Like many visitors, you will most likely start your journey in the Galapagos at Santa Cruz Island. After landing at Baltra Island airport, you will pass the Itabaca Channel by ferry and reach, through the highlands, Puerto Ayora, capital of the island.
Santa Cruz is the second largest island of the archipelago but it is the real economical heart of the tourism industry here in the archipelago. Puerto Ayora is where you will find many restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops and nice little hangouts. It is also the departure point for many day tours, home to some visitor’s highlights, such as the highlands and its wild Galapagos giant tortoises, and a transit hub for daily boat services to Isabela Island and San Cristobal Island.
Santa Cruz Island has been inhabited for centuries, but real human development started at the beginning of the 20th century when settlers from the United States and Europe moved to the island. But don’t worry about it, wildlife can be spotted everywhere on Santa Cruz. From the sea lions napping on the benches of Puerto Ayora to the giant tortoises in the Charles Darwin Research Center, you can also admire marine turtles and tropical fishes in the water or marine iguanas and different types of birds on the shore.
Getting around in Puerto Ayora is fairly easy, as the main street is the boulevard called Avenida Charles Darwin, which stretches from the harbor to the Charles Darwin Research Station, with many restaurants, shops and coffee shops along the way. If you are tired of walking you can stop a cab, which on the Galapagos are white pick-up trucks that will take you to most places around town for a small price.
You will not find a single moment to get bored during your time on Santa Cruz Island as there are many places to visit. Some of the tour mentioned below might already be part of your booking. If not, you can decide to add them yourself in your spare time. Just contact us and it will be our pleasure to add it to your itinerary. So that we can check the availability, make sure we receive your reservation at least 24 hours in advance.
For each tour, we advise you to bring sun protection, comfortable walking shoes, a bathing suit and off course your camera
Your first stop will be a refreshing one; you will be snorkeling at Punta Carrion where you will see colorful fish and sea turtles. Afterwards you continue to Plazas. There are actually two islands, Plaza Norte and Plaza Sur. Only Plaza Sur, the southern bigger island is visited by tourists. This island has a lot to offer and the flora and fauna will astonish you! This island is mostly known for the many land iguanas that live on it. When you are a little further from the coast, it looks like you’ve walked into the movie “Jurassic Park”, because you will be eye to eye with beautiful green, yellow and orange land iguanas. This is all surrounded by beaches, beautiful cacti and in the background the blue ocean. At the coast the male sea lions live in peace. The militant lifestyle is only maintainable for males who are in their prime. The elders spend their last days in colonies, of which one can be found at Plaza Sur. It is sensational to see how the sea lions and iguanas mix. They play together as real pals. This island also offers a lot to bird lovers and a “birdwatchers paradise” can be found; a steep cliff with swallow tailed gulls, masked boobies, blue-footed boobies, tropical red bill birds, frigates, pelicans and Audubon’s. The gulls, partners forever, are always here cuddling or nesting.
Your next destination is North Seymour Island, located north of the Baltra Island. The island is not especially big (1.9km2) and is almost totally flat. But it is from far, one the most appreciated spot in the archipelago for birdwatching. You will find here breeding colonies of the frigates, the blue-footed boobies and the swallow tailed gull. You will witness a real seduction show from the frigates. To impress the female frigates, the male blows up his red throat bag and, to attract more attention, they fly around in the surroundings of the female. You can imagine its difficulties to fly with a blown-up throat bag, losing their balance quicker. Afterwards, you will navigate towards the beach of Bachas, a beautiful white-sand beach on the northern coast. During WW2, the US navy abandoned two barges on the beach. The local tried to pronounce “barges” which sounded like “Bachas” and gave the name to the beach. You can style find the barges on the beach were you can relax or follow the trails of the nesting sea turtles. The beach is a good spot for some snorkeling a bit or for a dip in the water. You can also walk a trail leading to a flamingo pool where there might be flamingos.
Upon your arrival to the island, you will be welcomed by noisy sounds from the local sea lion colony. You will take a trail that climbs the fault cliff overlooking the southern half of the bay to reach Santa Fe’s main attraction, a towering forest of giant cacti. Scattered around the cacti trees you will see a number of the island’s indigenous sun-seekers: the famous endemic land iguanas. This yellowish-green iguana lives only in Santa Fe and you won’t find him anywhere else. You will also meet the rainbow-streaked lava lizards and, if you are lucky, some land tortoises or the Galapagos hawk. Back at the beach of Santa Fe, you can observe the sea lion colony and in the bay you might spot some rays, white tip sharks and sea turtles. At the rocky side of the bay, you will enjoy snorkeling with colorful fish or marine iguanas.
