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PARKS AND TRIBES

 

SANTA CRUZ GALAPAGOS

 

Our 6 - 7 days Island hopping tour at an incredible price visits the following islands:

 

TOURS GALAPAGOS ISLANDS & CRUISE DEALS [2024]: Male Great Frigate Bird with expandes throat at Galapagos National Park

TOURS GALAPAGOS ISLANDS & CRUISE DEALS [2024]: Galapagos Lava Tunnel

BARTOLOME GALAPAGOS DAY TRIP: Bartelome Island at Galapagos National Park

San Cristobal

Santa Cruz

Bartolome

Isabela

Santa Cruz Galapagos

Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island is the densest inhabited Galapagos island with a population of just short of 20,000 inhabitants. Its main town is Puerto Ayora. The highest point of Santa Cruz is 2,077 masl. In the highlands the island is lush green year around, but the lowlands are quite arid. There is not much immediate volcanic activity on Santa Cruz.

 

Flora and Fauna

The highlights of the fauna of Santa Cruz are two distinct species of tortoises, the more common one visible on farm lawns, particularly the Rancho ... and the Rancho ...., the latter being the better one. But on the way to these farms one sees countless tortoises in the rough meadows.

 

The best place to see marine iguanas is .... beach.

 

Ferries

There are ferries between Santa Cruz and Isabella and San Cristobal. Ferries leave in the afternoon at 3PM and arrive at 5PM in Puerto Ayora.

 

The ferry to Isabela leaves the harbor of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz at 3 in the afternoon, taking 2 hours to cross. About the same time the flight leaves from Baltra to Isabela, but you have to be there officially an hour in advance, now that is not all that precise and you may calculate a bit shorter. HOWEVER, you have to travel from Puerto Ayora to the main port at the other end of the island, which takes about half an hour. Then you have to board the ferry to Balta, where the airport is, for which you have to plan another half an hour, as it only leave when it is full. At the other end you need to take a bus, which also leaves when it is full, yet another half an hour. All in all, you have to leave at least 3 hours prior to departure from your hotel in Puerto Ayora. Add the half an hour flying time, it takes about 3 and a half hours to fly and only 2 hours to take the ferry boat. Then we have not talked yet about the horribly old airplanes that fly you across: the half a century old Britton Norman 2A Islander, bolted together with non-genuine strips of aluminum. I have flown far worse airplanes in the former Soviet Union, but I would not recommend these Galapagos inter-island planes to the general public. I used them once, but never again. It even arrived 45 minutes late and we almost missed our excursion. The view from the window though was fascinating, all along the west coast of Santa Cruz.

 

While the view from the flight Santa Cruz - Isabela is spectacular over the west coast of Santa Cruz, I no longer include it for being inefficient in time and because the airplane is just too old in my opinion.

This Britton Norman 2A Islander airplane is between 40 and 5 years old and held together with aluminum patchwork. I would fly it myself if needed, but I won't take friends with me on this old-timer.

Weather

From December To May, the water and air temperatures are higher, which results in a somewhat higher humidity of the air and brief daily drizzling rains and fog at the higher elevations. Nevertheless, the rain showers are followed by periods of sunshine, making this season the sunniest of the year.

 

From June to November, the dry season is characterized by permanently overcast skies  without rain (similar to the "Garua" climate in Lima). The winds increase and make the seas get choppy, causing many visitors get seasick.

 

Puerto Ayora

Puerto Ayora is the most lively town of the Galapagos islands with a real boulevard with lively restaurants and bars. The harbor proper gives a joyous view in daytime and it the place of departure for ferries between San Cristobal and Isabela. There is a wide range of restaurants throughout town and a lovely little lake called Laguna de las Ninfas, Nymph Lagoon, just at the outskirt of town, 5 minutes from the center.

 

Nymph Lagoon, wonderful quiet place to just spend a moment away from the outgoing town of Puerto Ayora.

The crystal clear water of Laguna de las Ninfas at the outskirts of town is connected to the sea with brackish water.

 

We use a wonderful little hotel at just 3 blocks away from the boulevard.

The harbor of Puerto Ayora.

Ourgreat clean little hotel at 3 blocks from the boulevard with breakfast at the roof terrace.

