Area Size: 986 Km²
Maximum Altitude: 864 meters / 2834 feet
Island Highlights: Highlands, Charles Darwin Research Station, Lonesome George, Tortuga Bay, Las Bachas, Puerto Ayora, Gordon's Rock, Cerro Dragon, Giant Tortoise, Marine Iguana, Frigatebird, Blue Footed Booby, Sea Lion
Santa Cruz () is the second largest of the Galapagos Islands, situated in the centre of the archipelago proving a wealth of wildlife, geology and vegetation. She lies in very close proximity to Baltra island, where Galapagos's main airport is located, and is therefore the starting point for many of Aqua-Firma's Wildlife Yacht Safaris, Yacht & Lodge Safaris and Hotel Based Diving trips throughout many if the inner islands.
Humans first settled on the island in the years between the first and second World Wars, after which villages became established in the Highlands and thus provided prime farmland for growing coffee and various fruits. Cattle were soon introduced and at the same time, Santa Cruz developed into the thriving tourist destination that it is today.
The largest settlement on Santa Cruz is Puerto Ayora, which is located on the southern shore of the island. It is a charming, yet buzzing port town boasting sun, sea, sand and sailboats. The town offers an array of tourist amenities, including restaurant, hotels, bars, our scuba diving base and shops, whilst its shoreline is lined with cactus, pelicans, boobies and marine iguanas.
On the outskirts of Puerto Ayora lies the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS), harbouring Lonesome George, the famous one of a kind, 150 year old Pinta giant tortoise.
Santa Cruz is the only island that has a road crossing its interior and thus provides visitors with a rare opportunity to witness areas of the island that would otherwise not be accessible. The road runs from Puerto Ayora in the south to the Itabaca Channel crossing in the north. A ferry here takes you to Baltra Island and the main airport in the Galapagos.
Tortuga Bay, named after the tortoises that go there to lay their eggs, boasts one of the finest beaches in the Galapagos and is a favourite location from which to watch the sunset. This is also a great beach for swimming and surfing and a likely location in which to encounter pelicans, marine iguanas and flamingos. Although the beach requires a ninety minute walk to reach, it is most definitely worth it and visitors can often expect to have it to themselves.
The tiny town of Santa Rosa is home to El Chato Tortoise Reserve and is a place where many Galapagos tortoises can be seen in their natural habitat. This is a great place for to view and track these ancient creatures. This is also a great location for spotting indigenous bird species.
Santa Cruz offers some of the most spectacular scenery of the Galapagos archipelago. Located in the north of the island and only accessible by a wet landing is an extensive mangrove lagoon called Black Turtle Cove. Black Turtle Cove is inhabited by an array of fascinating species, namely lava herons, pelicans, sea turtles, sharks and Golden Cow Nose Rays (sometime called golden Mustard Rays).
Further along the coast lies Cerro Dragon, where flamingos can be seen resting in the highly saline lagoon. Other birds that often frequent Cerro Dragon include common stilts and pintail ducks. A short walk leads up a hill which provides spectacular views over the bay. The land iguanas which can be seen nesting here are the result of repatriation efforts by the Charles Darwin Research Station.
Black Turtle Cove is an impressive Galapagos marine site, consisting of a deep maze of tranquil seawater inlets. Its waters are still and often the resting and mating place for marine turtles, rays and small sharks. White tip reef sharks and green sea turtles are often seen in this area.
Black Turtle Cove is also where four species of mangrove can be found, and is a fantastic example of how mangroves can alter the marine environment and contribute rich and unique habitats. Eagle rays, cow nosed and black rays are often seen gliding elegantly through the waters.
Las Bachas is a beautiful white coral beach and a favourite nesting site for sea turtles, which come to lay their eggs in the sand. The beach has an abundance of bright orange and red sally lightfoot crabs, which scurry along the lava rocks at the water's edge. Marine iguanas, flamingos and other wading birds are often seen frequenting this site too.
Not far from Santa Cruz Island lies two large rocks, known as Gordon's Rocks, approximately 100 metres apart from one another. These rocks protrude above the water line and indicate the remains of an ancient volcano. Half moon shaped rocky masses mark the sunken caldera on either side. This site can be dived all over, both inside and out, however, it is sometimes referred to as 'La Lavadora' (the washing machine), referring to its occasionally heavy currents. The site is an excellent location for encountering large schools or eagle rays, green turtles, king angelfish, hammerhead sharks and a number of special macro animals such as barnacle blennies and giant hawkfish.
The Charles Darwin Research Station provides information about the scientists, professional administrators and Park Wardens that contribute vast amounts of time and money into maintaining the park ecosystems and protecting and monitoring the island's endangered species. It is hoped that the work carried out at the CDRS will ultimately conserve and preserve Galapagos wildlife, allowing it to be enjoyed for many years to come.
The presence of human life on Santa Cruz has inevitably had an impact on the wildlife that resides on the island. Indigenous wildlife such as tortoises and land iguanas have had to compete for the little available food with invasive species such as goats. Wild dogs prey on land iguanas, while pigs and goats destroy nests and feast on bird and reptile eggs.
The Highlands of Santa Cruz present display some impressive geological sites. The Highlands are marked by a line of low volcanoes, on which the north side the climate is dry and dusty, whilst to the south is tropical and humid.
A particularly interesting feature of the Highlands is that of the fascinating lava tubes, which are underground tunnels formed from the solidification of lava. The most popular tunnel is the aptly named "Tunnel of Endless Love", so called because of the heart shaped hole in its roof. Many of these tubes are easily accessible by means of wooden stairways that descend into the mouth of the caves, revealing fascinating rock formations. A journey into the tubes constitutes a worthwhile and enjoyable hike, requiring sturdy footwear.