For many, Santa Cruz is simply a hopping off point on the way to other parts of the archipelago and a way to be connected to the modern world. A little time on the island reveals, however, that it is a destination in its own right with many interesting visitor sites and much to commend it. This island is a must by either Galapagos cruise or by land tour.
One of the most notable of these is the Charles Darwin Research Station, where much of the specialized conservation work and scientific research for the Galapagos are conducted. The best known of these is the captive breeding program for giant tortoises, but the station's broad brief also includes monitoring and control of invasive species, restoring populations of land iguanas and the distinctive opuntia cacti as well as publication education. The station's Van Straalen Hall Visitors Centre is part of that education programme and provides a useful introduction to the Galapagos and its physical and living environments and the issues that the archipelago faces.
Though it houses the largest human population in the Galapagos, the small port town of Puerto Ayora is a tranquil spot in which to while away some time after enjoying time at sea on a Galapagos cruise. The large choice of hotels, bars and restaurants often comes as a surprise to visitors, as does the number of animals and birds that have made the town their home, going about their business seemingly oblivious to the human activity around them.
The island is good for exploring the different types of vegetation that can be found in the archipelago: from the coastal arid zone populated by Palo Santo, mesquite trees, opuntia and candelabra cacti to the lush highlands where forests of scalesia are often shrouded in mist and rain. Here, trees drip atmospherically with water and beard moss while orchids, ferns and bromeliads proliferate. These varied environments give rise to the highest bird tally of any of the islands, with many rare and distinct species to be found. Birders and botanists alike will delight in the opportunities that Santa Cruz affords.