Guests onboard National Geographic Endeavour II spent the day exploring the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. The island’s five distinct microclimates are caused by the direction of the prevailing trade winds in Galapagos. Despite very little change in elevation, guests observed changes in air temperature and vegetative profiles. We passed through the famous Scalesia zone, a group of endemic plants that evolved from dandelions.

We explored Manzanillo Ranch, looking for Santa Cruz giant tortoises. Guests had the opportunity to observe these creatures in their natural habitat. We observed several individuals cooling themselves off in the two freshwater ponds on the ranch. At this site, we had the opportunity to encounter giant tortoises at many different stages of life. The majority of the ranch’s giant tortoises are male. The females are likely migrating to and from the lowlands where they lay their eggs every year. During the rainy season, we see more vegetation in the lowlands; giant tortoises take advantage of the availability of food in that zone to lay their eggs. Giant tortoises are megaherbivores in the Galapagos. We observed some finch species that we had yet to encounter on our expedition, including the woodpecker finch.

After our walk at the ranch, guests enjoyed a delicious lunch, followed by local coffee and spirits. Some guests took advantage of two empty giant tortoise shells by crawling inside of them and snapping hilarious family photos.

In the afternoon, we disembarked to a beautiful beach called Bowditch. Guests strolled along the beach and swam in the sea. We observed the tracks and nests of many green sea turtles along the dunes. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the beach.

Photo caption: A Santa Cruz giant tortoise wades in a freshwater pond. Giant tortoises are ectothermic. They regulate their internal body temperature via external forces such as shade and sunlight. They utilize mud from the ponds to reduce the accumulation of parasites on their carapace. Photo by Alexandra Widman