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SANTA CRUZ ISLAND GALAPAGOS
LAVA TUBES AND LOS GEMELOS PIT CRATERS

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Los Gemelos sign with trail map
Los Gemelos sign with trail map
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Our Galapagos Islands trip on the Ecoventura cruise ship M/Y Eric brought us to Puerto Ayora, where we took a bus tour of the Santa Cruz highlands.

Our bus climbed through four of the seven Galapagos vegetation zones. We began at the littoral zone (coastal saltwater lagoons and mangroves) and then climbed through the arid zone (cacti) and the transition zone (palo santo trees) to the scalesia zone.

Galapagos National Park hiking trail

At Los Gemelos (The Twins), a sign provided information about the Galapagos National Park hiking trail to the pair of pit craters. Depending on the routes selected to Los Gemelos, the trail lengths are 1,640 feet (500 meters) or 2,370 feet (723 meters) long.

A trail map showed us how to get to the lookouts above the Santa Cruz pit craters from the two parking lots.

It takes about 90 minutes to hike the trails to and from Los Gemelos. The hiking trail is open from 6 am to 6 pm.

Scalesia forest

Led by our Galapagos cruise guides, Ceci Guerrero and Yvonne Mortola, we walked through an electric green forest of scalesia trees, draped with moss. The scalesia (scientific name: Scalesia pedunculata) forest grows at an altitude of 1,312 to 1,640 feet (400 to 500 meters).

Hikers walk on trail through scalesia forest.
Hikers walk on trail through scalesia forest.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Scalesia trees play an important role in the Galapagos ecosystem by trapping and collecting rainwater. Scalesias are also a substrate for bromeliads, orchids, mosses, lichens and other plants.

Looking into one of the craters
Looking into one of the craters
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"In the scalesia zone, look for Darwin's tree finches, barn owls and vermilion flycatchers," advised Ceci. "Woodpecker finches use tools to find larvae in dry wood."

Within minutes we spotted a warbler finch and several small tree finches.

Santa Cruz pit craters

We arrived at the first Los Gemelos pit crater and gazed out over a wooden railing at a massive sunken hole filled with greenery. As large as four football fields, the pit craters were created after volcanic magma chambers emptied, causing their roofs to collapse.

"Santa Cruz Island has five pit craters," explained Ceci, as we boarded the bus to travel to The Tunnels.

Galapagos lava tubes

"There are eight lava tubes on Isla Santa Cruz," said Yvonne Mortola. "The largest lava tubes in the Galapagos are on Santa Cruz Island."

Entering Santa Cruz lava tunnel
Entering Santa Cruz lava tunnel
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll
Guide Yvonne Mortola explains efflorescence to group.
Guide Yvonne Mortola explains efflorescence to group.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

As we climbed down a stairway into one of the lava tunnels, Yvonne advised us to use our flashlights. It was hard to spot rocks on the dirt and gravel path, because only a few electric lights illuminated the tunnel.

"The owner found this lava tunnel when he was looking for a missing cow," explained Yvonne. "He followed the sound of mooing to this lava tube."

It was hard to believe that we were inside a tube through which lava from the Santa Cruz volcano once flowed. After the exterior hardened, the lava flowed out, leaving the hollow tunnel.

About 23 feet (seven meters) high, the lava tube looked more like a subway tunnel, whitewashed with lime. "It is actually efflorescence," said Yvonne. "The white color comes from mineral deposits."

After we walked 1,200 feet (367 meters) through the lava tunnel, rubble prevented us from walking any farther. On our way out, Yvonne pointed out tiny stalactites and a barn owl.

Returning to the bus, we continued our tour of the Santa Cruz highlands to a giant tortoise reserve.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Ecoventura: www.ecoventura.com

Copa Airlines: www.copaair.com

Ecuador Ministry of Tourism: www.ecuador.travel

More things to see & do in the Galapagos Islands:

Isabela Island Galapagos - Hiking and Kayaking at Tagus Cove

Punta Suarez Espanola (Hood) Island Galapagos - Christmas Iguanas, Mockingbirds and Blue-Footed Boobies

Punta Espinoza Fernandina Island Galapagos - Flightless Cormorants and Lava Cacti

San Cristobal Galapagos Interpretation Center, Kicker Rock and Playa Ochoa

Santiago (James) Island Galapagos - Birds, Animals and Plants