Santa Cruz Island is the heart of the Galapagos. It is centrally located and is the second biggest island with a total area of 381 square miles (986 square kilometers.) It is about 26 miles (42 kilometers) long and 19 miles (31 kilometers) wide. Its highest point is 2,835 feet (864 meters.)
Santa Cruz is dominated by a central peak that may be comprised of several separate volcanoes. The name Santa Cruz means Holy Cross (literally "Saint Cross.") The Ecuadorians gave it this name in 1832 after their official independence from Spain. The English named it Indefatigable after a warship.
For most visitors, this is the first major island they visit because most flights from the mainland land on Baltra, which was a U.S. naval base during World War Two. It was the Americans who built the airstrip that was later converted for commercial use.
The small town of Puerto Ayora is the economic center of the archipelago, with the largest population of the four inhabited islands (approx. 10,000.) Tourism, fishing, boat building and commerce are the major industries. Santa Cruz is also the only island where six different zones of vegetation can be seen; Coastal, Arid, Transition, Scalesia, Miconia and Pampas.
The Charles Darwin Research Station and the Galapagos National Park offices are based here. Scientists, park rangers and park managers make huge efforts to preserve and protect the Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Station is also a tortoise breeding and rearing center, where tortoises of different subspecies are prepared for introduction to their natural habitats.
The lush greenery of the Santa Cruz Highlands is a definite contrast with the arid scenery of the smaller, lower islands. A point of interest is the famed lava tunnels, a fun and geologically informative visit. The trip to the highlands ends with a visit to the Twin Craters.
At Black Turtle Cove the panga will take you into a tidal lagoon to see three kinds of Mangrove plants; Red, White and Black. White-tipped Sharks, Spotted Rays, Mustard Rays and Pacific Marine Turtles frequent the waters here.
Las Bachas is a white-sand beach that is a major egg-laying site for Sea Turtles. Las Bachas refers to the indentations left in the sand by laying turtles or departing hatchlings. On the shore there are Marine Iguanas and in the lagoon flamingos are common.
A newer visitors site, Dragon Hill (Cerro Dragon) offers a brackish-water lagoon, flamingos, Common Stilts, Pintail Ducks and other species of birds. There is a short walk up the hill, which is rewarded with a great view and a nesting site of iguanas.
|Area:||381 square miles (986 square kilometers)|
|Maximum Altitude:||2,835 feet (864 meters)|
|Geographic Features:||Lava formations, Golden-Sand Beach, Black-Sand Beach, White-Sand Beach, sink holes.|
|Getting There:||Bus and ferry from Baltra.|
|Getting Around:||Taxi, bus.|
|Major Sites:||Tortuga Bay, Bachas Beach, Saltwater Lagoons, Black Turtle Cove, Mangrove Lagoons, Charles Darwin Research Center, Lava Tunnels, Los Gemelos (twin sink-holes), Mount Crocker, Puerto Ayora (the capital.)|
|Observations:||Settlement area, land sites and museum.|
|Flora:||Mangrove, Carpetweed, Lava Cactus, Giant Ferns, Scalesia Forest, Avocado groves, Muyuyo, Salt Brush, Button Mangrove, Giant Bamboo, Beach Morning Glory, Opuntia Cactus.|
|Fauna:||Blue Herons, sea turtles, Rays, White-tipped Sharks, Herons, giant tortoises, Flycatchers, Galapagos Hawks, Short-eared Owls, Woodpecker Finches, petrels, pelicans, Manta Rays, Galapagos Hawks, Marine Iguanas, sea lions.|
|Activities:||Walks, hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving, bird watching, cycling, Darwin Station, sea kayaks, sun and beach, hotel, bars, restaurants, tours, surfing and horseback riding.|