Ashray under the scalesia trees

Island hopping the Galapagos, part 4/4: Santa Cruz Highlands

Read Island hopping the Galapagos, part 3/4: Isabela Island here.


After spending some days in Puerto Ayora and Puerto Villamil dedicating most of our time to ocean related activities, we stayed for some days in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island.

Visiting the upper part of the island gives you a great overview of this place. Not everything is tourist oriented, or by the sea, or even warm! Weather as you go to the interior of the island (and we’re talking as little as 10Km from the coast) is considerably different than in downtown Puerto Ayora. The breeze is cooler, rain and fog are common. No wonder the landscapes are lusciously green and farming is common. This is the area that provides for the rest of the island and even other towns in the Galapagos.

Apart from spending time relaxing at Semilla Verde, the lodge we stayed at, we followed the tourist trail and visited some of the most popular sites in the area.

View of the highlands from Semilla Verde Lodge

View of the highlands from Semilla Verde Lodge


Los Gemelos

“The Twins” are two pit craters, formed when empty magma chambers collapsed in on themselves, creating these volcanic depressions.  Galapagos islands are synonymous with volcanic activity, and these twins are here as a reminder that we walk above rivers of lava.

The surrounding area is populated with Scalesia trees, that give the area a rather fairy tale kind of look. This tree, endemic to the Galapagos islands, is important to keep a balance in the natural biodiversity of the place. By absorbing and storing water, Scalesia trees help “feeding” other endemic species. That is why the endangerment of Scalesias might affect the natural bio-diversity of this place and measures to protect these forests are being held.

One of the twins

One of the twins


Rancho Primicias

This rancho (that is: farm) is a giant tortoise reserve and, according to our taxi driver, its owner has found the “chicken with golden eggs”! Basically, most tourists coming to Galapagos end up coming here, either with their tour groups or on their own. Although the entrance is a mere USD 3, dozens of tourists come here everyday and there is almost no maintenance needed for this place as it is a natural landscape where giant tortoises roam around freely and feed themselves out of the natural resources available. No wonder the driver was jealous of Primicias’ owner… the guy must be loaded!

Business aside, this is a cool place to visit but will perhaps have a greater impact if you come here in the beginning of your trip. We visited on our very last day, after several trips to places with abundant giant tortoises, when we were somehow more familiarized with them and, therefore, the WOW factor decreases. But no doubt that these creatures are beautiful and interesting to look at!


The Lava Tunnels

The owner of the giant tortoise reserve is also a proud owner of “the tunnels”, which fall inside his property too. If this guy was a bachelor, I bet he’d have many Galapagos girls running after him…

Although the whole island of Santa Cruz is probably a network of lava tunels on the underground, not all of them have a connection with the surface. The tunnels at Rancho Primicias do, and that’s why you can go down and walk for 800 meters in a river of solidified magma.

When the volcanos that formed the islands where in eruption, they created rivers of magma that would cool down and solidify on the outside. As the lava eventually stopped flowing, the empty tubes were left behind, looking like long round shaped cave paths.

You don’t have to pay to enter The Tunnels (your USD3 ticket to Rancho Primicias includes this attraction, but the truth is that, if you don’t end up going  to the giant tortoise reserve, no one is at the tunnels asking you for payment).

You can walk around inside, as there is lighting. You do have to wear appropriate shoes as it is wet and extremely slippery. Don’t wear your best clothes either as you will have to almost slide on the floor Indiana Jones style to be able to cross one on the areas where the roof almost touches the ground.

Greenery at the highlands

Greenery at the highlands


Leaving Galapagos (aka Not Wanting to Leave Galapagos)

After an amazing 10 days in the Galapagos, we didn’t really want to leave!

This place is unique, not only for its great landscapes but, particularly, for the wildlife that you can observe in the different islands.

One thing is for sure, we will be back one day! Maybe next time we can take a cruise ship and include other islands we couldn’t visit while island hopping. But keep in mind that, if you do go island hopping, you can indeed see and do most of the experiences available in Galapagos.

Galapagos: we will be back! ;)

Galapagos: we will be back! ;)


It’s important to keep in mind that you do not need to spend thousands of dollars to visit this amazing place. Things are expensive comparing to mainland Ecuador, but there are always options!


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