Santa Cruz Island

Nov 28, 2019 - National Geographic Endeavour II

Santa Cruz is the second largest and the most populated island in Galapagos, with more than twenty thousand inhabitants. Named after the Holy Cross, this island is a large dormant volcano, with its last estimated eruption occurring around a million and a half years ago. Puerto Ayora, the capital of Santa Cruz, hosts the largest human population in the archipelago and the headquarters of Galapagos National Park and Charles Darwin Foundation.

After breakfast we landed at Puerto Ayora, heading to the Galapagos National Park’s breeding center. We visited the Espanola Island giant tortoise corral, and there, Diego, the most famous living tortoise in the Galapagos, delighted us with his tameness and curiosity. Diego has been the key to the most successful breeding program that recovered completely the devastated populations of tortoises in Espanola. This population was down to about 14 individuals in the 1960s, and nowadays has grown to almost 3,000. Like this project, there are many others, not only with tortoises but also with land iguanas.

After visiting the tortoises, our guests had chance to visit El Trapiche, a farm located in the highlands, a perfect place to cultivate not only coffee but also cacao and some different kind of fruits such as bananas, pears, oranges, watermelons, papayas and many others. Our guests had the chance to observe the complete process of producing alcohol and roasted coffee—but using methods dating back to more than 40 years ago, when there was no electricity in this area and farmers used donkeys to squeeze the sugar cane to obtain the juice. After visiting El Trapiche Farm, we moved higher in the island, to our restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious food with a beautiful view of the island and the ocean.

After lunch, our guests headed to El Chato II, a unique farm where everybody had the chance to observe giant tortoises in their natural habitat. Along the trails, many giant tortoises fed on grass of ripe fruits, while others rested peacefully in the small ponds of muddy water. We had the chance to cross a lava tunnel; inside it was very wide, like a real empty chamber but with another smaller lava tunnel inside. Walking inside the tunnel, we noticed how the tube became narrower at the end, and we were able to distinguish the second deck of the small lava tube inside—a unique formation created after explosive eruptions, long time ago. We finally returned to Puerto Ayora, where local residents worked out playing soccer or ecuavolley (an Ecuadorian version of volleyball). At night, our guests were delightful with a traditional choreography and a local band, that played such happy music using their unique instruments, that was impossible to avoid dancing.

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About the Author

Paul Vergara


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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