 

Highlands Excursion

We spend a day's excursion to see the highlights of the interior of Santa Cruz:

1 Gemelos Sink Hole Craters

These beautiful sink hole craters about half way the interior of the island, give a fabulous view of 2 giant sink holes next to each other.

2 Scalesia forest

The sink holes are connected with a trail that runs through a forest of Scalesia, one of the few tree forms of the Aster family. The flowers are usually invisible high up in the trees, but this is a unique adaptation of the family for the Galapagos Islands.

 

The trail connecting the Gemelos craters, leads through a Scalasia forest.

The Scalasia trees are up to 20 m high trees of the Aster family.

 

3 Rancho Chato o Primicias?

These are the 2 ranches that offer splendid Tortoise viewing. Why? because they mow the meadow surrounding their restaurant about every 3 months. The wild tortoises love the short grass and dozens of them can be found grazing the short grass, but  they are totally free to come and go. They also need the little water holes where they submerge for resting and digesting.

 

Well, Rancho Chato is the more famed ranch, but I found the Racho Primicias much more pleasnt, for several reasons. While Rancho Chato has its own little lava tunnel of about 100m, on your way to Rancho Primicias you pass by the best lit 400m lava tunnel, which is much more spectuacula, higher and longer. However, there is a 5m long spot where this lava is less than a meter high and one needs to crawl on one's knees to pass. I also find the Rancho Primicias more visitor friendly, but that is a personal taste. So, this is the ranch that we visit.

 

4 Lava Tunnels

As previously mentioned, there are the two lava tunnels associated with the two ranchos, but the longest one is on the way to Cerro Mesa. It is 2km long of which 1km is lit, albeit rather poorly. It is assumedly  the longest lava tunnel it the world. For this tunnel one really needs to bring a good flashlight. I only may include it when there is enough time.

 

The entrance to the 100m lava tunnel at Rancho Chato.

Being the shortest, it is the lava tunnel with the most accessible one.

 

TOURS GALAPAGOS ISLANDS & CRUISE DEALS [2024]: Galapagos Lava Tunnel

The entrance to the 400m lava tunnel near Rancho Primicias.

At times some 20m high, this tunnel also has a very low passage for about 5 meters where the height is less than a meter heigh. You have to crawl on your knees.

 

The access to the 1k long lit part of the 2km long lava on the way to Cerro Mesa.

The illumination of this tunnel is very basic, and one it is recommended to bring one's own flashlight, but it is really fun to have gone through the world's longest lava tunnel.

 

5 Cerro Mesa Private Reserve

Much less frequently visited is the Cerro Mesa Private Reserve. It features:

  1. A lookout on the top of the flat Cerro Mesa hill of about 800m giving a spectacular view over Santa Cruz and Baltra. From here you can see why the airport has been constructed on Baltra, as it is totally flat. You can see how the highlands are covered in green forest, while the lowlands have a shrubby vegetation that turns brown during most of the year.

  2. Another feature is the biggest sink hole on the island, being the only one where one can actually hike down, but that takes 3 - 5 hours, for which there won't be time during our day excursion.

  3. On the way to or from the Cerro Mesa is the 2km long lava tunnel, but there may not be sufficient time to include it in the excursion.

BALTRA AIRPORT

Santa Cruz, Galapagos Airport

The Baltra Airport ferry across the Itabaca Canal leaves when it is filled up, which may take quite a while.

The harbor in the North of Santa Cruz from where the Baltra ferry and most day excursions and yacht cruises depart.

 

The bus that takes you from the Itabaca Canal to Baltra-Galapagos airport.

The waiting hall at the Baltra Galapagos Airport.

 

Land iguanas

Finding land iguanas on Galapagos is always a challenge. But the best place to see them is actually at the Baltra airport. One is not allowed to get to visit them along the airport upon arrival, but there are almost always one or two iguanas walking by the waiting hall. So, in stead of passing bored waiting for your plane to board, look out for these giant lizards giving your last show before you have to say good bye to this natural paradise.

 

A bit male lazely parading along the airport waiting room.

Two males standing off and even fighting right in front of the airport, giving a fabulous show to the passengers in the waiting hall.

 

After this last good buy from the Enchanted Islands, you leave with some sadness in your heart. It passed all too fast and you could have wished to spend much longer. But There is only so much time for a vacation, and at least this tour gave you an impression of most of the Galapagos islands, and now it is time to visit some of the great highlights of the mighty Andes volcanoes!

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