Galapagos sea lions, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz island, Galapagos

Santa Cruz Island: In the Middle of the Galapagos

In Galapagos Travel Planner’s continuing series on the colonization of the Galapagos Islands, today we visit the history of Santa Cruz Island.

Santa Cruz Island is, in truth, in the middle of it all in the Galapagos Islands. This isle is right in the middle of the archipelago and it is the focus of the Islands’ flourishing tourism trade. Also called Indefatigable, it is the second-largest Galapagos Island.

After landing at the Seymour Airport on Baltra Island, you take a bus (free) down to Itabaca Canal, a narrow strait separating Baltra from Santa Cruz. After the short ferry ride across the canal ($1), you then board a public bus ($2), take a taxi or a pre-arranged private transfer across the island to Puerto Ayora. This is the longest road in all the Galapagos.

As you rise in altitude, sere landscape surrounds you. But once you reach the heights and descend to the southern coast, civilization marks the land. The village of Santa Rosa blurs with El Carmen, then Bellavista. The island’s vegetation once more thickens until Puerto Ayora begins sprouting across the rough lava rock.

Santa Cruz began to be colonized in the 1830s, but it never had grandiose development schemes as did Floreana, San Cristóbal and Isabela, nor ever a prison colony. Its population was always much smaller and widely fluctuating. Perhaps, in part, this was due to the fact Santa Cruz does not have a permanent source of freshwater.

Most people chose to live around a wide bay on the southern coast of Santa Cruz (later to be named Academy Bay, for the California Academy of Sciences research vessel Academy, which almost ran aground on a reef in the harbor, in 1906). Other settlers went to the highlands for its cooler climate and the more plentiful light rains. These enterprising folks carved farms and homes out of the lava landscape, and founded Bellavista.

The first half of the 20th century saw many Europeans arriving on Santa Cruz. After the fishing plant on Floreana went bust in the 1920s, some of the Norwegians moved to this island. In 1937, in the shadows of the rise of Nazi Germany, four young brothers of the Angermeyer family came. (Hans’ daughter, Johanna, recounts her family’s saga in My Father’s Island.)

During World War II, many island residents worked on the US military base at Baltra. After the war, the wooden barracks were moved down to Puerto Ayora to become the islanders’ homes. You can still see some of them in the port town.

In 1959, with the establishment of the national park and the Charles Darwin Foundation, the search for a home base for these institutions commenced. In the end, Santa Cruz Island was chosen for its central location (in the middle of the Galapagos archipelago) and its easy access to the islands’ only airport. The Charles Darwin Research Station opened in 1964. Since then, it has provided essential support to the national park, in research and training. Its relationship with Ecuador recently has been renewed for another 25 years.

With the founding of the national park and the research station, the population on Santa Cruz Island began to bloom. In 1958, even Isabela had more inhabitants. Workers, tourism entrepreneurs and tourists all came to be part of the action. Now this isle in the middle of it all has over 12,000 residents. Bellavista village in the highlands is now a bedroom community of Puerto Ayora.

Upon arriving to Santa Cruz from another Galapagos island, you’ll be struck by the vast difference. Unlike other Galapagos port towns, Puerto Ayora is more like a typical beach town as you’ll find on any tropical isle. The streets are solidly lined with souvenir shops, hotels, travel agencies, restaurants and bars. In the highlands are luxury hotels and glamping. Several banks, pharmacies, hospital, and the Galapagos’ only hyperbaric chamber also serve tourists. Puerto Ayora also is the main hub for the inter-island ferries, and you’ll have to transfer here to go to any of the other inhabited isles.

And even though Santa Cruz wasn’t on Charles Darwin’s itinerary, you will find his presence throughout Puerto Ayora – as you will sea lions lounging on benches and marine iguanas sprawled across the sidewalks.

Been to Santa Cruz island? Do you have any tips for future travellers?

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Photo credit: Rein Ketelaars

El Junco lagoon, San Cristobal island, Galapagos Islands

San Cristóbal: The Galapagos Islands’ Capital Isle

In Galapagos Travel Planner’s continuing series on the colonization of the Galapagos Islands, we delve into the history of San Cristóbal Island.

