Centre of activity in the archipelago
Highlights and possible encounters
Highlands, giant tortoises, various walking and snorkeling locations
Explore and experience
With Puerto Ayora being the economic and logistics centre of the archipelago, you will undoubtedly visit Santa Cruz. From Puerto Ayora, the island’s capital, there are several beautiful locations that you can visit without a naturalist guide. Santa Cruz also has several places where a guide is mandatory. Below is an overview of what you can see.
Playa las Bachas
Playa las Bachas is located in the far north of Santa Cruz, near the island of Baltra. Some artifacts still recall the presence of the American troops during the Second World War. A wonderful beach for walking and snorkeling. You will see sea lions, Sally Lightfoot crabs, lava herons and there is a good chance of seeing the flamingo. Marine turtles nest on the beach.
Caleta Tortuga Negra
Immediately east of Las Bachas you will find this very special cove. Due to the proximity of the island of Baltra you usually visit Caleta Tortuga Negra at the beginning or end of an expedition cruise. This mangrove-lined creek is a mecca for spotting animals while you are cruising the area with a panga.
Green sea turtles come here to mate and the youngsters from various other marine animals also like to come to this sheltered place. Here you will find white-tipped reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, eagle rays and golden rays. Lava herons, pelicans and blue-footed boobies fish the waters.
Few islands in Galápagos have a more appropriate name than Cerro Dragon or Dragon Hill. This rocky, low-lying hill on the northwestern side of the island of Santa Cruz is home to an impressive population of Galápagos land iguanas. These miniature dragons roam around the sun-drenched, cobblestone island and indulge in the fruits and flowers of their favourite food, the Opuntia Cactus.
Cerro Dragon, however, offers much more than just iguanas. The flora of Cerro Dragon is very impressive. As the path rises from the beach inland up the hill, it passes through different vegetation zones: a desert-like landscape and forests with cacti and fragrant Palo Santo trees. The path continues to the top, from where you will be rewarded with a great view. The hill itself is an impressive sight, a rugged spire that dominates the landscape.
You will also visit a saltwater lagoon. You have a chance to catch a glimpse of the flamingo. The flamingos feed on microscopic organisms that need very specific water conditions to survive and there are only a handful of suitable lagoons in the archipelago. In addition to flamingos, bird lovers can spot various species of Darwin finches, mocking birds, the yellow warbler and pintail ducks.
Bahía Ballena (on the west coast, south of Cerro Dragón) is one of the oldest places on the island of Santa Cruz where whalers landed to gather tortoises as food for their long journeys. Nowadays, here you will find a special green beach due to the high content of olivine crystals. Go in search of the Galápagos hawk, Darwin finches, the blue-footed boobie, the yellow warbler and see how marine iguanas are resting in the sun.
A nice snorkeling location in the east of Santa Cruz. Various types of fish and the white-tipped reef shark are found here.
Santa Cruz has various dive sites. The best known is Rocas Gordon, a dive site only for advanced and experienced divers, due to its strong currents. At these small islands in western Santa Cruz you will encounter white-tipped reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, Gálapagos sharks, mantas, eagle rays, golden rays, many tropical fish, marine turtles and sea lions.
Other locations for diving are, Guy Fawkes Sur, Isla Edén, Islote Camaño, Las Palmitas and Punta Estrada
Puerto Ayora is the largest town in the archipelago with around 12,000 inhabitants. With its restaurants, bars and souvenir shops you can enjoy a relaxed atmosphere. At the small, fun fish market, fresh fish is processed and sold and you can see sea lions and pelicans begging for leftover pieces. The harbor town is a wonderful place to stay after your expedition cruise and a good base to visit other islands nearby (including Bartolomé, Seymour Norte, Plaza Sur and Santa Fé). From Puerto Ayora you can easily visit the following beautiful locations without a guide:
Charles Darwin Research Station/ Centro de Crianza Fausto Llerena
The Charles Darwin Research Station is within walking distance of the center. This is an important research institution where more than 200 scientists and volunteers work on research and nature conservation in the Galápagos Islands. You visit the extensive breeding program of the giant tortoises and land iguanas. You can see tortoises from various islands, divided into four different stages: eggs, newborns, young adults and adults. As soon as the tortoises are old enough, they are released into nature on their island of origin.
Playa de la Estación
Playa de la Estación is close to the facilities of the Charles Darwin Foundation. This beach is surrounded by whimsical rocks. It is a nice place to snorkel because you can see a variety of fish including parrot fish and small rays. You can swim with turtles, marine iguanas and playful sea lions that sometimes come close to say hello.
Playa Garrapatero is about 19 km northeast of Puerto Ayora. This is a wide bay with various sandy beaches surrounded by mangroves. It is a fantastic place for snorkeling and a surprisingly good location for watching various birds. This is because there is a freshwater lake behind the beach. You can see herons, finches, pintail ducks, mocking birds and maybe flamingos that like to come to the lake. Occasionally you will find marine iguanas on the beach.
Laguna Las Ninfas
A wonderfully quiet place, within walking distance of the harbor. The lagoon is a natural tidal pool where salt and fresh water come together. Surrounded by mangroves, you walk along the water and you can spot small birds and fish.
Another place that you can visit without a guide is Bahía Tortuga. The walk there is beautiful. At the end you will find one of the most beautiful beaches in the Galápagos. You walk along this beach to a quiet bay, where you can swim, snorkel and rent kayaks.
You visit Las Grietas by taking a water taxi to Finch Bay Hotel. From the dock you can walk in about 20 minutes along a beautiful path lined with giant cacti. Las Grietas itself is a special place. You will find little to no animal life in the water, but it is very magical to swim between these high rocks. It is advisable to put on water shoes, the rocks can be slippery and sharp.
The highlands offer you many beautiful places to visit. The area is lush and green in contrast to the dry coastal vegetation. The forests in the highlands are dominated by the endemic Scalesia tree and are home to many bird species, including the barn owl. In the highlands you visit an open turtle address reserve: El Chato. This reserve consists of two zones El Chato and La Caseta. The reserve is not protected and the giant tortoises are completely free to leave the site. Next to the tortoise reserve you will find a lava tunnel that is so large that you can walk through it. A visit to “los gemelos” is also impressive. Los gemelos means the twins: you walk past two giant zinc holes created by the collapse of magma chambers. Although the area can be visited without a guide, it is recommended not to do so.Back to overview