Charles Darwin Research Station (Santa Cruz Island)#10 in Best Things To Do in Galapagos Islands
A must-see attraction for budding scientists, this exulted site features an active breeding center and informative displays explaining the archipelago's unique ecology and history. Operated by the Charles Darwin Foundation, the center strives to preserve the diversity of the Galápagos Islands through continual conservation research and practices with over a hundred educators, research assistants and volunteers. As you follow the paths, you can catch sight of numerous Galapagos giant tortoises. (Sadly, however, you won't spot Lonesome George, the sole survivor of the Pinta Island giant tortoise subspecies, who passed away in 2012.) Once you've gotten up close and personal with these fascinating creatures, head inside the museum to watch an informational video about the center's mission and conservation efforts.
Travelers rave about the newly renovated facility, adding that exploring the exhibits, installations and tortoise areas should be an essential part of any first-time visitor's itinerary. But if you're most interested in seeing the region's giant tortoises, some caution that you should head elsewhere; the property has fewer tortoises that do not roam freely like they do at sites like Rancho Primicias and El Chato Tortoise Reserve.
You'll find the research station located within a mile of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. From Puerto Ayora, walk or take a taxi east on Charles Darwin Avenue until you reach the property. Visitors are welcome every day from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., though the facility closes daily for lunch between 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. Access to the attraction's exhibits, restrooms, gift shop and cafe is free, but the center welcomes donations to help fund its science projects. For additional information, consult the Charles Darwin Foundation's website.
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#1 Tortuga Bay (Santa Cruz Island)
Outdoorsy types don't flock to these two white sand beaches simply to bake in the warm equatorial sun. Travelers visit this isolated strip of Santa Cruz Island's southern coastline for some quality face time with the Galápagos' marine turtles. If you visit between January and February, you may even catch sight of the black turtles laying their eggs (hatchlings emerge and make their way to the sea between April and May). Even if you're not a turtle-lover, you can still get up close and personal with the other beach combers like marine iguanas and Sally Lightfoot crabs.
While most recent travelers describe their visits to Tortuga Bay as a highlight of their trips, some do caution that it can feel like quite a trek to get there from Puerto Ayora, especially in the hot sun. Also, remember that the beach closest to the bay's entrance (Playa Brava) has strong currents, so it's not suitable for swimming. If you want to swim, continue walking to the bay's other beach (Playa Mansa).
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