Isla Santa Cruz Things to Do

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Most Recent Things to Do in Isla Santa Cruz

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    Wildlife at Tortuga Bay

    by MalenaN Updated Apr 5, 2014

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    Great Blue Heron, Galapagos Islands
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    You don’t need to go on an expensive cruise or daytrip to see wildlife in the Galapagos Islands. A nice and easy thing to do is to walk the trail to Tortuga Bay and walk along the beach till the end of the path. You will for sure see lots of birds and marine iguanas. I have talked to people who, when they went to Tortuga Bay, only walked the trail to the beach and then not further. They did not know what they missed!

    Along the 2.5 km long paved trail from Puerto Ayora to Tortuga Bay it is common to see Ground Finches and Cactus Finches, Mockingbirds and Lava Lizards. I remember seeing a Galapagos Flycatcher and a Galapagos Dove here as well.

    Walking along the long white sandy beach there will be Sally Lightfoot Crabs and you will probably see some shorebirds too. In the end of the beach I have twice seen a Great Blue Heron and here there are also Marine Iguanas.

    Follow the left path along the coast to the end. Here the path turns right and there, there is a place where I both times I walked here saw lots and lots of Marine Iguanas. Last time there was so many that I couldn’t continue along the path (it makes a loop) to the small protected Playa Mansa. I had to turn around and take the other way. At this part of Tortuga Bay I also saw a Lava Lizard with a small lizard in his month and it looked like he was trying to eat it (photo 5).

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    Las Grietas, Puerto Ayora

    by MalenaN Updated Apr 5, 2014

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    Las Grietas, Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands
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    Las Grietas is a long fissure in the lava rock. Here freshwater filtered down from the highlands meet salty water entering from the sea, making the water in the ravine brackish. It is a very nice place for swimming and snorkelling. The water is very clear, but can be a bit cold. Some people dive or make somersaults from the high cliffs. When you swim you can continue longer than you think, but you will have to walk over a few rooks and then you can continue the swim around the corner. I think it is a very beautiful place!

    In the afternoon, I have heard, tour groups come here, so if you want tranquillity you should come early. It is easy to go here on your own from Puerto Ayora. Just take a water taxi ($0.60) from the pier over to Angemeyer Point and than follow the trail. After passing Finch Bay Hotel the trail becomes more rocky, so good shoes can be good to wear. Along the path there are several small lagoons were you might see migratory and coastal birds (for example I saw a Great Blue Heron here).

    The first time I visited Las Grietas I hadn’t brought swimwear or snorkel equipment with me, so I came back the next day. I rented the snorkel equipment at Cabo Mar, near the harbour. It was $5 (July 2011) for the whole day and the equipment was good.
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    I visited Las Grietas only once during my visit in June/July 2013. I didn't bring my camera that time as I didn't want to leave it unattended while I went swimming and snorkeling.

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    Galapagos Giant Tortoise

    by MalenaN Updated Apr 5, 2014

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    The Galapagos Giant Tortoise
    The Galapagos Giant Tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus) is endemic to the Galapagos Islands. There are eleven different subspecies, but there have been at least 14.

    Some tortoises can be very big, up to 150cm in length and with a weigh of 250kg, but it is not until they are around 40 years that they are fully grown. I didn’t see a tortoise of that size during my visit (many years ago though, on Prison Island, just off the Zanzibar coast, I saw a huge tortoise which I remember to be larger than the ones I saw on Galapagos Islands). It is not known how old the Galapagos Giant Tortoise can be, but many live till they are 150-160 years old.

    The shape of the tortoise shell have evolved depending on the habitat where they live. There are two major types of shape to the shell, a saddleback shape or a dome shape, but there are also intermediate forms. The tortoises with a saddleback shaped shell are adopted to life in the more arid and hotter areas, where vegetation is sparse. They have longer necks and legs as they must be able to reach vegetation higher up. The dome shaped tortoises can be found in the highlands where there it is cooler and wetter and plenty of ground vegetation can be found.

    The Galapagos Giant Tortoise reach sexual maturity at an age of 20-25 years. They mate throughout the year, but mostly during the warm and wet season. Usually the tortoises don’t travel long distances, but when it is time for the female to lay her eggs she will travel for many kilometres to reach more sandy and dry ground near the coast.

    The tortoises are herbivores, which means they only eat plants, for example cactus pads, poison apple, guava and different grasses. They can live without drinking and eating for a very long time.

