Santa Cruz, Galapagos | Most beautiful places on the island
Santa Cruz is the most developed area of the Archipelago. Due to its central position is the starting point for most excursions and cruises in the Archipelago. It has special tourist attractions, beach areas, natural reserves, lagoons, and many beautiful ways to spend time. In Puerto Ayora, you will find the best places to serve 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
Flights to Galapagos depart from mainland Ecuador’s Quito and Guayaquil, and are operated by Tame, the national airline of Ecuador. Depending on your itinerary, you can either land on Baltra Airport (north of Santa Cruz Island) or San Cristobal Airport on San Cristobal Island. Flight time is usually 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 have to take a ferry across to Santa Cruz Island.
Do not worry if your hotel does not provide transportation. As soon as you get off the ferry, you will see buses whose routes are planned according to the time interval of the flights that are landing in Baltra. But if you cannot find a place or prefer a more convenient means of transport, the parking lot is full of taxi drivers waiting to go to Puerto Ayora. However be careful, because at the beginning 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 followed the GPS from the phone and got off the bus 5 minutes away from the hotel where we were staying.
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.
The fish market
The fish market is without any doubt the most delightful place in Puerto Ayora. It has an excellent location in the center of the city and is the main source of fresh fish for the nearby restaurants. Although not very big, is charming and worth a visit at any time of the day. Sea lions are always around, begging for scraps or sleeping near the fishing crates.
The show, however, starts in the afternoon, when fishermen return from the sea. Sea lions, pelicans, marine iguanas, and many other birds gather around trying to get a fish snack. Everyone is waiting to receive something and this before everything is unloaded from the boats. The fish caught during the day will then be cleaned, sliced, and prepared for sale.
Tips & Tricks
Every afternoon in Puerto Ayora, sea lions patiently wait their turn to be fed. Seeing them, it is often very easy to forget that they are wild animals.
Charles Darwin Research Center
No matter how many days you spend on the island, you should visit Charles Darwin Research Center. Inaugurated in 1964, the center serves as a research station for studying the wildlife in Galapagos. Due to the breeding programs, here you can see many giant Galapagos tortoises, both adults, and newly-hatched babies. You can spend a whole day walking through thematic gardens, learning new things about the endemic species of the Archipelago. In Santa Cruz, the center is the place that deserves your contribution through a donation, no matter how small.
El Chato Reserve
There are only a few places in Galapagos where tortoises can still be found in their natural environment. Among them is El Chato, a reserve that occupies thousands of square meters in the high area of Santa Cruz Island. Along the trails set in the forest, you can walk around thousands of giant tortoises. The reptiles can usually be seen until the beginning of the dry season when they migrate to lay eggs.
If you take a taxi to the reserve, on your way back you can also stop at Los Gemelos. They are two huge volcanic craters formed at the same time as the island, now covered by endemic vegetation
Las Ninfas Lagoon
Las Ninfas Lagoon is the place where you can watch the most beautiful sunset in Santa Cruz Island. The lagoon is surrounded by a mangrove forest whose colors are reflected in it’s clear water, full of fish and frogs. Around it is built a pontoon on which you can walk, observe birds and lava lizards or you can relax after a day spent in the islands. If you are lucky and it is not very crowded, you can even see sea lions, sea turtles or shark pups.
Tortuga Bay is one of the most beautiful beaches on Santa Cruz Island. Throughout the year, here you will see spectacular endemic wildlife such as marine iguanas or blue footed boobies. The bay is divided into surfing areas, where strong currents are formed in the ocean, swimming areas and a lagoon. Compared to other places on Santa Cruz Island, at Tortuga Bay you have the opportunity to see marine life better than anywhere else. For a unique experience, you can rent a kayak from the beach. Paddling near the mangrove forest you will see many birds, sea turtles, different types of sharks or rays.
El Garrapatero is one of the beaches on Santa Cruz Island perfect for swimming or relaxing near the ocean. The beach is surrounded by an area of manzanilla, trees with small and poisonous fruits similar to apples. Around them, there are picnic areas, with benches and places to make a barbecue.
Garrapatero is one of the few places in the Archipelago where you can observe flamingo birds. Near the entrance to the beach, follow a small path through vegetation until you reach a lagoon. Depending on the season, its surroundings are populated by the beautiful pink birds.
Due to the emerald green water and the high rocks surrounding it, Las Grietas is considered one of the most beautiful places on Santa Cruz Island. It is on the opposite side of the pier in Puerto Ayora and the only way to get there is by a water taxi. To avoid the crowds, generally the best time to visit is early in the morning, before 9:00 a.m.
Playa de la Estacion
Playa de la Estacion is a small beach area on the right side of the road to Charles Darwin Research Center. Because the strong currents and volcanic rocks surrounding the shore make diving quite difficult, it is more appreciated for the view than for snorkeling. If you spend several days on Santa Cruz Island, Playa de la Estacion is definitely worth a visit. On the shore you can see many camouflaged marine iguanas and sea lion pups.