Galapagos Islands Santa Cruz
Area: 986 km2 or 381 mi2
Maximum Altitude: 864 m or 2835 ft
Human Population: Approximately 12, 000
Volcanic activity has long since ceased on Santa Cruz, the second largest of the Galapagos Islands and located in the center of the archipelago. The name Santa Cruz is Spanish for “Holy Cross, ” but its English name — Indefatigable — was named for the British vessel HMS Indefatigable. Santa Cruz has a long history of human settlement and agriculture, which has left the landscape permanently altered by invasive species. Human development began in the 20th century on Santa Cruz when settlers from the United States and Europe moved to the area between WWI and WWII. The variety of geology, wildlife, and vegetation attracted settlers. The small towns of Bellavista and Santa Rosa were established in the humid highlands, where farmers raised cattle and planted crops such as avocados, coffee, sugarcane, bananas, oranges, and lemons.
Santa Cruz is the main tourism hub for all of Galapagos, given its proximity to the airport on Baltra to the north. It is the only island in Galapagos where tourists can readily experience the interior and higher elevations of a Galapagos island. Santa Cruz has the longest paved road in Galapagos, which runs north-south across the island, taking people from the airport ferry at Itabaca Canal on the north coast into the highlands and through a few smaller towns on its way down to Puerto Ayora, the island’s largest city located on the southern coast of the island in Academy Bay.
The Galapagos Islands have experienced accelerated development due to recent rapid growth in both tourism and population. Santa Cruz Island, and more specifically the town of Puerto Ayora, has withstood the brunt of this growth. In addition to the problem of introduced species and the ever-greater probability of introductions, this growth has put increasing pressures on local resources and municipalities in terms of health, education, waste management, and many other aspects of daily life. For example, until recently, the waste produced by the community was taken to a dump where no treatment was performed. In 2006, through the joint efforts of the community and the Galapagos National Park, the “Fabricio Valverde Environmental Center” was established outside of Puerto Ayora to provide recycling of 40% of the waste materials generated in Santa Cruz.
Conservation of nature can only be achieved when the local population is sustainable, both economically and in terms of resources.
City: Puerto Ayora
Situated in Academy Bay on the southern coast of Santa Cruz, Puerto Ayora is a port town where sailboats fill the bay, sea birds fill the air, and marine iguanas dot the shore. Puerto Ayora is the heart and soul of the Galapagos Islands’ human population and is the main tourism hub in the archipelago.
Known for its quaint hotels with creative architecture and small restaurants with delicious seafood, Puerto Ayora is the base point for most tours and offers the most services in Galapagos, including a hospital, banks, post office, radio station and a TAME airline office. Most travelers to the Galapagos will make a stop in Puerto Ayora during their trip.
Puerto Ayora also offers the most options for tourists who prefer to sleep ashore. There are a variety of day tours available allowing visitors to design their own Galapagos experience. Day-trips to a number of the islands, kayaking, tours of the highlands, hiking, dive trips, mountain biking, and horseback riding are just a few of the activities visitors can arrange in Puerto Ayora. It is also home to the headquarters of the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Research Station (see visitor site).
The village of Bellavista is located 7 km inland from Puerto Ayora. It is the second largest population center on the island. Once a farming center, it is now also the center of a housing boom with more residential properties for many who work in Puerto Ayora. The town is the starting point for hikes or horse rides to Media Luna and Cerro Crocker at the top of the island. Various farms around both Bellavista and Santa Rosa have restaurants and some have opportunities for visitors to go underground into lava tubes.
City: Santa Rosa
Santa Rosa is a smaller community in the highlands of Santa Cruz. It is the center of a farming community. The town is the starting place for hikes to the Tortoise Reserve (either La Caseta or El Chato) and the road out to Salasaca where there is a road down through private property to El Chato. Various farms around both Bellavista and Santa Rosa have restaurants and some have opportunities for visitors to go underground into lava tubes.