Your Galapagos cruise begins on Baltra, a small island that is home to the archipelago’s main airport. Baltra was used as a U.S. military base in WWII and is now a base for Ecuador’s armed forces.
Visitors may take comfort when arriving at the airport, seemingly out of place in so precious and fragile an environment, that it is the first ecological airport in the world designed to reduce impact through energy saving programs, rain water recovery systems and extensive recycling.
There is no real chance to see the island as upon arrival you will normally be met by an English-speaking guide who will whisk you to the nearby port where the boat will be waiting to start your Galapagos cruise. Some cruises start from San Cristóbal and there a variety of options available for land based tours.
For many, Santa Cruz is simply a hopping off point on the way to other parts of the archipelago and a way to be connected to the modern world. A little time on the island reveals, however, that it is a destination in its own right with many interesting visitor sites and much to commend it. This island is a must by either Galapagos cruise or by land tour.
One of the most notable of these is the Charles Darwin Research Station, where much of the specialized conservation work and scientific research for the Galapagos are conducted. The best known of these is the captive breeding program for giant tortoises, but the station's broad brief also includes monitoring and control of invasive species, restoring populations of land iguanas and the distinctive opuntia cacti as well as publication education. The station's Van Straalen Hall Visitors Centre is part of that education programme and provides a useful introduction to the Galapagos and its physical and living environments and the issues that the archipelago faces.
Though it houses the largest human population in the Galapagos, the small port town of Puerto Ayora is a tranquil spot in which to while away some time after enjoying time at sea on a Galapagos cruise. The large choice of hotels, bars and restaurants often comes as a surprise to visitors, as does the number of animals and birds that have made the town their home, going about their business seemingly oblivious to the human activity around them.
The island is good for exploring the different types of vegetation that can be found in the archipelago: from the coastal arid zone populated by Palo Santo, mesquite trees, opuntia and candelabra cacti to the lush highlands where forests of scalesia are often shrouded in mist and rain. Here, trees drip atmospherically with water and beard moss while orchids, ferns and bromeliads proliferate. These varied environments give rise to the highest bird tally of any of the islands, with many rare and distinct species to be found. Birders and botanists alike will delight in the opportunities that Santa Cruz affords.
- All Galapagos vegetation zones
- Highest bird tally of any island in the archipelago at over 85 species many of which are rarities
- Most easily accessible population of giant tortoises in the Galapagos
- Wide array of marine life