The visitors site at Dragon Hill is located in northwestern Santa Cruz Island, and consists of a trail that runs through three different environments at just 1,600 m long. It gets its name because in 1975, was one of the only places in the Santa Cruz Island where there were land iguanas (Conolophus subcristatus) in healthy state. That same year, the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation initiated a program to conserve land iguanas. The iguanas on North Seymour (originally from Baltra), iguanas from Cartago Bay (Isabela Island) and iguanas of Santa Cruz Island were studied and then transported to pens especially designed for these animals to breed in captivity. By 1979 first iguana were born. The entire iguana population of Cerro Dragon was transported to the Venice Islet to keep the away from the wild dogs which in those days abounded in the place. Soil from the base of Cerro Dragon was also transported to Islet to create an appropriate environment for nesting iguanas. It was necessary to separate the Venice Islet from Santa Cruz Island with a barbed wire fence to prevent predator dogs from crossing to the Islet, which is separated from the island by a very narrow channel. Several iguanas that were reproduced in Venice were returned to Cerro Dragon in 1990. Currently there are no dogs in Cerro Dragon, and the Galapagos National Park Service performs constant monitoring of cats and donkeys. In the lagoons at this site, there is shrimp (Artemia salina), the same as is the food of flamingos; at certain times of year they are more abundant and therefore the population of these birds is larger. During rainier times the water of the lagoons become too sweet and therefore shellfish populations decline, and shorebirds also become scarce
North Seymour’s topography is flat and strewn with boulders due to its origins as an uplifted, not volcanic, island. You should expect to see large populations of magnificent Frigate birds due to the idea nesting sites, Blue- footed boobies perform their courtship dance in the more open areas and swallow-tailed gulls perch on the outer shore. Sea lions and Marine iguanas can also be seen hauled out on the beach.
The visitor site Las Bachas is located in northern part of Santa Cruz Island, it consists of two beaches that have a combined length of about 1 km long. The name Las Bachas originates from the Second World War, when the American army left two barges discarded on the beach, the first settlers could not pronounce the name correctly in English, which resulted in Las Bachas Beach. The predominant vegetation is of the coastal zone. It represents one of the main nesting sites of sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) on Isla Santa Cruz. It is a good place to see flamingos, as well as migratory and aquatic birds.
CHARLES DARWIN RESEARCH STATION: Founded more than Twenty years ago to assist the National Park Service in its efforts to save Galapagos wildlife, the station plays an important part in monitoring and assessing the state of the islands. Today you will find buildings housing the different scientific areas of the station, a library and homes of scientists and tortoise keepers. The museum at the station has a facility for rearing tortoises, a project to increase the depleted population. Also the world famous lonesome George can be found with in the stations breading program.
EL CHATO: An amazing opportunity to see the magnificent giant land tortoise in its natural habitat, having just seen the tortoise in the breading program in the station, you can now see them bathing and eating in the wild (depending on the season). This area is vegetated with transition zone vegetation and is located in the humid zone of the highlands of Santa Cruz. The walk to the reserve is one of the best places to observe ground birds, tree and ground finches, the vermillion flycatcher, cattle egrets and occasionally galapagos rails.
FLOREANA ISLAND: As one of the oldest islands, Floreana has the most interesting human history. It has stories of marooned whales, prisoners and colonists as well as bizaree disaperances and even murders! It is made up of numerous extinct volcanic cones and has an established extensive scrubby vegetation.
CORMORANT POINT; offers two highly contrasting beaches. The landing beach is of volcanic origin and is composed of olivine crystals, giving it a greenish tinge. At the end of the short trail is a carbonate beach of extremely fine white sand, formed by the erosion of coral skeletons, it is a nesting site for green sea turtles.
POST OFFICE BAY; significant for its human history. In 1793, James Colnett, the captain of a whaling vessel, established the wooden post barrel on Floreana. Whaling ships, typically offshore for two years at a time, frequented the archipelago Outbound ships would drop off letters after rounding the cape and the ships returning home would mail them. Over the years, thousand of ships have stopped to send and receive mail at Post Office Bay. This will be your opportunity to partake in this amazing postal service. You will be given letters to take home and mail to their intended recipients, and also have the opportunity to drop off letters ourselves.
ESPAÑOLA ISLAND: Española, the southernmost island, has the densest and most diversified concentration of wildlife.
SUAREZ POINT; is home to Blue footed boobies, Nazca boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, oystercatchers and the majestic waved albatross breeding grounds. This makes this site one of the richest wildlife locations in the Galapagos Islands. The area is famous for it marine iguanas with unique copper-red patches.
SAN CRISTOBAL ISLAND – INTERPRETATION CENTER; here it is explained, in a simple manner, the natural phenomena that created the Galapagos Islands. They explain the series of natural processes, such as volcanic eruption and marine current locations that have lead to the amazing islands that you are now visiting.
SANTA FE ISLAND: This Island offers the unique opportunity to see the hybrid iguana, a land and marine iguana mix. There is also the opportunity to see an unusual prickly pear cactus forest. SOUTH PLAZAS, an uplifted island, like Baltra, it is highly populated by sea lions, over 1000 inhabit this island residing in 10 harems each one attended by a male. One of the characteristics of this island is its vegetation of Opuntia Cactuses and sesuvium plants. This small island offers cliffs with swallow-tailed gulls, red-billed tropicbirds
BLACK TURTLE COVE is one of the most beautiful marine sites; located in a small mangrove lagoon. It is a nursery grounds for many marine species such as sharks, spotted eagle rays and sting rays. Also it is a favored breeding ground for the sea turtle. It is also a wonderful site for watching, herons, finches and blue-footed boobies feeding. This site does not involve a land visit; it is all seen from the small zodiac boats.
