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Other Visitor Sites on Santa Cruz

There are several highland sites on Santa Cruz, which can be reached in tour vehicle or private transportation, by bicycle, or on foot from the trans-island road. From the village of Bellavista, seven km north of Puerto Ayora, you can either venture north into the national-park highlands, east, eventually hitting the beach, or west, toward the Baltra airport.

The north route is a five-km trail to a crescent-shaped hill called Media Luna, which serves as the base point for access to two other hills, Cerro Crocker, the highest point on Santa Cruz, and El Puntudo. You can either hike, bike, or ride horseback the three kilometers from Media Luna to the other two hills, taking in the typical highland flora—Scalesia, Miconia, and fern-sedge zones—and fauna—vermilion flycatchers, Galápagos rails, finches, and dark-rumped petrels. Since this area is national park land, you must go with a guide either with a formal tour or with a private group, both of which can be arranged in Puerto Ayora.

Going east from Bellavista along a hilly yet scenic road through the village of Cascajo brings you to a coastal trail that leads to Garrapatero, a gorgeous white-sand beach. Some say this is the most romantic spot in the Galapagos, but besides serving as a mating site (mostly for humans), the beach is great for running, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, or just watching the “wild” life. It is about a two-hour bike ride (up and down) to the coast and a 15-minute walk to the beach.

The other highland attractions can be accessed from the road going west out of Bellavista. First, about two-km up the road, you will encounter the Tunel del Mirador, a lava tube extending more than one kilometer underground. You can explore the tunnels on your own or with a tour organized in Puerto Ayora. The admission fee is about $2, which includes information about the formation of the lava tubes, guides, and flashlights (although the tunnel also has some lighting, it is a good idea to supplement what is provided with your own torch or head lamp).


Further along the road near the town of Santa Rosa is El Chato Tortoise Reserve, where you can follow a 1.6-km trail through lagoons to observe giant tortoises in their natural habitat, vermilion flycatchers, yellow warblers, Galapagos rails, short-eared owls, and white-cheeked pintails.

You can continue on foot or horseback through private farmland to the boundary of the national park area, where you can turn left to go to La Caseta (two km) or right to go to Cerro Chato (three km). You can organize guided day-tours in Puerto Ayora for about $20-$30. Many cruise tours will also make a stop here, or at the adjacent private ranch owned by the Devine family, to see the tortoises. The entrance fee to the private ranch is about $2, which allows you to wander around at will (in boots provided by the owners) or partake in a soda, beer, or hot beverage at the cafe.


The final attraction, located just off the main road two-km north of Santa Rosa, is Los Gemelos. These are twin sinkholes—not volcanic craters—surrounded by Scalesia forest, where you can search for vermilion flycatchers, short-eared owls, and finches.


The remaining visitor sites on Santa Cruz are located on the north coast and are reached by boat and with guides. Bachas Beach is often the first destination on a cruise tour, since it is close to the embarkation area and a relaxing introduction to Galápagos travel. Here you can walk along the white-sand beach (wet landing), looking at Sally Lightfoot crabs, remnants of pencil-spined sea urchins, mounds where green sea turtles lay their eggs, and mangroves. There is also a small lagoon, where you can often see flamingoes, and the remains of abandoned barges (from which the area receives its name).

Black Turtle Cove, or Caleta Tortuga Negra, is a shallow inlet surrounded by mangrove stands that provides protection for juvenile marine creatures. From a panga or a kayak (there is no landing site), you can see black- and white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles, golden cowrays, spotted eagle rays, and, on the rare occasion, juvenile hammerhead sharks. Seabirds, like pelicans and blue-footed boobies, also come here to feed.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Galápagos Island Visitor Sites: Fernandina, Rábida, North Seymour, Pinta, Mosquera Islet, Santiago, Isabela, San Cristóbal, León Dormido/Kicker Rock and Marchena.

04 Jun 2007

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