This is a full day tour and breakfast (in most cases) and lunch are included.
Your journey to Bartolomé Island will be a bit longer as the island is further away than other islands, therefore you will start early today. If you are not awake yet, do not worry, your tour will start with a refreshing snorkeling activity at Sullivan Bay. You will snorkel from the boat or relax at the beach. Here you can find, from December until April, green sea turtles that come ashore to lie in the sun. This is special because in other places the turtles only come ashore at night to lay eggs. During the day they are staying in the safe water so snorkeling is almost a must here. With a little luck you will see the “Moorish Idol” (also famous for being in the movie Finding Nemo); this is the most beautiful fish from the Galapagos. Afterwards, you will walk the trail to the highest point of the island, at 114 meters. You can reach this point by taking a path through an almost surrealistic moon looking landscape and pass recent signs of volcano eruptions. At the highest point of the island, you will take many pictures of a spectacular view over the lava in different colors, the many volcanoes and the deep blue see as well as the famous “Pinnacle Rock”.
Floreana is an inhabited island with only 60 inhabitants but holds an impressive history of them. This tour to Floreana will take you past the pirates and settlers history and have you enjoy its natural beauties at the same time. During your visit, you will visit the highlands, including Asilo de la Paz where you will discover a pirate cave and a fresh water spring. Afterwards you will visit Playa Negra where you can swim with different types of fish and seals. Later you will go to The Loberia, which has a 900 meter long path which passes through the Galapagos National Park. You can also observe marine iguanas along the banks and along the rocky reefs of the bay you can observe a large quantity of Chelonia turtles. Snorkeling is the main activity that you can do here. You will have the lunch in a restaurant of the island before your return to Santa Cruz.
The Highlands (Parte Alta)
It´s important you’ll bring warm clothes because it can be cold in the highlands. We also recommend taking comfortable walking shoes and a camera. Our tour has a Spanish-speaking driver only, but also an additional English speaking guide can be booked.
The “Parte Alta” as the highlands are called in Spanish is very lush and green and is the natural habitat of the giant Galapagos tortoises. You will visit a private rancho where you will have lunch (depending on your reservation). Here you will walk between the trees and bushes to search for the giant tortoises that prefer to stay close to the small lagoons. You will also visit the lava tubes, which are formed when the surface of a lava stream solidifies, but the inside stays liquid and flows out like a river.
If you are adventurous we recommend you to cycle back from Santa Rosa to Puerto Ayora after the tour. If you want this option, you should arrange bicycles before you leave on the tour; the driver can take the bikes for you in his pick-up. Rent your bike at Lonesome George Travel Agency (Address Av Opuntia & Av Padre Julio Herrera).
Academy Bay Tour
This tour lasts half a day and the snorkeling equipment is included. Bring along sun protection, a bathing suit and a towel, a camera and comfortable walking shoes.
During the tour you are going with a boat to Academy Bay where you can swim and snorkel with sea lions and all kind of colorful fish, also known as La Lobería. You can see the blue footed boobies who are resting at the edge of the cliffs. If you climb to the viewpoint and if you are lucky, you can see white-tipped reef sharks swimming. From that spot you can walk to ‘Playa de los Perros’ were many sea iguanas are resting in the sun. The enormous cacti, the red color of the rocks and the turquoise color of the ocean make great photo moments!
Snorkel day tour Santa Fé
Departure around 8:00 am. After about an hour you’ll be near the island of Santa Fe. From the boat you will see the huge cacti of which the island has many of. These cacti are endemic and only exist on this island. Furthermore, you will encounter various colonies: pelicans, gulls and perhaps blue footed boobies. The cliffs are home to many of these birds. In turquoise, calm waters in the bay of Santa Fé you will likely see a lot of sea lions. It is the ideal place to snorkel, maybe you will swim with a manta ray, surrounded by marine iguanas and many colored tropical fish that habit in these waters. Occasionally also sea turtles come here. Lunch on board. You will continue by boat – for about half an hour – until you arrive at Playa Escondida. Playa Escondida is a beautiful beach with clear water, the perfect place to enter the water one more time to swim and snorkel. You can also decide to go for a walk to observe the colonies of marine iguanas and their natural habitat. Until about 15.30 you can enjoy the beach, before heading back to Santa Cruz.
