Santa Cruz Island is the main hub for most Galapagos tourists due to its incredible flora and fauna. It is also the best place to observe giant tortoises in their natural habitat.

After breakfast we headed to the municipal dock of Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the archipelago and home to Galapagos National Park headquarters, where scientists and park rangers do their important conservation work.

From town, we headed to the highlands to visit “El Trapiche Farm,” one of the oldest farms on the island. Its owner, Mr. Adriano Cabrera, showed us the process for producing brown sugar, coffee, and alcohol (moonshine) from sugar cane juice. It is the same process used by his family for more than 40 years—using no electricity, only donkey power. Our guests enjoyed tasting fresh drinks flavored with aniseed or sugar cane juice mixed with lemon.

Afterwards, we headed to the highest part of the island to visit a pair of pit craters formed long ago by a magma chamber. Commonly called “Los Gemelos,” or “The Twins,” the craters are several hundred feet deep with sheer cliffs surrounding the dense vegetation below. In the forest of endemic of scalesia pedunculata, we spotted some finches, mockingbirds, and Galapagos flycatchers.

Next, we stopped for a delicious lunch at El Manzanillo Farm, followed by some quality time with the emblematic Galapagos giant tortoises in their natural habitat. We found them everywhere, along the road, climbing hills, resting in muddy puddles, feeding on grass. We observed males and females of different sizes and ages roaming freely and indifferently close to us.

In the afternoon, we returned to Puerto Ayora to visit the Galapagos National Park breeding center. We observed the efforts made by local institutions to protect these unique species from extinction. We first saw tiny tortoises that had left the incubators only few months ago. Then, at the adult corrals, we saw a range of females and males with differently shaped shells, including some from Floreana island.

With the last beams of sun, we headed back to National Geographic Islander II, tired but happy.