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You are here:7.5 Santa Cruz Island

7.5 Santa Cruz Island

Arid zone, Transitional Zone, Scalezia Zone, Miconia Zone.

Santa Cruz Island.

Santa Cruz is the most populous of the islands on the Galápagos, and has a land surface of 986 square kilometers.  The highest point in the island is 864 m.  The main town of Puerto Ayora is the tourist capital of the archipelago, and for birders the town provides a convenient stop to look for many of the specialties of the island.   By staying in one of the many hotels in town, an independent birder will have access to all the important areas that can be visited on a day trip.  All the organized birding trips to Galápagos make a full day visit to Santa Cruz Island to have time to see the special species found here.

All Galápagos vegetation zones are represented on Santa Cruz, stretching from the littoral zone up to the fern zone at the top to Mount Crocker.  The southeast side of the island is more humid and diversified than the northwest side which is very dry.  A visit to the highlands will require rain gear, and even for the independent birders it is necessary to hire a Galápagos certified Naturalist guide.  Hiring a vehicle is mandatory in order to access all the sites inside the National Park.   Hiring a vehicle is also a must so as to change habitats and save time.

Distances and instructions for the Galápagos Islands are for reference only, as at the time of writing visitors could not rent a vehicle and drive themselves.  There are many buses, pickup, and crew cabs with drivers that know all the tourist sites and who will take you to any desired destination.  Prices will vary from 1 US $ per ride inside the town, regardless of destination and number of people, to an all day rate per vehicle.

Almost all the birds species found in the islands have been observed on Santa Cruz, including eight species of finches and the Galápagos Petrel (e) which nests in the highlands.  

(Click here to download Map of Santa Cruz and Media Luna)



Media Luna

An early morning start is mandatory to plan your visit. Start in Puerto Ayora, 0 Km at the soccer stadium outside the city. The first small town you will get to will be Bellavista at about 5.7 km. At this point you will be facing a street heading left to right. The left exit goes towards Itabaca channel and eventually Baltra Reset you odometer to 0.0 km.

To visit the Miconia forest in Media Luna, turn right in Bellavista to reach the east side of the small park some further 0.1 km or 5.8 km from Puerto Ayora. Turn left and drive north and uphill leaving the town behind. The road goes through agricultural landscape where Paint-billed Crake can be seen just along the road. The bird can be seen as it snakes along the edge of the road. After a further 3.2 km from the park at Bellavista or 9.0 km from Puerto Ayora, you will reach a place where you can park the vehicle.   From this point you will hike 0.4 km, uphill on a dirt trail to reach the Miconia forest, home of the Galápagos Rail (e). Good hiking boots and rain gear are strongly recommended from June to December, during the garua season.   The Rail breeds in the area and they can be heard singing from the wet forest undergrowth.  This site is best place to look for the rail. The Galápagos Rail (e) is the only land bird known to breed in the cold-dry season on the islands.   The near-constant garua turns this habitat into a permanently damp and spongy mass of moss.  Though the bird is shy, the rail can be seen in many areas in the Miconia forest. 

During the wet-warm season the rail concentrates especially along streams and boggy patches where the habitat is more suitable for them since the forest undergrowth is much dryer due the constant sun exposure. The trail inside the Miconia Forest forks at about 1.3 km from the parking place.  The right fork takes you to the park ranger headquarters some 0.3 km after the fork and the left trail continues up the hill to Mount Crocker.

Birds to look for

Media Luna

 Miconia Zone (MZ), Transitional Zone (TZ).

Common: Small   Ground Finch (e) (MZ, TZ), Yellow   Warbler (MZ, TZ).

Uncommon:   Galápagos Rail (e) (MZ), Small   Tree Finch (e) (subspecies parvulus) (MZ, TZ), Warbler Finch (e) (subspecies olivacea) (MZ, TZ), Large Tree Finch (e) (subspecies psittacula)   (TZ).

Rare:   Woodpecker Finch (e) (subspecies pallidus) (TZ).



Rancho Primicias and “Los Gemelos” The Twin Craters.

Once back in Bellavista from the fork as you enter the town 0.0 km, take the road up towards Baltra and Santa Rosa. The stretch of road between Bellavista and Santa Rosa goes through an agricultural zone. Drive for a further 3.4 km from Bellavista or 9.1 km from Puerto Ayora. Here there is a dirt road on your left. Park here and walk the dirt road. As you start descending you will be able to see a long stretch from the road. Search the water potholes and the road edge in the distance for the Paint-billed Crake. The crake is easily found here as well as and many of the island’s eight species of finches.


Return to the main highway and keep going towards Santa Rosa. After a further 7.0 km or 10.4 km from Bellavista you will reach the Galápagos National Park check point. Proceed ahead for a further 0.2 km or 10.6 km from Bellavista. At this point there will be a fork in the road. The left road leads through Santa Rosa and the right hand side goes along the main highway and continues up the hill toward Itabaca Channel and Baltra. Reset your odometer to 0.0 km one more time since we will use the Santa Rosa turn off as a new starting point for future reference.

