Santa Cruz: Where Volcanoes and Desert Collide

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When I envisioned the Galapagos Islands, my mental picture was awash in greenery and tortoises and miles of endless beach. I think the other trip participants were expecting the same. So we were all in for a surprise after arriving on Santa Cruz Island: Not only was it not all beaches and thick foliage, it was downright barren in places, accentuated by cacti and sharp, black lava rocks.

Santa Cruz Island highlands | Galapagos Islands | Camels & ChocolateThat’s largely due to Santa Cruz Island’s status as a dormant volcano. Though it’s been more than a million and a half years since the last known eruption, the volcanic past of the Galapagos is still very evident on many parts of the island.

Santa Cruz Island highlands | Galapagos Islands | Camels & ChocolateOn our full-day guided tour, we visited a pair of giant sinkholes (also called pit craters)—Los Gemelos or “The Twins”—that were the result of a magna chamber collapsing. The larger of the two is 2,300 feet deep and nearly 1,300 feet wide.

Santa Cruz Island highlands | Galapagos Islands | Camels & ChocolateIt was not unlike Arizona’s Meteor Crater—in other words, anticlimactic—which we saw last year (aka “First Proven Best Preserved Impact Site on Earth”).

Santa Cruz Island highlands | Galapagos Islands | Camels & ChocolateAfter learning about Los Gemelos, it was off to delve deep, quite literally, into another geologic marvel: hollowed lava tubes that wind for miles under the earth’s surface and soar 60 feet from floor to ceiling.

Santa Cruz Island lava tube | Galapagos Islands | Camels & ChocolateThe lava tubes formed centuries ago when hot, liquid rock flowed swiftly underground, creating a network of channels that dried out and hardened and left behind a series of hollowed tubes.

Santa Cruz Island lava tube | Galapagos Islands | Camels & ChocolateVisitors to the island can take a guided tour of the tubes or explore them independently. From the Highlands, we set off for a ranch for lunch. One of the more shocking features of Santa Cruz Island was its main industry: agriculture. Farms and cattle were many.

Santa Cruz Island | Galapagos Islands | Camels & ChocolateWe switched scenery once more that afternoon as we hiked through a mile and a half of towering cacti on our way to Tortuga Bay.

Santa Cruz Island lava tube | Galapagos Islands | Camels & ChocolateNeedless to say, while exotic wildlife encounters were expected in the Galapagos Islands, the chance to view a millions-of-years-old crater then scamper through dank lava tubes then hike through vast, dry desert was just an added bonus and testament to the diversity the islands offer.

Santa Cruz Island lava tube | Galapagos Islands | Camels & Chocolate

  • July 23, 2012

    This reminds me a lot of the Big Island in Hawaii, actually. My favorite part of my trip there was the lava tubes (but not touristy ones, we literally found some unlit, unexplored, unmarked ones on the side of the road. So awesome!


    • July 23, 2012

      Yes, that’s exactly what I thought, too! Particularly as we were just back on the Big Island last year and went trekking up a volcano and then climbing through lava tubes (I even have a scar to show for it).

  • July 23, 2012

    TOTALLY read that as just Santa Cruz and was very confused about the volcanoes. And the desert. Doh! I need to get out more.

    • July 23, 2012

      That was my fault–I had to omit “Island” to make it fit on the page! Stupid long titles =)

  • July 23, 2012

    You are right. This is not what you expect from the Galapagos. However, the place looks amazing.

    • July 28, 2012

      A mash-up of Hawaii, Central America and the South Pacific, I’d say!

  • July 23, 2012

    I’m the same – I never would have expected the Galapagos to have such interesting geology in addition to their wildlife. Loving those lava tubes!

  • July 23, 2012

    I guess diverse ecosystems should lead to life diversity. Not sure I had expectations but now just want to go even more. Looks a wonderful combination of environments I really like.

    • July 24, 2012

      You’d feel right at home there in the desert!

  • July 24, 2012

    lovely pics as usual 🙂

    • July 24, 2012

      Thank you! So sweet of you to say!

  • July 24, 2012

    Wow… crazy pictures! Those tunnels look unreal… would love to check them out.

    • July 24, 2012

      They also have similar lava tubes on the Big Island in Hawaii if you ever happen to be out that way!

  • July 25, 2012

    I’m so impressed by how the words are used in describing your every adventure in the Galapagos Islands, those are really amazing. Actually, what’s so fascinating is your unique ideas and writing style. Thank you for this encouraging commentary. By the way, I couldn’t agree more to heidikins; that that lava tube also makes me think of Thurston Lava Tube in Hawaii. That was quite an adventure!

    • July 28, 2012

      Why thank you–so sweet of you to say! And yes, we hiked up to some lava tubes on the Big Island last year, and this area reminded me a lot of it.

  • July 26, 2012

    What a wonderful pictures and impressive landscape !! Without any type of doubt this place deserves to be visited…Santa Cruz… what a fabulous place to get lost and live an adventure together with the incredible nature which surrounds this spot.

  • July 27, 2012

    What an adventure!!!!!!!

    • July 28, 2012

      It definitely was! One of the craziest, given we crammed all this into under three days.

  • July 29, 2012

    I had no idea that one of the islands had this kind of scenery. Guess that’s why Darwin’s famous finches had to be so specially adapted to their distinct habitats – did you ever imagine when you were learning about evolution that you’d someday be in the Galapagos Islands?

  • August 6, 2012

    I walked through a lava tube in Hawaii and was amazed. It’s just so crazy to realize that hot lava is what created it, pushing it’s way through the earth.

  • August 7, 2012

    The galapagos Santa cruz island is quite diverse from lavatubes, to deserts, green meadows, to 200ft deep sinkholes. I would really love to explore the lavatubes and sink holes too.

  • June 18, 2014

    Quite an adventure indeed, those caves looks scary, Do you find any bats in there?

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