This is Part 2 of our trip to Galapagos. Click here for Part 1.
One of our bucket list items for the Galapagos is to see a giant tortoise. After all, the word “Galapago” literally means “saddle”–a term used to describe the shells of the tortoises they were famous for. Also, they are particularly special, as there are only two places in the world were you can see them—Galapagos and the Seychelles in West Africa. Since we spent most of our time on San Cristobal island with the seals and sharks, when we left for Santa Cruz island, we made sure Tortoises were on the top of our list.
One of the biggest attractions on the island is the Charles Darwin Research centre, where we got to not only see the giant Galapagos tortoises, we got to find out all about how they breed new tortoises and all the conservation efforts put into sustaining the species. What I wasn’t expecting was how much going to a research center would make me reflect on my own existence.
We’ll get to the heavy parts of going to the center in a bit, but first let me tell you about all the things Santa Cruza had to offer.
One of the biggest advantages of staying on Santa Cruz island is all the things you can do. Despite it being the most developed and inhabited island and was more crowded than San Cristobal, it never felt too touristy.
Here’s a list of the incredible places we visited:
The Fish Market:
We thought we’d seen it all when we went to Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market. But turns out, the Santa Cruz Fish Market had even more action.
Pelicans waddled up to fishermen chopping up today’s fresh catch, flapping their wings and squawking, begging for fish parts. Seals barked alongside the pelicans, pretending to be helpers to see if they too can steal a fish.
That’s the thing I loved the most about the Galapagos. No matter which island you’re on, there’s always plenty of wildlife action, especially with adorable seals trying to sidle their way up to the counter, as if to say “Hi there! I can help! Let me guard this fish with my mouth!”
Las Grietas means “crevasse” or “crack”. An appropriate name, considering it’s a stretch of aquamarine water between two cliff faces on each side. The crystal clear water allows you to see all the way to the bottom and because it’s fed by an underground river, there are no waves, making it perfect for swimming (kind of like the Cenotes we discovered in Mexico).
We even met some friendly critters as we got into the water.
It was so clear, I could see all the way to the bottom and I didn’t have to worry about swimming against any currents.
Getting to the Grietas was also super easy. We simply took a water taxi for $0.80 USD from the pier at Puerto Ayora and got off at Angermeyer Point. At which point we realized, “hey isn’t Angermeyer the last name of our Airbnb host?” Turns out, after talking to him at dinner, his ancestor is one of the first settlers of the area and own many restaurants and shops on the island. No wonder our Airbnb house was so massive with its own maid and swimming pool. We were staying in the house of one of the founders of the town. So cool!
On the way to Las Grietas (it’s about a 10 min walk), we came across a strange open field flooded with pink-colored water. Turns out that’s how they dry out the sea water and harvest salt. So we’d apparently found the salt flats.
After that, we came across a beautiful beach where I found a spotted purple stingray resting in shallow water. So even though the las Grietas is what we came for, just the path to get there was full of wonderful surprises. And this time I didn’t even get lost or fall into any cactuses!
One of the most beautiful beaches on the island was actually a bay that takes about an hour walk to get to. The good news is that the path is neatly paved and easy to walk on so you don’t even notice how long the walk is. Most people stop when they get to the beach, which is beautiful but wavy enough that it’s more suited for surfing than swimming. We decided to keep walking down the beach. Good thing we did, because as you turn right at the end of the beach, there’s this hidden bay surrounded by mangroves that’s acts as a wave break, making it the perfect place to swim.
This is sort of like a farm except, instead of cows, you have giant 100-year-old tortoises taking a gazillion years to walk from one tree to another and eating grass at a speed that makes grass-growing seem fast.
To get there, we took a cab from the pier. It cost around $35 USD there and back for the 2 hour tour, including a trip to the nearby tunnels. This ended up being a much more natural experience than seeing tortoises at the research center, as we were able to walk around and see the tortoise up close rather than behind a fence.
Unlike the seals, the giant tortoises were shyer and would shrink into their shells when they saw a human walking nearby. But I did manage to find one eating grass, and he didn’t seen to mind when I sat down in front of him on a bench to eat my lunch.
We used up every minute of our allotted hour wandering around the place and capturing these action-packed shots of our new BFFs:
Here’s a video of a tortoise we named “Speedy Gonzales” making a break for it:
Less than 5 min drive away, we found volcanic tunnels that were completely empty and free for us to explore. It was cool, dark, and the perfect place to get a little lost in after the brightness of the afternoon sun. But if you’re claustrophobic, the tunnels would probably not be so fun since there was this part that you had to crawl under, where the rock is only a few feet from the ground. I got to practice my penguin impression by flopping on my belly, so that was fun.
