Tortuga Bay is located on Santa Cruz Island, the largest island in the central region of the archipelago. It is home to abundant wildlife and extraordinary scenery. After an energizing 25-minute walk the doors of a white-sandy elixir open up…
Not many get a chance to visit Tortuga Bay, although the majority of visitors get to spend a full day on Santa Cruz Island. Many turtles inhabit the nearby waters, and some will come to land during their nesting season, hence its name. Stroll among a giant cacti forest where finches feed on the attractive yellow flowers. As you get closer to the shoreline, the gentle sound of waves turns into great ambiance music, where waves are quite suitable for surfing. Since this recreational area is open to hikers and nature lovers, you can explore it at your own pace.
There are two large sandy environments here; one, where wave action performs a water show and marine iguanas leave tracks in the sand as they look for shade, and, two, a secluded beach at the end of the beach reserved for those who want a more quiet location. Your eyes can go wild here as you witness one of the few places on Earth where giant cacti meet the ocean and the tropical coast is dotted with mangroves. Bizarre combination!
Tortuga Bay is protected and very calm. No wonder why those who extend their time in the islands after an expedition cruise love it here. In some areas, big waves prevent you from swimming but in others, calm shallows will invite you to splash near the beach. Explore the rocky shorelines, as marine life thrives well here, including sea lions and sally-lightfoot crabs, and keep an eye on plunging blue-footed boobies. The aerial show is just ahead.
One of the best ways to see all that Santa Cruz island has to offer is on an expedition cruise with the option of a pre or post stay. While on a ship you’ll have a large cabin with picture windows, a highly trained captain and crew as well as an onboard naturalist, at a local hotel you will get all the freedom and space you need. Perhaps, a less regimented day plan or a more flexible schedule for dinner, and even the option of exploring the town at night. Ride a bike in town, sip some Ecuadorian beer, or just shoot the breeze while mingling with the locals. Now we understand why explorers talk about experiencing “best of both worlds” when they combine a cruise with a local hotel stay.
You can stroll in the town of Puerto Ayora, the largest populated area in the islands, and then visit the Charles Darwin Research Station. This data-gathering location is a biological research station that is operated by the Charles Darwin Foundation. The main mission of scientists working there is professional advising for the conservation of the Galapagos Islands. The most well-known effort at the center is the captive breeding program for giant tortoises, but other monumental efforts are taking place here too. Visitors can see baby tortoises in semi-captive conditions, as well as those about four or five years of age and ready to be repatriated to their home islands.
Birdwatching is a very satisfying pastime on the Galapagos Islands. It’s worth having a pair of binoculars handy at all times. There are many different species including cormorants, albatrosses, frigate birds, finches, boobies and many more. There are 56 native bird species on the Galapagos, and 45 are only found there. The cormorants, like penguins, have lost the ability to fly, are excellent swimmers and, unlike penguins, still, need to dry their feathers when they emerge from the sea. Since these encounters happen on the outer-lying islands of the archipelago, this is another reason for considering the best of both worlds option.
Tropical seabirds such as the blue and red-footed boobies, Galapagos penguins, lava gulls, red-billed tropicbirds, and many more flock to the islands for feeding and breeding. Visitors often see many different species incubating eggs or feeding their young, and since the islands change throughout the year, birdlife will always perform a unique feature of their nesting behavior.
Up in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, there are two sinkholes called Los Gemelos. They are not volcanic craters, but they are the mechanical result of magma being evacuated at another location and then the top-heavy rock of the island collapsing several hundreds of feet deep. The area is part of an evergreen forest made mostly of scalesia trees, an endemic daisy tree of the islands. This is the least visited area of the islands and it provides explorers with more biodiversity to be seen with over 50 species of plants, including some minute orchids. Keep an eye open for one of the islands most elusive predators: short-eared owls and barn owls. Contrasting with the emerald green color of foliage, the crimson-red vermillion flycatchers. Highlands get more rainfall than the dry lowlands and are a bit cooler. When you see your pictures after the trip, you will easily recognize where those forest pictures were taken.
A holiday in the Galapagos Islands is an exciting adventure for those who love the outdoors as well as for anyone with an appreciation for unique flora and fauna. Tortuga Bay tops the list of beaches in the Galapagos for beauty as well as wildlife encounters and can be a great addition to your expedition cruise if you opt for a local hotel stay. One night highly recommended, but two are much better.