Snorkel day tour to Pinzon
Departure around 8:00 am. After about an hour, you´ll be near Playa Borrero where you can see various seabirds. In the rocky area you will encounter crabs and marine iguanas. You can swim or snorkel here, surrounded by tropical fish, sea lions, penguins and sea turtles. After this visit you will continue by boat to the next destination: the island of Pinzon. But first you’ll enjoy lunch on board. From the boat you can see the blue footed boobies and finches (called Pinzones). Here there will be the possibility to go into the water again. The diversity of the underwater fauna is large, here you can encounter the following species: blue sharks, puffer fish, white tip sharks, marine iguanas etc. During the trip back to Santa Cruz, you may be treated to see dolphins or a hammerhead shark!
Wake up early in the morning (around 06.00h) and walk to Pelican Bay where fisherman come back with their fishing boats and fresh caught fish; it is a true spectacle to see them feeding the heads to pelicans, herons and other small birds hopping around! If you are not an early bird, you can also visit at 17.00h in the afternoon to see them selling the fish and preparing it on the grill; lobsters, tunas and all other sorts!
Officially known as the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center, the Charles Darwin Research Station consists of both the breeding and conservation program and two interpretation / information halls. The Galapagos National Park is in charge of the execution of the breeding program and through the self-guided boards it is easy to visit the station without a guide.
The Charles Darwin station on Santa Cruz is mostly famous because of Lonesome George, the oldest Giant Tortoise (and last survivor) of la Pinta Island who lived at the station until he passed away in 2012. You can also visit the more natural breeding centers on San Cristobal and Isabela, but only in Santa Cruz will you find the yellow land iguanas. Address Avenida Charles Darwin. More info: www.darwinfoundation.org. Opening hours: 06.00h – 18.00h.
Visit Tortuga Bay, by some declared to be the nicest beach in the world. You´ll have to do a one hour hike (2.5 km) through arid Opuntia forest, passing the surf beach first, followed by the quiet bay area of Tortuga Bay. The crystal clear quiet water is ideal for swimming, the white sanded beach ideal for relaxing, and for the more active ones you can bring your snorkel gear or rent a kayak. Start walking from town or take a taxi to the beginning of the trail. Entrance is allowed from 08:00h – 17:00h. Bring enough water for the hike back and forth.
Las Grietas are literally the cracks, a small cove with an amazing view. To start the hike to Las Grietas, take a small taxi boat from the dock of Santa Cruz to Angermeyer Point. From here you start walking, passing the nice beach in front of Finch Bay Hotel, the salt water lagoons with many migratory birds, black lava rocks to climb, and a final beautiful view of Las Grietas where you can see a clear division between sweet and salt water. Please be aware that the walk is on rough surface so hiking shoes/sandals are a must. Also bring enough water for the trail and your swimwear for a dip.
Santa Cruz is a great place for cycling and this is a nice and active way to go up to the highlands. Cycle your way up to Bellavista, take some back roads and pass different farms and make a stop at the local juice bar. While going towards the highlands, don’t forget to stop at the “Mirador de los Tuneles” – a partially collapsed lava tube that you can cross without a flash light as it never gets completely dark. Continue to the small village of El Cascajo to finally end at Garrapatero Beach (in total 19 km from Puerto Ayora). The main attraction at Garrapatero is the 1500 meter long white sanded beach, a pool of flamingos and white-cheeked pintail ducks. Be careful with the Manzanillo trees, which fruits are poisonous and should not even be touched. Rent your bike per hour at Lonesome George Travel Agency (Address Av Opuntia & Av Padre Julio Herrera).
There is some great surfing at Santa Cruz, but waves can be high and currents strong. The best points in Santa Cruz are: Tortuga Bay, Angermeyer Point, La Ratonera (also called the beach of Charles Darwin Station) and Cerro Gallina. Pass by the Santa Cruz Surf Club (Avenida Charles Darwin – Pelican Bay) for the latest surf news. Rent your board per half day at the following rental shop: Lonesome George Travel Agency (Address Av Opuntia & Av Padre Julio Herrera).