoises do not know fences or boundaries and are known to trespass into farming zones from the natural park areas. They happily walk along the open roads and feed in the open grass fields. The sight of these ancient-looking creatures was certainly one to remember and left us with a feeling of being temporarily in a place lost in time.
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