Isla Santa Cruz
The second largest by land size and largest by population, Isla Santa Cruz is geographically located in the center of all the other islands. Known for its giant tortoise populations, the island has seen much change from the influence of its human inhabitants and has become a nucleus for conservation efforts.
One of the results of human development and change can be seen at the impressive Charles Darwin Research Center and Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center. In the 1960s, it was discovered that only 14 of the Española giant tortoises remained. In an effort to protect and save these and the other species of Galapagos giant tortoises, the centers piloted an incredible conservation program. Since, they have successfully raised and released several thousand of these wondrous and magnificent creatures safely back to their native islands.
The giant tortoises can be observed at the Tortoise Center and also in their natural habitat. Renowned for its lava tubes, Santa Cruz has several diverse zones from the dry, volcanic coastal zone to the misty, forested highlands where lumbering tortoises can be seen. In addition to the tortoise, Santa Cruz and its coastal islets are home to blue-footed boobies, reef sharks, Galapagos penguins, rainbow-colored Sally Lightfoot crabs, and frigatebirds. The marvelous hiking on land is matched only by the fantastic snorkeling and diving in the water.