With stunning white-sand beaches surrounded by black volcanic rocks, natural reserves, lagoons and amazing wildlife that has no fear for humans, Santa Cruz is one of the most popular inhabited island in Galapagos and by far the most developed. Due to its central position, the island is the starting point for many day-trips and cruises in the Archipelago. In Puerto Ayora, its main town, you will find the best places to serve traditional Ecuadorian dishes, souvenir shops, bike rental centers, travel agencies for various last-minute trips, but also pharmacies and a fully stocked supermarket.
From Baltra to Santa Cruz
The best way to arrive in Galapagos is by plane. The only two international airports in mainland Ecuador from where you can depart are José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport (GYE), in Guayaquil and Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO), in Quito. Both flights are operated by Tame, the national airline of Ecuador within the same price range. Depending on your itinerary, you can either land on Baltra Airport (north of Santa Cruz Island) or San Cristobal Airport (on San Cristobal Island). The flight usually takes about 2 hours or less for both routes.
If you land in Baltra you will discover a small but unique airport, that prides itself in the full use of renewable energy. At the counter where the tourist visa is granted, you have to pay the Galapagos Entrance Fee and a bus ticket to Itabaca Channel. The ride takes about 10 minutes, then you’ll have to get on a ferry to Santa Cruz Island.
Don’t worry if your hotel doesn’t provide transportation. As soon as you get off the ferry, you will see a few buses that depart according with the flights arrival time. But if you cannot find a seat or prefer a more convenient means of transportation, the parking lot is also full of taxi drivers offering to take you to Puerto Ayora. However, you should always negotiate with them, because is hard to tell apart those who work independently from the local taxi company. You could end up paying for a ride even double than normal.
Tips&Tricks: We preferred to go by bus and pay 5$ for a ticket. We used the GPS on our phone to find the hotel where we were staying and got off within a 5 minute walking distance.
Most beautiful places on Santa Cruz Island
Regarding biodiversity, Galapagos National Park is a unique place in the world. Being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, completely isolated from the continent, has made it a refuge area for many animals that are nowhere else to be found in the world today.
Top Guided Tours and Activities (our favorite choices)
1. Santa Cruz Fish Market
Although not very big, the fish market is without any doubt the most delightful place in Puerto Ayora. Being the main source of fresh fish for the nearby restaurants, sea lions are always around, begging for scraps or sleeping near the fishing crates. It’s worth a visit at any time of the day, however, the lovely show starts in the afternoon, when fishermen return from the sea. Sea lions, pelicans, marine iguanas, and dozens of frigate birds and seagulls gather around waiting to get a snack, even before everything is unloaded from the boats. The fish caught during the day will then be cleaned, sliced, and prepared for sale.
2. Charles Darwin Research Station
Inaugurated in 1964, Charles Darwin Research Station serves as a research station for studying the wildlife in Galapagos. In the hopes of increasing the endangered populations of Galapagos tortoises, the foundation conducts here a unique breeding program. You can easily spend an entire day among the giant Galapagos tortoises and their newly-hatched babies, walking through thematic gardens and learning about the endemic species of the Archipelago. Continue reading…
3. El Chato Reserve and Los Gemelos
There are only a few places in the Archipelago where Galapagos tortoises can still be found in their natural environment. Among them is El Chato, a natural reserve that occupies thousands of square meters in Santa Cruz’s highlands. Walking through the forest trails is a unique opportunity to see the giant reptiles freely roaming around grazing in the lush vegetation or taking mud baths to escape the heat.
Los Gemelos is a couple of minutes drive from El Chato. A short trail on both sides of the main road from Baltra to Puerto Ayora, lead to this huge volcanic sinkholes formed at the same time as the island. Now covered by endemic vegetation, the viewpoints offers one of the most stunning panoramic views on the island. Continue reading…
4. Las Ninfas Lagoon
Surrounded by a mangrove forest whose colors are reflected in its clear water, Las Ninfas Lagoon is probably one of the most beautiful places to watch the sunset on the island. This peaceful lagoon has a short boardwalk around the trees, where you can relax and enjoy birdwatching. If you are lucky, you can even spot sea lions, sea turtles or shark pups. Continue reading…
5. Tortuga Bay
Home to many endemic wildlife such as marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, crabs, marine turtles, sharks and rays, Tortuga Bay is one of the largest beaches on Santa Cruz Island. It has two areas, the open beach where currents are very strong, suitable for surfing, and a beautiful lagoon where you can swim. Snorkelling and kayaking at Tortuga Bay is one of the most unique experiences in Santa Cruz, as you can encounter more marine life than anywhere else on the island. Continue reading…
6. El Garrapatero Beach
If you want to spend an entire day at the beach, El Garrapatero is the perfect place for swimming, relaxing in the sun, or enjoying a nice picnic by the ocean. Lined by a mangrove forest, this white sand beach is particularly popular with the locals. A beautiful lake behind the trees is home to an array of birds. Depending on the season, Garrapatero is one of the few places in Galapagos where you can see flamingos. Continue reading…
7. Las Grietas Lagoon
Due to the emerald crystal-clear water and the sharp volcanic rocks surrounding it, Las Grietas is considered one of the most beautiful places on Santa Cruz Island. With fresh water at the surface and salt water of the sea at the bottom, the lagoon is a lovely place to hike, swim or snorkel. The trail passes giant cactai where you can spot land iguanas that are basking in the sun or foraging for fruits, a small white sand beach and a pink salty lagoon visited by lots of migratory birds. Continue reading…
8. Playa de la Estacion
Playa de la Estacion is a small beach on the right side of the main road to Charles Darwin Research Station, home to dozens of marine iguanas, sharks or rays that you can spot near the shore. Due to very strong currents and sharp volcanic rocks on the shoreline, the beach is more appreciated for the view than for snorkeling or swimming. Continue reading…