(Click here to downloas Map. Rancho Primicias & Twin Craters)

From the Santa Rosa turn off 0.0 km drive through Santa Rosa toward east-northeast leaving the town behind. Keep on going for a further 1.1 km. At this point there will be a side road down to your left. Take this road and drive for further 2.7 km or 3.8 from the Santa Rosa fork. At this point there will be a fork. The left exit takes you to a well known lava tunnel in a further 0.4 km or 4.2 km from the Santa Rosa turn off. The main road ahead goes to Rancho Primicias a further 0.6 km or 4.4 km from the Santa Rosa turn off.

If heading to the lava tunnel remember that it is illuminated and the access has been improved so visitors can safely step down. Nevertheless you will want to take a flashlight along to look for the Barn Owl (endemic subspecies punctattisima) that sometimes can be seen right at the lava tube entrance.


Rancho Primicias is a private property bordering the Galápagos NP by the site known as “El Chato”. This Rancho is one of the popular sites to look for the Giant Tortoises. There is a 3 US $ entrance to visit the ranch. Here the tortoises roam freely around as do many of the Finches, Paint-billed Crake and Galápagos Flycatcher.


Returning back to Santa Rosa town fork 0.0 km, drive along the main highway heading toward Itabaca Channel and Baltra for 2.9 km. At this point you are entering the Galápagos NP once again by the Scalezia forest. From this point the summit of the road will be only at a further 1.4 km or 4.3 km from the Santa Rosa fork. The summit of the road is also located between two huge sinkholes that are a very popular tourist site.

This site is known as the “Los Gemelos” or in English, The Twin Craters, and located 20.6 km from Puerto Ayora along the road to Baltra. A few trails wander around the craters, and many land birds can be seen from them including: many of the finches, Galápagos Dove (e), Short-eared Owl (endemic subspecies galapagoensis), Galápagos Flycatcher (e). This is probably the best place on the islands to look for the Vermilion Flycatcher (endemic subspecies nanus). A further 19.3 km along this road or 39.9 km from Puerto Ayora, you will reach to the public dock to get across the Itabaca Channel and onto the Island of Baltra.


Birds to look for

Rancho Primicias and “Los Gemelos” The Twin Craters.

 Scalesia Forest Zone (SFZ),   Transitional Zone (TZ).

Common: Cattle Egret (SFZ,TZ)Galápagos Dove (e)   (SFZ,TZ), Smooth-billed Ani (SFZ,TZ), Galápagos Flycatcher (e) (SFZ,TZ), Galápagos Mockingbird (e) (subspecies parvulus) (SFZ,TZ), Small Ground-Finch (e) (SFZ,TZ), Medium Ground Finch (e) (SFZ,TZ), Small Tree Finch (e) (subspecies parvulus)   (SFZ,TZ), Yellow Warbler (SFZ,TZ).

Uncommon: Paint-billed Crake (SFZ,TZ), Barn Owl (SFZ,TZ),   Vermilion Flycatcher (endemic   subspecies nanus) (SFZ,TZ),   Vegetarian Finch (e) (SFZ,TZ),   Large Tree Finch (e) (subspecies psittacula) (SFZ,TZ), Woodpecker Finch   (e) (subspecies pallidus) (SFZ,TZ), Warbler Finch (e) (subspecies olivacea) (SFZ,TZ).

Rare: Galápagos   Rail (e) (SFZ), Short-eared Owl (SFZ,TZ),   Dark-billed Cuckoo (SFZ,TZ).



Charles Darwin Station

One last obligatory stop in Santa Cruz is the Charles Darwin Station and its surrounding dry forest.   The station is located on the ocean front at the main street out of Puerto Ayora town.  In spite of the fact that these places are practically in town they can be quite rewarding for birders.  I recommend visiting these sites in the late afternoon as the heat of the day fades away.

The ocean front in Puerto Ayora is a good place to look for the endemic Lava Gull (e), especially at the fish market when fishermen clean the catch of the day.  The Charles Darwin Station dry forest is probably the best place to look for Common Cactus Finch (e) (subspecies intermedia) and the Large Ground Finch (e).

(Click here to download Map. Charles Darwin Station)

Birds to look for

Charles Darwin Station.

Arid Zone   (AZ), Sea shores (SS).

Common: Brown   Pelican (endemic subspecies urinator) (SS), Elliot’s Storm-petrel   (endemic subspecies galapagoensis)   (SS), Magnificent Frigatebird (endemic subspecies magnificens) (AZ, SS).

Uncommon: Lava   Gull (e) (SS), Great Blue Heron   (SS), Cattle Egret (AZ, SS), Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (endemic subspecies pauper)   (SS), Lava Heron (e) ( SS), Ruddy   Turnstone ( SS), Semipalmated Plover ( SS), Wandering Tattler ( SS), Common   Cactus Finch (AZ), Large Ground Finch (e)   (AZ).


Copyright © 2010 by Lelis Navarrete

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Meet the Author

Lelis Navarrete – Birding tour leader. Lelis has 19 years of experience as a birding guide and naturalist in the field. He has led groups of birders throughout most of Latin America, guiding frequently in countries like his native country of Ecuador and in the Galapagos Islands, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Panama. A Biology B.Sc. graduate from Universidad Católica in Quito, Lelis has supported Jocotoco Foundation since its founding in 1998 and was an active Board Member until 2010 supporting Ecuadorian bird and wildlife conservation. Lelis divides his time between his two great passions in life: birding and spending time with his wife Solange and son Fabian with whom he lives in Quito.


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