We started our exploration of Isla Santa Cruz with a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station, and here’s where for the first time we felt the Ecuadoran Parks Service failed a little. The complex is huge with lots of buildings spread out over a wide area, some actual research labs and some interpretive centers. Or so we read. There are precious few signs and when I asked at the welcome center for a map the ranger looked puzzled and said no, there’s no map and he pointed down the road and told us to make a left and we’d see the tortoises.
We followed a tour group for a while but they stopped in the middle of nothing for a long treatise on something in German so we kept walking. We did eventfully find the tortoise nursery and it was very similar to the one we saw on San Cristobal with Jorge. They raise the young ones in a protected environment away from introduced predator species — cats, pigs, other domesticated animals — until their shells are hard enough to ward off most attacks, usually at the age of 3-5 years. Then they can be relocated into the wild with a pretty high probability of survival.
We’d read there was also a compound where you can see the land iguanas but we never found it. We did follow a few unmarked paths and discovered a few research labs and some gift shops but in general they need some signage for us self-guided folks. I guess they figure most people are from the tour boats with naturalists to guide them.
The next day we took a long and beautiful walk to Tortuga Bay, a long white sandy beach that all our guide materials much recommended. We had to sign in at the park office, then out again when we left. From there it was a 2.5 kilometer walk over a paved and walled path that reminded us of the Great a Wall of China. The landscape is otherworldly.