This morning we visit the Charles Darwin Research Centre on Santa Cruz Island. This is the second largest island in the Galapagos, with the largest population and with Puerto Ayora as its main town. It also boasts the most varied of the islands’ vegetation zones including coastal, transition, scalesia, miconia and pampa.
The Charles Darwin Research Station is located a short walk from the centre of the town. It is a science organization that was initiated in 1964, working to preserve the ecosystem of the Galapagos through the conservation efforts of scientists, researchers and volunteers. It also provides a study location for international scientists and training for Naturalist Guides.
We tour the exhibition centre to see photo displays of recent volcanic eruptions, charts outlining geological formations and drawings of the evolutionary development of endemic species. The station is also a great place to observe many species of tortoises and land iguanas in captivity, brought back from the brink of extinction. Here you can see the famous Galapagos tortoise up close. A corral houses adult Galapagos tortoises and there is a nursery in which the young are cared for until around age three when their shells have hardened.
**Please note: The Charles Darwin Research Station has partially closed until December 2016. Groups affected will visit the highlands to see the giant tortoises in the wild.**
After lunch on board, we hike to the beautiful beach at Tortuga Bay. Here you can relax on the white sand or rent a kayak and search for rays and turtles in the shallow waters.
Tortuga Bay (Turtle Bay) is a great place to see sea turtles, sea lions, marine iguanas, pelicans, flamingos and lava gulls which are endemic to the islands and commonly found along the shores. The two beaches at Tortuga Bay are separated by red mangroves. You may see tintoreras sharks, turtles and manta rays in the shallow waters.
There is the opportunity to explore the mangroves by kayak. As you paddle through the waters, look out for the wide variety of marine life, including colourful reef fish, rays and sea turtles.