    It is estimated that there were around 250 000 tortoises in the Galapagos Islands at the time the islands were discovered. The number soon declined as they were hunted for by sailors who took them aboard their ships. As the tortoises can live very long without food and water the sailors could get fresh meat during their long journeys. Another threat came from the introduced animals which dig up nestings, eat the hatchlings or compete for food. In the 1970s the number of tortoises were only around 3000. Luckily there are many ongoing conservation projects in the Galapagos Islands, many introduced animals are hunted and numbers are decreasing, and there are a few Tortoise breeding centres in the Galapagos Islands where tortoises are brought up until they are big enough to be placed in their natural habitat. There are now around 20 000 tortoises in the Galapagos Islands.

    2011: On the first day of the cruise with M/S Cachalote, even before we went to the boat, we made a visit at a farm (Hacienda Mariposa) in the highlands of Isla Santa Cruz. On the land around the farm Giant Tortoises can be seen and we went out looking for them. We only saw one, and it was a juvenile (photo 4).

    2013: This year I visited both Rancho Primicias (by bicycle) and Rancho Chato 2 (the first day of a second cruise) and at both those two places there were lots of Giant Tortoises.

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    El Mirador de los Túneles

    by MalenaN Written Apr 5, 2014

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    When I was on my way back to Puerto Ayora after one of the daytrips on bicycle I noticed a signboard along the road, not far from the town. It was a signboard for El Mirador de los Tuúneles and the trail was not very long, so I decided to have a look.

    There are many lava tunnels on Isla Santa Cruz. This is not one of the larger ones which you can enter, well I guess you can enter, but there are no steps down to the entrance, and it doesn’t seem to be safe enough to enter. You can see the lava tunnel here because a large part of the roof has collapsed.

    According to the signpost the trail seemed to make a loop, but not many people had continued along the path continuing from the lava tunnel. I walked along the path for some time but it became more and more unclear and when I no longer could see anything resembling a path anymore I turned around and walked the same way back. I saw several Darwin Finches along the path and by the lava tunnels I saw lava lizards.

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    Darwin Finches

    by MalenaN Updated Mar 28, 2014

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    Darwin Finch on Isla Santa Cruz
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    There are 13 species of Darwin Finches in Galapagos Islands, and they are all endemic. The Finches are famous because the role they played in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution . When Charles Darwin visited Galapagos Islands in 1835 during his voyage with the Beagle he didn’t pay much attention to the finches, but more to the Mockingbirds which he noticed differences in, between the islands. He collected finches but didn’t record from which islands. It was not until he came home and talked to an ornithologist and others who had collected finches during the visit that he understood the significance of them.

    All 13 Darwin Finches in Galapagos Islands have evolved from a species of finch found on the South American Pacific coast. When they came to Galapagos Islands they adopted to different habitats and food available there. The beaks have evolved to be suitable to the food they eat. To be able to specialize in feeding is good when food is scarce and there is more competition for what is available.

    Interesting to know is that the Woodpecker Finch can use thorns or twigs as tools when they search for larva or other insects in small crevices. Ground Finches eat skin parasites from Tortoises, Land Iguanas and Marine Iguanas, and the Sharp-beaked Ground Finch on Wolf and Darwin is also called Vampire Finch as they feed on blood they peck from Nazca Boobies.

    The Darwin Finches have a length of 10 - 16cm. Their plumage is mottled grey, brown, black or olive coloured. Some species are not difficult to distinguish, while others are more difficult to identify. Not only are some species looking alike, but there are variations within a species and there are also hybrids.

    The Darwin Finches in the photos were seen in at Hacienda Mariposa, along the path to Tortuga Bay (photo 2 and 3), at Los Gemelos and at Rancho Primicias.

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    Smooth-billed Ani

    by MalenaN Updated Mar 28, 2014

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    Smooth-billed Ani and a tortoise
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    The Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani) is an introduced bird to the Galapagos Islands. It occurs in the highlands of Floreana, Isla Santa Cruz, Santiago and Isla Isabela and it can often be seen in open and semi-open landscapes.

    The Smooth-billed Ani belongs to the cuckoo family. It is around 35cm long and it has a black plumage and a big black bill. The tail is long and gets broader towards the end.

