Santa Cruz is second to everything except human population. The most densely inhabited island, it is the second largest in the Galapagos, hosts the second largest number of Giant Tortoises in the wild, and it has the second largest tortoises (in size) in the archipelago. More than 3,000 tortoises roam freely on this island.
After having had a couple of quite drizzly days, it was encouraging to wake up to a sunny morning and a blue sky. We went ashore for a full day with lots of activities to choose from. But the morning plan did not admit any change: we had to see giant tortoises in the wild.
We had a dry landing at the municipal pier of my hometown, Puerto Ayora, and rode for about 40 minutes to the highlands to visit a private tortoise reserve, “El Manzanillo”. We had an exquisite morning spotting dozens of these ancient reptiles. There were some lagoon birds as well, such as the White-cheeked or Bahamas Pintail Duck, and Common Gallinule or Moorhen. Finches and warblers cheered our way up.
After snacking on some fresh tropical fruit, we hit the road again, a little bit higher up in elevation, as to reach a cloud forest where the key plant is the Giant Sunflower or Scalesia. Collapsed craters or sink holes are found here, engulfed by the lushness of the highlands of Santa Cruz.
We had lunch at a ranch, and our afternoon started there. Bicycling was an option, and even though I didn’t take it, everybody else who did came back pretty excited about their adventure. Some other guests decided on visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station, where they got to learn more about the conservation programs of this emblematic species. It was also a very good chance to see the scarce saddle-back Giant Tortoise, particularly those individuals coming from Hood or Española Island.
We even had time to walk through town, and almost everyone stopped by at the fishermen’s wharf where we got to see sea lions, frigatebirds, and pelicans waiting for the scraps of the afternoon’s catch.
Once back on board Silver Galapagos, we all felt tired but happy, and toasting with champagne for our farewell cocktail fixed a nice and tranquil atmosphere as to absorb the amount of experiences we had put together this week.