These creatures were the feature attraction of our next stop at Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz. The town has a population of about 20,000 people, making it the largest city in the Galapagos.
We first visited the Charles Darwin Research Station, located just on the outskirts of town. This is a biological research facility established in 1964. It is focused on the conservation of Galapagos terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The center raises tortoises from eggs to adults, then releases the tortoises into the wild. They also operates a facility for raising iguanas. Both species have in the past been subject to human predators, but the role of the center has dramatically improved the population of both.
The center is a great place to visit, being well laid out with much information about the Galapagos, tortoises and other wildlife. There are restrooms, a museum with wonderful artwork and a cafe.
We also visited a privately owned tortoise sanctuary located about 13 miles from Puerto Ayora in the hills of Santa Cruz. The centers, adjacent to one another, offer a wandering tour of the grassy woods, inhabited by dozens of giant tortoises.
An interesting sidelight was the shopping areas and harbor of the small city. Many sea lions occupied the harbor benches!