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Adventure Cruises in Charles Darwin Research Station
Operated by the Charles Darwin Foundation and staffed by over two-hundred scientists and volunteers, the Charles Darwin Research Station manages the Giant Tortoise Breeding and Rearing Program. The research station is located just northeast of Puerto Ayora, on the island of Santa Cruz. A true success story, the Charles Darwin Research Station’s conservation efforts have restored the once flagging giant tortoise population from fourteen to over one thousand. As the best place to get up close and personal with these gentle giants, the research center remains a highlight of small ship cruise itineraries.
Top things to do and see at Charles Darwin Research Station
The Charles Darwin Research Station is the site of one of the Galapagos Islands’ most iconic wildlife encounters and home to one of its most iconic residents: the giant tortoise. Paths through arid landscapes take you to tortoise enclosures where you can view these Galapagos giants, some as much as four feet in length and nearly a hundred years old. For a cuteness overload, the Galapagos Tortoise Breeding Center offers visitors the opportunity to see baby tortoise. The babies measure as little as four inches and are repatriated to the wilds of the Galapagos once they are large and old enough.
Lonesome George was one of the Charles Darwin Research Station’s most famous residents until his death in 2012. The last remaining member of his subspecies, it is estimated that George was at least 80 and possibly over one-hundred years old when he passed. Since his passing, other tortoise species closely related to George have been discovered.
Though meeting the famous giant tortoise would surely be enough, visitors will also see land iguanas in recreated environments and learn about the islands’ endemic flora and geology.
Of course no stop on a Galapagos adventure cruise would be complete without some adventure activities! After visiting with the giant tortoise and land iguana, make your way to the nearby black sand beach for some excellent snorkeling.
Top Tips for visiting Charles Darwin Research Station
- Bring a good camera—or at least a decent camera phone—to capture a selfie or three with the giant tortoise!
- Don’t forget to bring your bathing suit and towel so as to enjoy the nearby black sand beach.
- Note that the Charles Darwin Research Station is open from 6am to 6pm.
Best time to visit Charles Darwin Research Station
The best time to visit Puerto Ayora is whenever you want! Given that the Charles Darwin Research Station is a largely controlled environment, its attractions and wildlife encounters can be enjoyed any time of year.
It is, however, always a good idea to plan ahead. For instance, January to March offers excellent water visibility and the warmest water temperatures, so it’s the best time for snorkeling at the black sand beach. Meanwhile, January to April brings intense sunshine, so it’s best to pack extra sunblock and a hat for this time of year.
Where do cruises that visit Charles Darwin Research Station depart from?
If your cruise departs from San Cristobal, you will fly into the San Cristobal Airport, near the port city of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
Cruises departing from Baltra and Puerto Ayora are serviced by the airport on Isla Baltra. Puerto Ayora is approximately an hour away from the airport. Cruises leaving from Puerto Ayora will typically include the Charles Darwin Research Station early on their cruise itineraries.
These points can be reached via flights from mainland Ecuador, specifically Quito or Guayaquil.
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