    It was not until the 1960s that the Smooth-billed Ani was introduced to Galapagos Islands. As they are not very good flyers of long distances over water they were probably introduced by humans. It is believed the Smooth-billed Anis were brought to the islands because they remove parasites and ticks from livestock. As they are introduced birds they compete for resources with the endemic and native birds.

    The Smooth-billed Ani also feed on larger insects and Lava Lizards.

    The same nest is used by several pairs and they share incubation and feeding. The nest is built in trees.

    Photo 1: A Smoothe-billed Ani is standing on a tortoise at Rancho Chato 2
    Photo 2 and 3: The Smooth-billed Anis were seen at Hacienda Mariposa.
    Photo 4: A Smooth-billed Ani is in the shallow water of a pool at Rancho Primicias.
    Photo 5: This Smooth-billed Ani has been run over and was lying on the road.

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    Whimbrel

    by MalenaN Updated Mar 28, 2014

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    Whimbrel near Cerro Dragon, Isla Santa Cruz
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    The Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) is common in Galapagos Islands, but it is a migrant bird that prefers breading in the colder northern climates of North America, Europe and Asia. In the Galapagos it can often be found along sandy beaches, by lagoons and tidal pools.

    The Whimbrel is a large wader with a long curved bill. The females have a longer bill than the males. The legs and neck are long and the plumage is grey-brown with a paler underpart than upperpart.

    Whimbrels eat small crustaceans and marine worms they pick up from the muddy surface they walk over, and they eat small fish and insects.

    The Whimbrel in the two first photos was seen at a small lagoon along the trail at Cerro Dragon, Isla Santa Cruz, and the Whimbrel in photo 3 and 4 was walking around at the shore by the pier in Puerto Ayora.

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    Galapagos Sea Lion

    by MalenaN Updated Mar 28, 2014

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    A Sea Lion at the Fish Market
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    The Galapagos Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus wollebaeki) is an endemic subspecies. It is common, and there is a population of about 50 000 Sea Lions in the Galapagos Islands. They can be seen in many places near the shores, on beaches, on the rocks or even in the towns (for example on a porch in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and at the Fish Market in Puerto Ayora). Don’t be surprised if you get surrounded by playful sea lions while snorkelling. It is absolutely fantastic!

    The male Sea Lion becomes very large, up to 230cm in length, with a weigh up to 250kg. They have a dark brown fur, which almost looks black when wet and they have a thick neck.

    The females are smaller and weigh up to 120kg. They have lighter brown fur, which looks dark brown when wet. There are many more females as only one tenth of the Sea Lion pups are males.

    The Galapagos Sea Lions feed during the day and they mostly eat Sardines. They can be away at sea for days to hunt for fish. Sharks are natural predators of the Sea Lions.

    The Galapagos Sea Lions form colonies which consist of a dominant male (bull) and up to 30 females (cows) with their pups. The bull protects its territory against other males and sometimes there are fights. As it is difficult for a male to be away feeding while protecting his territory he becomes weaker and he will then be replaced by a stronger male after a while. Males without a territory form bachelor colonies.

    The females give birth to one pup each year, which they nurse for up to three years. Sometimes you can see two pups of different age suckling milk from their mother. When they are around five months the pups can start fishing for themselves though. The mother and child can recognise each other’s bark and thus find each other among the other Sea Lions in the colony.

    In the photo a Sea Lion is waiting, together with Pelicans, for leftovers at the Fish Market in Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz. Looking through my photos I realise I don’t have any other photos of Sea Lions on Isla Santa Cruz than the ones from the Fish Market, even though I saw several.
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    Update 2013: I visited Galapagos Islands again and from this time I have got several photos of Sea Lions lying on benches on the pier in Puerto Ayora, and more from the fish market.

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    Galapagos Barn Owl

    by MalenaN Updated Mar 28, 2014

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    Galapagos Barn Owl
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    The Barn Owl on Galapagos Islands is an endemic subspecies, Tyto alba punctatissima. It is quite uncommon and there are around 9000 Barn Owls on the islands. They occur both in the lowlands and in the highlands and can be found on Isla Santa Cruz, Isla San Cristóbal, Isla Isabela and Isla Fernandina.

    The Barn Owls have a characteristic hart-shaped facial disk with large dark eyes. The facial disc works as a satellite dish and collects sounds to the ears. Around the facial disk there is a brown edge. The under part of the Barn Owl is whitish with black spots and the upper part is golden-brown with black and white spots.