Los Gemelos means “the twins” in Spanish and they are two crates next to each other formed by the collapse magma chambers of two volcanos. Not the easiest to get to, since you have to take a cab from Puerto Ayora, but luckily it was on the way to the airport ferry, so the taxi driver was nice enough to stop and let us have a look before our flight out.
Okay, so I said at the beginning of this article I’d tell you all about how the Charles Darwin Center made me reflect on my mortality, so here goes.
I never expected to reflect on existentialism after seeing a stuffed giant tortoise, but that’s exactly what happened.
The staff at the Charles Darwin Center opened the doors to a dark room and ushered us visitors in, single file.
A hush fell over the room as we saw the large black shadow in a glass box in the middle of the room. The air felt cold, a shocking change from the balmy temperatures outside.
Someone flicked on the light switch and the large black shadow revealed itself :
“This is Lonesome George.” A guide from one of the visiting groups said. “He died on June 24, 2012 of cardiac arrest. On that day, his species, the Pinta Island Tortoise became extinct.”
The guide then went on to explain, how as sailors brought rats, dogs, and other foreign animals to the Galapagos islands, the predators began devouring the Pinta Island tortoise eggs and killing baby tortoises. And since these giant tortoises could survive up to a year without food or water, they were brought onto the ships as food supply by the thousands. Since tortoise oil was also useful for lighting lamps, they were used for that as well. So you can see why the tortoises’ population quickly become decimated from predators and sailors.
Prior to Lonesome George’s death, there were many attempts to prolong his species. A $10,000 reward was even offered to find him a suitable mate. But sadly, lonesome George would live out his name until he died.
And now we were all staring at his stuffed, refrigerated body, seeing the tortoise that, just a few years ago, had been the most rare species in the world.
The silver lining is that the centre is breading new giant tortoises, so while we were there we also got to see baby giant tortoises (which looked a lot like normal-sized turtles).
Since these giant tortoises are the world’s longest-living animals with lifespans of up to 100 years or more, we found out we wouldn’t live long enough to see the baby giant tortoises in the center grow to full size. Which kind of makes you think about your own humanity and face the limitations of your lifespan.
That got me thinking about what I would leave behind once I was gone.
For some people it’s children. For others it’s legacy, or positive impact on the world. Or it could be both. Or neither.
I wasn’t quit sure what mine was going to be, but I was glad I got the chance to reflect on it.
Who knew a trip to a research center would get so philosophical?
Anyway, so after that whole experience, I realized the take away from Santa Cruz is that, even though it’s more developed and populated than San Cristobal, that moment of reflection in the Charles Darwin center made it super special for me.
Our next stop would be Isabela, the least inhabited island of the three. Little did I know getting there would be the biggest battle of all–which I will tell you about in my next travel post.
Here’s how much we spent on Santa Cruz:
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|Category||Cost in USD/couple||Cost in CAD/couple||Notes|
|Accommodations:||$59 USD/night||$74 CAD/night||Our fancier digs on Santa Cruz came with a swimming pool, maid, free breakfast, and was only a 5 min walk from the pier.|
|Food:||$14 USD/day||$18 CAD/day ($8/day for eating out, $10/day for groceries)||Eating out and groceries were very affordable, especially since breakfast was also included.|
|Transportation:||$22 USD/day||$27 CAD/day||Since costs of flying into the Galapagos were already accounted for in San Cristobal, the only costs for transportation on Santa Cruz was the $30 USD/person for the ferry, the $35 for 2 for the taxi to the Tortoise farm, the $12 USD tax to the airport on our way out after splitting with another couple, and a few quick water taxi trips for 0.80 USD each way. Amortized over 5 days, that's only $22 USD/day.|
|Entertainment:||$2.40 USD/day||$3 CAD/day||Entertainment was essentially free because there were so many free gorgeous beaches and swimming holes to visit. The only thing we paid for was to rent 2 snorkels for $3 USD for the whole day.|
|Total:||$98 USD/couple/day||$122 CAD/couple/day||As I mentioned in Part 1, the most expensive part of going to Galapagos was the flights to and from Quito and the park entry fees. After that, accommodations, transportation food and entertainment are pretty reasonable.|