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Santa Cruz Island

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Galapagos giant tortoise

Santa Cruz is located in the middle of the archipelago and has an area of 98,555 hectares.  From shore you can enjoy beautiful beaches and bays with marine turtles and seabirds. Traveling through seven different vegetation zones and giant tortoise you arrive at Cerro Crocker at 2,834 feet of altitude, to enjoy the great views of the island. The name Santa Cruz means Holy Cross. The first Spanish visitors gave this island a Christian name.


The vegetation of Galapagos is strongly zoned, with arid lowlands and humid highlands. Most visitors spend most of their time in the arid coastal areas, where most of the well-known visitor sites are. However, the vegetation of the humid highlands is very varied, and Santa Cruz is the island where the all the variety of humid highland habitats are most easily accessible, so it is well worth spending more time there. There are famous visitor sites in the Santa Cruz highlands at the Los Gemelos craters and at El Chato in the Transition Zone, the area where most giant tortoises are found. There are also many opportunities for more adventurous visitors to go hiking elsewhere in the highlands. The lowest of the wetter vegetation zones is the Transition Zone, with intergrades, as its name suggests, with the arid-zone vegetation below it. However, it is a genuinely distinct zone, largely covered by dense forest, and contains the tallest natural vegetation in Galapagos. The main trees are the endemic Galapagos Guava Psidium galapageium and in some areas, the Pega-pega Pisonia floribunda, liberally mixed with the spiny Cat’s Claw Zanthozylum fagara and the Daisy-tree Scalesia pedunculata. Underneath the tree canopy is a dense shrub layer, rnade up of tree saplings mixed with sprawling shrubs especially Horse-knee Clerodendrum molle, so-called because of the lumps on the stems. In the El Chato area, the Transition Zone forest is heavily invaded by introduced plants, especially the trees Guava Psidium guajava and Cuban Cedar Cedrela odorata and the Maracuya vine Passiflora edulis.

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Above the Transition Zone is the Scalesia Zone, dominated by Scalesia pedunculata. This is best seen at Los Gemelos, the best remaining fragment of what was formerly a huge forest that covered what is now the agricultural zone. The Scalesia forests are home to a huge variety of smaller plants, many of them endemic to Galapagos, and including an abundance of epiphytes - small plants, mainly orchids, ferns and peperomias, that grow on the branches and trunks of the trees. The ground flora is made up of many species of vine, including endemic passion-fruit Passiflora colinvauxi, and lots of ferns. These forests are also being invaded by introduced plants, especially Hill Blackberry Rubus niveus and the Quinine tree Cinchona pubescens. The Scalesia Zone fades out at higher altitudes, where the vegetation turns from forest to scrub, in the Miconia Zone, dominated by the endemic Miconia robinsoniana, which is only found on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. This beautiful plant lines the trail up from Bellavista to Cerro Crocker. Finally, above the Miconia Zone, the vegetation height drops again, to about knee or waist height, where the uppermost Fern-sedge Zone is dominated by ferns and other low plants, especially Bracken Pteridium arachnoideum. The vegetation of this zone is very variable on a small scale, with patches of different plants and boggy areas where mainly Sphagnum mosses grow. Many small flowering plants can be seen along the trails in the Fern-sedge Zone, such as the abundant yellow-flowered endemic Jaegeria gracilis, which attracts many small butterflies at certain times of year. The main invader in these upper vegetation zones is the Quinine tree, which is completely changing the character of these naturally treeless areas. The invasive plants, such as blackberry, guava and quinine, are not only changing the landscape but they are also affecting the populations of many Galapagos endemic plants. These changes in turn affect the animals of the zone, such as giant tortoises and Darwin’s finches. The invasive species are the biggest threat to Galapagos biodiversity and the Galapagos National Park and Charles Darwin Research Station undertake research to develop effective control techniques, and management in important sites such as Los Gemelos.

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