Exploring Botanical Gardens on the Islands

Ferry and Flora II Exploring Botanical Gardens on the Islands

Flora, the oldest fairy, possesses the Sword of Truth and the Shield of Virtue. The fairies are getting ready for Aurora’s sixteenth birthday and Merryweather wants Flora to sew the princess gown.

Designed by 3deluxe, our Celebrity Flora gives you a direct onboard link to nature. From our uncovered aft and marina to enhanced custom-designed Novurania yacht tenders, the ship seamlessly integrates with your Galapagos experience.

1. San Cristóbal Botanical Garden

San Cristóbal has the distinction of being home to the oldest botanical garden in the Western Hemisphere. Initiated in 1765, it was originally used for the cultivation and improvement of wild plants. This also included the importation of foreign plants that adapted well to the islands’ climate. Nutmeg, black pepper, and breadfruit were among the most popular imports.

Today the gardens contain more than a hundred different plant species, including ferns, orchids, and anthuriums. Orchids are the most prominent flowers in this lush oasis, and the garden’s name, Orquideas Moxviquil, is taken from one of those species. “There are 180 species of orchids here that are threatened, endangered, or rare,” says garden founder Craig Robert Dietz.

This garden is one of the top attractions for nature lovers and is especially appealing to horticulturalists and botanists. Located a short bus ride from Puerto Ayora, the gardens are open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Visitors are welcome to explore the gardens at their leisure and take in the sights.

The nearby Point Robinson Lighthouse and the whimsical Oscar the Bird King Troll are other highlights on this island. It’s best to head here during the cooler, off-season months if possible. Wait times for the ferry can be quite long on weekends and holidays, especially during summer.

2. Charles Darwin Research Station

The Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) is located on Academy Bay in the village of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. It houses Ecuadorian and foreign scientists who are conducting research and projects to support conservation of the Galapagos terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

CDRS is also home to a breeding program for the famous Galapagos tortoises that inspired the theory of evolution by Charles Darwin in his book On the Origin of Species. Baby Galapagos tortoises get a head start on life here, safe from predators, until they are ready to be reintroduced into the wild.

Visitors to the center can stroll among the pens and enclosures housing the tortoises, which can be petted when they’re tame. They can also see the facility’s special incubators, where baby tortoises are nurtured until they’re large enough to survive on their own in the wild.

Besides being a major tourist attraction, the research center is involved with the government in aiding the conservation of the Galapagos Islands. Its exhibition hall features a whale fossil and murals by local Galapagos artists. Most guided tours of Santa Cruz include a visit to the CDRS. Admission to the attraction is free, although donations are accepted. Visitors also get to see the embalmed Lonesome George, the last of his kind and perhaps the most famous of all the Galapagos tortoises.

3. Puerto Ayora

Depending on the type of Galapagos tour you choose for your visit, Puerto Ayora may be one of the places where you spend a few days. There is much to see and do in this town on Santa Cruz Island and nearby beaches and highlands, from the Charles Darwin Research Station to Garrapatero Beach to lava tunnels, Twin Craters and art galleries. Those on land-based tours also get the opportunity to spend half a day out at El Chato Reserve – the largest Galapagos Giant Tortoise conservation ranch with dozens of these impressive animals roaming free.

If you like to swim and snorkel, there are some wonderful beaches near Puerto Ayora, including Playa Los Alemanes (German Beach) and Tortuga Bay where sea turtles nest and where hammerhead sharks are sometimes spotted. A short walk from Angermeyer Waterfront Inn along the paved path beside a lagoon leads to Las Grietas, three pools of fresh and saltwater where both swimming and cliff diving are possible.

In general, Puerto Ayora is a large enough town with a variety of stores for any last minute purchases and a good range of restaurants to meet any preference. The best way to experience it is on a multi-day land-based Galapagos tour, which offers the opportunity for a flexible schedule, island hopping and a wide array of outdoor activities, from kayaking and horseback riding to scuba diving and snorkeling.

4. Santa Cruz Botanical Garden

Located on the west side of campus, UC Santa Cruz Arboretum & Botanic Garden is home to over 7,500 plant species. Its collections contain representatives of all plant families that live in California’s Mediterranean climate. Specialized collection areas include world conifers, primitive angiosperms and bulb-forming plants. Large assemblages of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa natives are also displayed.

The botanical garden focuses on research and conservation of Bolivian plants and their habitats and is an important place for environmental education. It has several trails that are perfect for nature walks. Look for the elusive white hummingbird on the Hummingbird Trail or sniff pleasant scents of lavender, jasmine and oregano in the Aroma Garden. The Botanical Garden also keeps a Herbarium, a botanical museum that houses 18,000 dry samples perfectly classified in a modern archive.

A visit to the Palmetum, which has the largest palm collection in Europe, is also a must. The park consists of an artificial hill that was once a landfill, although you’d never guess it from the stunning collection of flora it now houses. The park is spread over 30 acres (12 hectares) and is located south of Santa Cruz de Tenerife’s port, on the coast. It offers a breathtaking view of the ocean and showcases flora that thrives in subtropical environments, especially in island areas.