Santa Cruz, the most visited Island in Galapagos
Santa Cruz Island is the most visited in Galapagos since plenty commercial flights from the mainland land here. There’s another airport in San Cristóbal Island, but most tourist prefer landing here because Santa Cruz has a privileged centered location and makes it easier to visit other islands in Galapagos in less time.
Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz is also the most populated too island and because of that seems to be the more “cosmopolitan” compared to others in Galápagos where you can feel completely isolated and away from civilization. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; you’ll get plenty of craft beer bars, hotels, restaurants and cool places to enjoy the typical Galapagos Island’s nightlife. Also, you’ll have plenty of ATMs that are very escarce in the rest of the islands.
But don’t be fooled by first impressions, even though Santa Cruz seems to be too much of a city it has plenty of unique out-of-this-world places that you must visit during your stay in Galapagos and best of all: they are free. You just need to know where to look and that’s where we come up to help you.
All you need to know before traveling to Santa Cruz, Galápagos
How to get to Santa Cruz Island in Galápagos?
There’s plenty of ways to get to Santa Cruz but it depends from where you are coming. Here’s some of the available options:
Flights from Guayaquil or Quito (Ecuador mainland)
After you’ve landed on Baltra Island, you’ll have to pay the entrance fee to Galapagos National Park on the Airport before being able to go out. Once you do this, there’ll be local buses from a company called Lobito that will take you to the coast of Baltra Island. This bus ride takes about 10 minutes and it costs $5 per person. You journey doesn’t end here. After the bus ride, on the coast there will be few taxi boats to help you cross Itabaca Channel, the channel that separates Santa Cruz from Baltra. The price for this boat ride is $1 per person and is less than 5 minutes. When you cross Itabaca Channel many taxis (white trucks) will be waiting for you to take you to your hotel. From this part of Santa Cruz Islands, Puerto Ayora is about 45 minute ride away.
If you don’t want to get lost or confused with all of this process on your first day in Galapagos Low Cost we offer airport pick up service and on the way to Puerto Ayora, to save time and make the most of the ride, we’ll take you to do Highlands Tour where you can visit a natural giant turtle reserve, cross lava tunnels and see huge twin volcanic craters with a bilingual guide. After that we’ll drop you on your hotel in Puerto Ayora. Price for this is $75 per person and you can see details of the Highlands Tour here.
Ferry or water taxi from San Cristobal or Isabela to Santa Cruz
The cheapest and most common way to move between populated islands in Galápagos (Santa Cruz, Isabela, Floreana and San Cristobal) is on water taxis or ferry that depart from the port. Price per way rounds $35 and lasts around 2 hours (2h30 depending on sea conditions and weather). This ferries only have scheduled two hours a day to depart, one in the morning and another one in the afternoon, so keep this in mind when you are planning for your tours and activities in Galápagos.
Boat taxi depatrues from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz
If you are in San Cristobal Island and want to travel to Santa Cruz, here’s the daily schedules for the ferries
- Departure from Cristóbal 7am – Arrival to Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz) 9:30am.
- Departure from San Cristóbal 3pm – Arrival to Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz) 5:30pm.
Boat taxi departures from Isabela Island to Santa Cruz
If you are in San Cristobal Island and want to travel to Santa Cruz here’s the schedule for daily departures:
- Departure from San Cristóbal 7am – Arrival to Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz) 9:30am.
- Departure fromSan Cristóbal 3pm – Arrival to Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz) 5:30pm.
Light aircraft from San Cristobal or Isabela island
If you would like to make the most of your time in Galápagos and your budget allows it, you can move between islands on a flight. There’s two airlines in Galápagos that offer this service. Prices per trip are around $150 but depends on the season. Here’s the website of both pages if you want further information:
Packing for Santa Cruz, Galápagos (what you need and what you can’t pack)
How to pack for Galápagos Islands?
As we’ve previously mentioned on our Isabela Island post, you need to be prepared for your trip to Galápagos. Before packing for Galápagos, is good keeping in mind that even thought this is a beach destination Galápagos isn’t like any other place you’ve ever been before. We usually associate the beach with flip flops and resorts but Galápagos is a unique preserved place on earth and some spots are a bit extreme. And honestly, this is what makes Galápagos special.
So, here’s our recommendations on what you should pack:
Valid passport (at least 6 months) before your arrival to Ecuador.
Sunscreen and a hat: Remember we are in Ecuador and the sunlight is quite strong. Don’t ruin your Galapagos trip by getting super sunburned on the first day.
Sport comfortable shoes: Forget flip flops, in Galápagos you’ll be walking a lot over volcanic fields, rocks and you’ll need good shoes to get along with it. Dive boots are useful too for when you are snorkeling on your own.