HIGHLANDS OF SANTA CRUZ: This is the second largest island in the Galapagos, and has the most developed vegetation zoning found in the archipelago. On the short journey to the highlands you will drive through Coastal, Arid, Transition, Scalesia, Miconia, and Pampa Zones. During this visit you have the opportunity to see the famous giant tortoises (during the rainy season) in their natural environment; you will visit the twin craters, formed when large caverns left empty by flowing lava collapsed. You will also find Darwin’s finches, vermilion flycatcher, and the Galapagos Hawk.
GENOVESA (also known as bird Island): DARWIN BAY, is the caldera of a collapsed volcano, we land on a small coral beach, were we take an easy walk. For those that want this will lead into a more demanding walk over lava rock. This will allow for stunning views from the cliffs and allow apple time and opportunity to photograph the amazing bird life such as swallow-tailed gulls, red-footed booby, nazca booby, large ground finch, large cactus finch, sharp-billed ground finch, small marine iguanas, and great frigate bird.
BARTHOLOME ISLAND, most likely the first of the islands to rise from the sea, Bartolome, is a small island that has beautiful white sand beaches and luxuriant green mangroves. Here, penguins may join us at the swimming beach, and a hike to the summit of a once-active volcano rewards us with beautiful panoramic views of the often-photographed Pinnacle Rock panoramic and it’s amazingly moon landscapes
CHINESE HAT: Sombrero Chino gets its name from its appearance, which is that of a Chinese hat. Sitting just off the south-eastern tip of Santiago, this fairly recently formed island makes for a pleasant visit as the island itself is quite beautiful and is definitely worth a trip. To truly appreciate the shape of this island, visit the northern end of Sombrero Chino. Here there is a tiny sea lion colony on the north shore cove, where one can anchor their boats and land. Galapagos penguins can also be found swimming here sometimes. Follow the trail around the cove and you will catch a glimpse of American oystercatchers in action, along with marine iguanas, lava lizards and Sally Lightfoot crabs. Starting from a crescent- shaped white sandy beach, this 400 meter long trail provides some wonderful landscapes to view. There are also some good swimming and snorkelling opportunities in the cove area amidst white- tipped reef sharks and tropical fish.
WHALE BAY: On the cost of Santa Cruz Island, this is a semicircle beach, which is green in color, due to a high volume of olivine crystals. It extends 25 meters from the base of the hill. The beach has some historical interest as it was the first trail to the highlands used to search for fresh water. There are a number of pieces of ceramics strewn about, although no verified information exists concerning the origins of the ceramic. Here can be found a curious galapagos Hawk.
ISABELA: TINTORERAS / THE HUMEDALES / BREEDING CENTER Isabela, the largest island in the archipelago, occupies over fifty-eight percent of entire landmass of the Galapagos. It is a relatively recent island and consists of a chain of five fairly young and intermittently active volcanoes. TINTORERAS It takes approximately 10 minutes from Puerto Villamil to arrive at The Tintoreras. The islet of the Tintoreras is situated to the south of Puerto Villamil. It has a small lbya of completely tranquil turquoise water, where is possible to appreciate sea lions, sea turtles, marine iguanas, rays, etc. This bay is connected to a shallow crevice of crystalline waters whose entrance closes when the tide is low. In this crevice, it’s possible to see sharks swimming with other small fish and sea lions. It is not advisable to swim in these beaches because of the presence of the colonies of sea lions which may be disturbed.
FERNANDINA ISLAND: PUNTA ESPINOSA, Fernandina Island is the youngest and most active volcano in the Galapagos, with eruptions taking place every few years. The flat lava of Punta Espinosa offers a stark and barren landscape, but here flightless cormorants build their nests on the point, sea lions sprawl on the beach or play in the tide pools and large numbers of marine iguanas dot the sand. We also will have the opportunity to compare the aa and pahoehoe lava types here.
TAGUS COVE (ISABELA ISLAND) is situated directly east of Fernandina Island on the west coast of Isabela Island. It is a beautiful, well-protected cove sheltered by the shoulders of two volcanic craters and has been used as an anchorage for over 300 years. A nature trail here ascends through the typical dry vegetation zone and offers spectacular views of Darwin Lake, a saltwater crater lake and the long narrow inlet that appears to connect with it. At the top of the trail it is possible to observe the different vegetation zones, catch a glimpse of Darwin and Wolf volcanoes, and observe Galapagos penguins, Flightless cormorants and pelicans.
SANTIAGO ISLAND: EGAS PORT, with its black sand beaches, was the site of a small salt mining industry in the 1960’s and a hike inland to the salt crater is an excellent opportunity to sight land birds such as finches, doves and hawks. Here we can also swim and play with Galapagos sea lions in a quiet grotto cut into the lava cliffs. We may see sea lions basking on the rocks beneath a natural rock bridge, diving blue-footed boobies, sally light foot crabs and colorful lava lizards scurrying at our feet.
RABIDA ISLAND, One of the special features of Rabida Island is its remarkable red color, which is a result of the high percentage of oxidized iron in the composition of lava. Here we will witness the nine varieties of finches also the large-billed flycatchers and brown pelicans. Here a small salt-water lagoon where greater Flamingos can be seen and a beautiful colony of sea lions.
DAPHNE MAYOR, is a volcanic tuff cone, formed by successive explosions produced by the mixture of lava and water. On this island, Dr. Peter Grant has made a long-term study of Darwin’s finches, which is why you can see these birds are banded. The palo santo present here in Bursera malacophyla is endemic to the Daphne Islands, North Seymour and Baltra. The blue-footed booby nests inside the craters and the masked booby nests on the flanks of the cone and the edge of the craters and the tropical bird that nests in cavities in the cliffs.