    The Barn Owls are nocturnal birds but they can also be seen hunting at dusk and dawn. They have excellent hearing and usually use sound when they look for prey. They eat rodents, reptiles and other birds.

    Nests of the Barn Owl can be found in small cavities, in lava tubes, holes in a tree or in old buildings.

    The Barn Owls usually don’t live for more than 1-2 years, but they are able to breed when they are about 10 months.

    On the first day of the cruise with M/S Cachalote, before we even went to the boat, we visited the highlands of Isla Santa Cruz. That is where we saw the Barn Owl in the picture. It was inside a small shed at the farm we visited. We were allowed to go inside one at a time if we were very quiet, and we were not allowed to take photos using flash. In a corner on the floor, under a chair ,there was a chick, all covered in white down. It made a loud hissing sound “shrreee”. While we went inside the shed one by one, one of the women in the group had gone to the bathroom. She was all excited when she came back and told us there had been an owl in the bathroom too. Welcome to Galapagos!

    The Barn Owl in picture 2 was siting in the roof of a lava tunnel at Rancho Chato 2, a place we visited on the first day the second time I did a cruise with Cachalote.

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    Black-necked Stilt

    by MalenaN Updated Mar 28, 2014

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    The Black-neck Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) is a graceful wader which can be seen in shallow pools of saline water or freshwater. It can be found on several of the Galapagos islands, in the lowlands near the coasts. The Black-necked stilt is also found in many other parts of America, from California and Florida in the north to Peru in the south.

    The male and female look very much alike. The length is around 35-40 cm. The wings and back are black as well as the crown and the back of the neck. There is a white patch above the eyes and the underparts and tails are also white. The bill is black, long and thin. The pink/red legs are very long. I wish I had seen one flying as it looks beautiful with the long legs stretched out behind it.

    The Black-necked Stilt feeds in shallow water where it finds aquatic insects, small fish, crustaceans and molluscs to eat.

    The Black-necked Stilt in photo 1 and 2 was walking around in a lagoon beside the path to Cerro Dragón, Isla Santa Cruz. The Black-necked Stilt in photo 3, 4 and 5 was wading around in a small lagoon at Rancho Chato 2, next to the Giant Tortoises.

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    White-cheeked Pintail

    by MalenaN Updated Mar 28, 2014

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    White-cheeked Pintails near Cerro Drag��n
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    On Galapagos Islands you will find an endemic subspecies of the White-cheeked Pintail, also called Galapagos Pintail (Ana bahamensis galapagensis). It is quite common and it can be found both in highland pools and lowland lagoons and mangrove swamps.

    The White-cheeked Pintail is a medium sized duck that becomes around 46 cm long. It has mainly got brown feathers, with patterns of light and dark brown. The cheeks and throat are white and the bill is very characteristic with a blue and red colour. The legs and webbed feet are grey. Males and females look very similar, but the male is slightly larger and has a longer tail.

    The White-cheeked Pintail feeds on small aquatic plants and small animals in the water. It mainly gets the food by dabbling at the surface, but it can also dive in deeper water.

    If the conditions are good the White-cheeked Pintail can breed throughout the year, and they build their nest near the water, on the ground, protected by vegetation.

    The White-cheeked Pintails in photos 1, 2 and 3 were seen at a lagoon near Cerro Dragón on Isla Santa Cruz. The one in photo 4 and 5 was in a pond at Rancho Primicias.

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    Sally Lightfoot Crab

    by MalenaN Updated Mar 28, 2014

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    Sally Lightfoot Crabs
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    The beautiful Sally Lightfoot crabs (Grapsus grapsus) can be seen all over the shores of the Galapagos Islands. With its bright orange colour it stands out from the black lava rocks where you often see them. The young ones are dark in colour though, and this make them well camouflaged on the rocks. The adult crabs can be as big as 20cm. Sally Lightfoot crabs eat algae and small animals. Like other crabs they are moving fast and will run away if you come too close.

    The Sally Lightfoot crabs are not only found on Galapagos Islands, but can be found along the American Pacific coast from Peru in the south to Mexico in the north.

    The Sally Lightfoot Crabs in the pictures are from Tortuga Bay, the road to Charles Darwin Research Station and the rocks below the piers in Puerto Ayora.