Cash: There isn’t a lot of ATMs in Galápagos (not even one in some islands) and not many local store accepts credit card so keep this in mind before going to Galápagos. Booking in advance tours and accommodation with Galapagos Low Cost us is a good way to save cash for your daily expenses for food, drinks and souvernis 😉
Bug repellent specially from january to april which is the most humid season in Ecuador.
Snacks and a resistant water bottle Friendly reminder that beaches in Galapagos are very isolated so don’t expect any mini market or store nearby. So always pack some snack and a full water bottle when you leave your hotel (most of them offer free water refill). Just remember not to leave any trash behind on the beaches and to carry your personal reusable water bottle in order to avoid the use of plastic on the islands.
Your own snorkeling kit: This is optional, but will definitely improve your trip experience. Having your own snorkeling mask is a great opportunity to do snorkeling on your own (e.g at Las Grietas) and many free places where there’s plenty of sea life. Even though you can always rent a snorkeling mask and that on every tour equipment is included, keep in mind that those mask have been used by thousands of people so if you have your own mask previously tested where you feel comfortable breathing your experience will be better. There’s plenty of snorkeling kits and masks, some even include accessories to support your Gopro or sports camera. Here’s our recommendations:
Sports camera: Optional but do you really want to leave Galapagos without any good memories of your trip? Sports cameras are the best option since they are small, water resistant and easy to adapt to all the tours and activities you’ll do in Galápagos (snorkeling, diving, trekking, biking, kayaking, etc) There’s plenty of options for any budget. Here’s our recommendation of cameras and must use accessories.
Gopro is widely known and a good investment for your trip given all the features it has to make it easier to make videos or take pictures for your trip. If you go with the Gopro, the Dome accessory is a must to be able to take amazing pictures above and under water (few examples on pictures below). And if you don’t want to spend much on a camera, Apeman is a great brand too.
Restricted products and items in Galapagos
Galapagos National Park is a protected area with its own rules and restrictions in order to preserve the environment. Because of this, you may need to take a second look at what you are packing, since there are some things (like seeds, fruits, etc) that may affect Galápagos Ecosystem. Here’s a full list of restricted products you can check out to save time on the special luggage revisión you have to go through on the airport before departure to Galapagos Islands.
Things you can do for free in Santa Cruz Galapagos
The most famous beach in Galápagos and one of the top 10 beaches in Santa Cruz and of the world. Tortuga Bay is a great beach and the best of all is: entrance is free. The only price to pay is the 45 minute walk but on the bright side is a very nice, 2.5 km full of nature path and the best reward is the amazing white sand and clear water beach at the end.
Once you get to the end of the road, you’ll see what is called “Playa brava” in Tortuga Bay (meaning angry beach) because of its huge waves. This is not the place to take a nice relaxing bath (good place to surf tho) since you’ll always see a red flag advicing is not safe. But don’t worry, the right spot is just few meters away. Walk a little towards the right side of the beach and you’ll get to Playa Mansa (meek beach) where there’s no waves and is a great spot to snorkel if you have your mask or kayak on your own (there’s a renting tent there)
Despite its popularity Tortuga Bay is a very isolated beach with not much people around and no shop at all so as we said above, make sure you have plenty of water, snacks and a hat to keep you safe from the ecuadorian sun.
Tortuga bay is only open until 17h30 so make sure you arrive early enough to enjoy it. In case you don’t want to walk your way through it, there’s a taxi boat service to get you there from the port in Puerto ayora at $20 per way per person.
Las Grietas is a place located in the south of Santa Cruz Island. Is a small water channel between volcanic rocks where you can swim in turquoise water and many colorful fishes. A great place to snorkel or just take a relaxing bath. Las Grietas is like a natural pool and if you are lucky enough you may see some locals jumping from the higher rocks to the water doing some acrobatic tricks.
To get to Las Grietas you have to take a 5 minute boat taxi from Puerto Ayora at $0,80 per ride per person and bring some comfortable shoes because the walk to get there is very rocky (and very nice too). Another way to go to Las Grietas is by taking Bay Tour in Santa Cruz, that includes a visit to this spot among other main highlights from this islands and a snorkeling session. This tour is $45 per person and its 3 hours with a certified guide on a boat, snorkeling session and a visit to Playa de los perros an exclusive beach you can only access by boat.
Charles Darwin research station
Perfect place to get to know more about Galapagos history, its discovery and of course you’ll get to see the famous Lonesome George.
Laguna de las Ninfas (Nymph Lagoon)
A nice lagoon to take a walk on a free afternoon. Very near to Puerto Ayora.
Playa Los Alemanes (German’s beach)
Close to Puerto Ayora, on the way to Darwin research station, Los Alemanes beach is small but charming one. Good place to just relax after a day full of adventure and excursions. Its near Las Grietas too, so keep this in mind when you are planning your daily itinerary.