The easternmost Galapagos Island is San Cristóbal, also known as Chatham Island. Despite being capital of the Galapagos Province since Ecuador’s acquisition of the archipelago in 1832, San Cristóbal has a relaxed, small-town feel to it. Most of the island’s approximately 6,000 residents live in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

San Cristóbal has El Junco lagoon, the Galapagos Islands’ only permanent source of fresh water. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the island was a necessary stop for pirate and whaling ships. And accompanying this chapter in the island’s history are legends of secret maps and buried treasure.

San Cristóbal was the first Galapagos Island at which Charles Darwin stopped on his whirlwind visit through the Galapagos Islands in 1835. On his itinerary were Stephens Bay (Bahía Stephens) and Cerro Tijeretas.

During the latter 19th century, San Cristóbal had a penal colony. Some of the inmates worked on El Progreso, where one of Galapagos’ most horrifying historical events occurred. El Progreso was a large coffee and sugar cane plantation owned by Manuel Cobos. As punishment, Cobos sentenced prisoners to hundreds of lashes or marooning on a waterless island. After a prisoner died in 1904, the workers (in reality, slaves) rose up, murdered Cobos, commandeered a cargo ship and escaped to the mainland.

In the 1920s, Norwegians came to join San Cristóbal’s growing population. During World War II, the U.S. military had a battlement stationed on Cerro Tijeretas. After the war, the Ecuadorian Navy used it for maneuvers until 1970. As well, a fishing enterprise operated near the hill, from 1952 to 1960. Until the 1960s, San Cristóbal was the most populous Galapagos Island.

The centuries of human presence on San Cristóbal has made its mark. The local species of giant tortoise is critically endangered, and introduced guava and blackberry are a plague that covers the landscape. On several occasions, the exotic tilapia fish has been found in El Junco.

If you are interested in learning more about the human history and impact on San Cristóbal, visit the Interpretation Center which has a section explaining the island’s history. The provincial branch of the Ecuadorian House of Culture is an excellent window into the island’s artistic expressions.

Have you visited San Cristóbal island? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.


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Snorkelling with a sea turtle Galapagos islands

Galapagos Islands: What happens in October

The garua season continues. Morning mist swaths the islands, making them appear to float on the clouds – thus the Galapagos earned the name The Enchanted Isles in days of old. Sunrises and sunsets are breathtaking.

On Land
  • On Santa Cruz Island and elsewhere, giant tortoises are laying their eggs in the wild.
  • Lava lizards continue their mating rituals.
  • Sea lions are breeding.
  • Galapagos fur seals begin their mating season, especially on Fernandina Island.
At Sea
  • Dolphins and whales are common near Fernandina Island.
  • Whale sharks are still resting near Wolf and Darwin Islands, in the far northwest of the Galapagos archipelago.
  • Sea turtles are more visible, making snorkeling even more exciting.
In the Air
  • Lava herons, a rare bird unique to the Galapagos Islands, are beginning their mating season.
  • Fluffy blue-footed boobie chicks fill nests on Isabela and Española islands.
  • Also on Española Island, waved albatross are nesting.
  • Up on North Seymour Island, magnificent and great frigatebirds are also nesting.
  • You may see flightless cormorants, greater flamingos and penguins mating, if their food supplies are excellent.
  • Migrant shorebirds populate the Islands’ coasts.
  • The low season is in full swing in the Galapagos Islands. Hotel and cruise prices will be cheaper and it’ll be more possible to get on a cruise at the last moment.
  • On San Cristóbal Island, the Galapagos Marathon will be held, drawing international runners.
  • The Galapagos Challenge – a triathlon of running, swimming and bicycling – is held on Santa Cruz Island.
  • The Humboldt Current still courses through the Galapagos Islands. The nutrient-rich water attracts much marine life, including frolicking sea lions who’ll want to swim with you.
  • The Galapagos Islands are now warmer than in previous months. Air temperatures average 18-26ºC (64-79ºF).
  • Days are often cloudy and breezy, with a great chance of showers. Be sure to have a windbreaker or rain jacket on hand.
  • The sea temperature is now much warmer, at 21-23ºC (70-73ºF).


Have you visited the Galapagos islands in October? Tell us about it in the comments below.


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Photo credit: tarquiman