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The Highlands of Santa Cruz

17 Nov 2017, Posted by Nathalie Moeller in Galapagos Islands Blog

When we think of the Galapagos, we usually think of white-sand beaches teeming with wildlife. And sure enough: This is what the Galapagos are! However, there are many other sides to the archipelago aside from beaches: black-lava shores, beautiful cliffs, landscapes dotted by cacti, craters and, of course, there’s the amazing highlands of Galapagos. The irregular geography of most of the biggest islands, which happen to be the result of volcanic activity, is home to different types of vegetation and wildlife that vary with altitude. During your stay at the fabulous Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel – the only beach-front hotel in Santa Cruz – you will want to make the most of your time in the Galapagos. It’s not very often that we get to visit such exotic and distant locations. Santa Cruz is not only home to some amazing beaches, such as Tortuga Bay and Garrapatero, but also to some amazing formations that are present up in its mysterious highlands that are sure to leave you breathless. Some visitors coming to the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel might have a Highland Visit included as part of their itinerary, but even if you don’t, read on to learn more about some of the amazing things you will be able to see when you venture through there. Ask at the Finch Bay’s reception for recommendations on the best way to go about your highland exploration: we promise they will be more than happy to help you find taxis and guides, should you need them.

Scalesia tree

Scalesia tree

THE HIGHLANDS OF SANTA CRUZ

Bellavista and “El Trapiche”

After a short drive to the highland town of Bellavista, you will get to the starting point of your exploration. While up there, why not stop for an intense cup of Galapagos coffee before deciding on your next move? It’s still a novelty crop on the island that keeps on improving its taste and aroma over time! You can either rent some bikes and helmets and take a short ride to the “El Trapiche” hacienda or continue on by car, depending on how fit you feel. At “El Trapiche,” which is a small family farm, you will be able to learn about how sugarcane liquor is made, as well as try some brown sugar and fresh sugarcane juice. Watch as these artisanal products are made and sample their sugarcane juice at each of their different stages.

Los Gemelos and the Scalesia Forest

You can also drive past Bellavista to the highest point of Santa Cruz and go see the famous “Los Gemelos” (The Twins). These volcanic formations are located at both sides of the highway and consist of lava chambers with collapsed ceilings (due to erosion), forming crater-looking holes on the ground. The formations are not visible from the highway, as they are hidden below a beautiful scalesia forest. Scalesias are a giant type of daisy and are endemic to the Galapagos. So park and walk a few metres – the drive there is worth it and the view will impress you!

View of one of the "Gemelos" and the scalesia forest.

View of one of the “Gemelos” and the scalesia forest.

Rancho Las Primicias

The highlands of Santa Cruz are also a wonderful place to see the most iconic Galapagos BIG15 species in the wild, most notable of which is the colossal Galapagos giant tortoise. Visit “Rancho Las Primicias,” a family-owned farm turned into a Galapagos giant tortoise reserve and marvel at these giant creatures as they peacefully roam around the property. You’ll get to see them eating, snoozing or taking a nice refreshing bath in a mud pool. You can even stand next to them for some fantastic photos, but just remember not to touch them as it is forbidden by the Galapagos National Park to touch the wildlife, as this could gravely interrupt their natural processes!

Galapagos giant tortoise

Galapagos giant tortoise

Lava tunnels

Around the area of “Las Primicias,” be sure to ask your guide or driver to take you to one of the many lava tunnels throughout Santa Cruz’s highlands. They’re usually located inside private properties but most are open to visitors and charge but a small fee for entry. Lava tunnels that are open to the public are well kept and illuminated. Take a walk through one of these amazing volcanic formations and go back to a time when the islands where being born.

One of the lava tunnels in the highlands of Santa Cruz. Photo by: Alvaro Sevilla.

One of the lava tunnels in the highlands of Santa Cruz. Photo by: Alvaro Sevilla.

Nathalie Moeller is of Ecuadorian and German descent. As a child she spent her summers in the Galapagos Islands, where her mother grew up, and from a very young age learned to love the beauty and uniqueness of the archipelago. She studied Journalism and Humanities in Barcelona, after living in Madrid and Germany for a couple of years. This gave her a culturally broader view of the world, which is reflected in everything she does. Blogging gives her the opportunity to combine her passion for travelling and writing.

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