Take a walk on Puerto Ayora pier
You will walk to this place a lot of time since this is where most of the tours depart, but its worth taking some time on your schedule to spend here, get a coconut while you watch locals play volleyball, have a beer or see fisherman bringing fresh fish you’ll enjoy later on for lunch or dinner.
A 10 minute walk from Charles Darwin research station, a good place to buy fresh fish or eat one nearby on some of the small tents allocated around the market. You can have fun too watching pelicans and sea lions trying to steal fisherman some food and running away afterwards. In case you need to buy some souvenirs and hand made crafts for your family and friends you’ll find that here too.
Daily tours from Santa Cruz, Galápagos
To get the full Galapagos experience we recommend taking at least one paid tour per island to get to know places only reachable with an authorized guide and boat. Since Galapagos is a protected area, is not a place where you can just walk around and make your way to meet some places. There are standar paid tours where a certified bilingual guide will lead your way to some amazing places that give Galapagos the Enchanted islands name.
Here’s the ones we recommend on Santa Cruz, and off course, you can book any of them with us.
Galapagos has plenty to offer and not everything is among the sea. If you go deep in to Santa Cruz Island highlands, you’ll find yourself in a whole different environment (and a micro weather). This tour can be done on the way from the airport to the hotel, to make the most of the 45 minute ride that takes you to get to Puerto Ayora. The airport pick up + highlands tour + hotel drop off is $75 per person and if you would like to do it from the hotel instead of the airport is $60 per person. Highlands tour goes to Los Gemelos (two giant craters) then you’ll walk trough lava tunnels and ending in Rancho Primicias where you will see Galapagos famousegiant turtles.
Here’s the details of the places you’ll visit on the Highlands Tour
Rancho Primicias – Reserva El Chato
Here you will find giant turtles from Santa Cruz in its natural habitat. Rancho Primicias is a protected area dedicated to preserve and promote this endemic species Chelonoidis porteri (giant turtle from Santa Cruz). This species has a black and oval shell with a vault shape and has around 1 meter long. The highlands are mostly inhabited by males and as you go down to the coast you’ll find females and baby turtles.
This is a nice full of wilderness spot, with a unique ecosystem where you’ll learn about endemic plants (Scalesia, guayabillo, among others) and animals (lava lizard, owls, finches) and off course giant turtles. Rancho Primicias is also a good place to have lunch and buy some souvenirs for your family and friends.
Los Gemelos (Twin craters)
Los Gemelos are two craters product of the sinking of the earth after volcanic eruptions, they will impress you with their size and depth and can be seen in a quick stop to take pictures. During the tour you will be able to appreciate its magnitude and walk around them where it is possible to observe endemic birds.
The lava tunnels are 400-meter underground caverns that the lava left after it passed. On this tour you can walk 250 meters below the ground through these natural tunnels.
Santa Cruz Bay Tour
This is one of the most popular tours in Santa Cruz not only because is not very expensive ($45 per person) but its also very complete and gives you the opportunity to see Santa Cruz highlights and unique places that can only be reached by boat. It’s a good way to save time because in a few hours you’ll cover the most important spots in Santa Cruz. There’s two departures for this tours, one in the morning and another one in the afternoon. It includes birdwatching, trekking, snorkeling and a rest at a very beautiful beach.
Here’s the places you will visit during the Bay Tour:
Also known as Caamaño islet, here you will see a huge sea lion community to whom you will be able to do some snorkeling.
Punta Estrada (Estrada Point)
The best spot to enjoy sea life. You’ll do a quick stop here to enjoy snorkeling among blue footed boobies, frigates and sea lions.
Shark Channel and Dog’s beach
Shark channel is a small crack in the volcanic rocks that has become the favorite sport to rest for sharks in Santa Cruz. We’ll step near the channel to see the sharks and the peculiar unique color of the channel and then wak towards Playa de los Perros (dog’s beach) where there’s a concentration of Galapagos iguanas and another endemic species.
Los Channel and Las Grietas (Canal del Amor y Las Grietas)
The love channel is a cliff of gentle turquoise waters, it is a very beautiful and excellent place for photos. After watching the love channel, we’ll go to Las Grietas, which as mentioned above, is a place where you can snorkel and enjoy a refreshing swim.
Day tours from Santa Cruz to other Islands
One of the best things about Santa Cruz is its strategic centered location which give you the opportunity to do day trips to other islands such as Isabela o San Cristobal and also the most unique inhabited ones like Bartolomé or North Seymour. All of this day tours include lunch and usually depart very early in the morning to make the best out of the day, because of this is very important that you slept the night before in Santa Cruz.
Here’s some of the daily tours we offer that you can do from Santa Cruz:
Galápagos is waiting for you!
Your trip to Galapagos starts here. In Galapagos Low Cost we’ll be happy to help you plan your trip with a personalized itinerary that suits your budget and needs. Take a look at all the tours you can book with us or drop us a line to let us know how can we help you make the most out of your trip to Galapagos.