This morning we visit the Charles Darwin Research Centre at Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz 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.**
This afternoon we head to the highlands of Santa Cruz Island and visit the El Chato Reserve, to see giant land tortoises in the wild in their natural environment. We explore the Reserve’s lagoon and lava tunnels, keeping an eye out for owls that often roost in the entrances to the tunnels.
At the end of the day you have some free time to walk around the small port town of Puerto Ayora. You may like to visit a local fish market or do some souvenir shopping before we return to the ship.