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    Diving Experience in Galapagos, Puerto Ayora, Ecua

    by dogsdinner20 Written Oct 7, 2013

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    I found interesting information on the site galapagospacificdiving.com, I contacted the agency and the experience was very pleasant, punctual departures, excellent weather accompanied us and we could see many animals, especially the work of the dive master was great, it was noted much responsibility in handling and safety equipment, I think we got a very good service for our money, but it is best to have the unique experience of diving in the Galapagos.

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    Charles Darwin Research Centre

    by toonsarah Written Dec 22, 2012

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    Super Diego
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    The Charles Darwin Research Centre was set up in 1960 in order to promote research, conservation, and education in the archipelago. A visit here is included in just about every cruise, and it was the first place we visited on Santa Cruz, having transferred directly to the centre’s own jetty in the pangas straight after breakfast.

    Fabian gave us a tour of the different pens used for the successful Giant tortoise breeding programme for which the centre is best known. We saw a group of male tortoises in one, females in another, and elsewhere met “Super Diego”, considered to be the centre’s most sexually active male (and therefore very useful to the breeding programme!) The latter is a Saddleback Tortoise, and Fabian pointed out how his shell shape differs from that of his cousins – a feature that demonstrates admirably Darwin’s theory of evolution. On the larger islands, such as here on Santa Cruz, the Giant Tortoises thrive in the highlands where there is plentiful ground vegetation. Here the domed shell is the norm. But on some of the smaller islands, where most vegetation is above ground and harder to reach, the tortoises have evolved to have this cut-away area of their shell, behind their heads, which enables them to stretch upwards to reach food.

    As with all such places, the centre offers you a chance to get close to wildlife. However, after five days visiting the islands it was clear to us that, given how comfortable the animals and birds are around their human visitors, “getting close” is much less of a bonus here than elsewhere! But we did learn a lot about the Giant Tortoises, and I was also able to get a nice little video of one on the move.

    One inhabitant we did not see however was Lonesome George, arguably at one time the most famous tortoise in the world. Sadly he had died a few months before our visit, in June 2012.

    After seeing the adult tortoises we went on to visit the rearing house, where hatchlings are cared for, and the adaptation centre, where young tortoises are gradually accustomed to the conditions they will find on release to their home islands, which happens at about four years of age. Nearly 2,000 young tortoises have been released so far!

    Here our tour with Fabian ended and we all went our separate ways, free to explore on our own. Chris and I walked back through the grounds, stopping to look at the various plants – the centre also maintains a native plant garden of species endemic to the Santa Cruz arid and coastal zones. We watched a Cactus Finch at close quarters in one of the Opuntias and then had a brief look inside the Van Straelen Exhibition Centre which has displays about the Galápagos Islands and the work of the Research Station. Near here we met up with another from our group, Ian, and decided to walk with him into Puerto Ayora

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    Puerto Ayora

    by toonsarah Written Dec 22, 2012

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    Avenida Charles Darwin, Puerto Ayora
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    Puerto Ayora is situated on Academy Bay, on the south coast of Santa Cruz, and is the most populous town in the Galápagos Islands, with over 12,000 inhabitants. When we walked into town from the Charles Darwin Research Centre it was the first time for five days that we had walked on pavements, or been among more than twenty other people! But you could hardly call this a large town – it just felt that way after our recent experiences. From a visitor’s perspective it consist mainly of a single long street running parallel to the sea, lined with small shops, bars and restaurants, and a few hotels. The Research Station is a short walk to the east, and the harbour is at the west end of town. If you are on a Galápagos cruise a visit here provides an opportunity to shop for souvenirs, pick up emails and VT messages, and maybe to eat and drink on dry land for a change. If you don’t want to cruise the islands but would prefer a land-based holiday, there are a number of hotels here to suit most budgets, and day trips can be arranged to the nearer islands.

    But we of course were on a cruise, so we only spent a few hours in town. It was enough to enjoy a very good coffee (at the centrally-located Il Giardino), buy a couple of small souvenirs and postcards, and to take some photos of the activity at the lively fish market in the middle of town – activity that was at least as attractive to the local pelicans and Galápagos sea lions as it was to us!

    At the end of our morning in Puerto Ayora (which I have described in more detail on a separate page) the pangas picked us up at the pier in the harbour to go back to the Angelito for lunch, and returned us to the same spot for our visit to the highlands of Santa Cruz.

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