🐒 Santa Cruz (Galapagos): Ultimate Guide for First-Time Visitors in 2023

Santa Cruz Galapagos blog post cover graphic.  Text overlaying an image of a Galapagos tortoise walking towards the camera over lush grass with trees behind it on Santa Cruz Island.

All prices and information in this guide are accurate as of our recent visit in April 2023.

Santa Cruz is the most popular and populated island in the Galapagos with the greatest variety of tourism services, making it the best place to call home for most visitors.

Puerto Ayora, the only major town on the island, has a wide variety of restaurants, bars & breweries, shops, tour operators, and accommodation options that range from budget to luxury.

In addition, the GalΓ‘pagos Ecological Airport (GPS) that services Santa Cruz is one of only two Galapagos airports that connect to mainland Ecuador!

In this ultimate guide to Santa Cruz, you will find everything you need to know for your first visit to the island. This includes information on getting there, where to stay, where to eat, what to see and do, and so much more.

Disclosure: In order to keep providing you with free content, this post likely contains affiliate links. If you make a booking or purchase through one of these links we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. So a HUGE thank you to you if you click one of these links πŸ™‚

🦎 Santa Cruz Island Tips & Overview

Before getting into the specifics, take a moment to understand some essential basics and top tips that are worth knowing prior to visiting Santa Cruz island.


Santa Cruz Island Overview

Population~18000
Main TownPuerto Ayora
(where you will find 99% of hotels & restaurants)
AirportGalΓ‘pagos Ecological Airport (GPS)
(technically on Baltra island)
Get ThereFrom Mainland: Flights from Quito or Guayaquil (Ecuador).
From Other Islands: Ferry or Inter-island flight.
From International: Not available.
Known ForBest home base for Galapagos vacations.
Most restaurants, tourist services, & accommodations.
Highest % of english-speaking locals.
Highlightsβ€’ Charles Darwin Research Center
β€’ El Chato Tortoise Ranch
β€’ Highlands
β€’ Las Grietas
β€’ Playa Tortuga Bay
β€’ Gus Angermeyer Pier

Map of the Galapagos Islands

Color coded map of the Galapagos Islands showing inhabited islands and those accessible by day trip or cruise, plus ferry routes.

The map of the Galapagos Islands above shows the archipelago in its entirety.

It has been color-coded to indicate the islands that are inhabited and can be stayed on, those accessible by day tour, and those that are accessible via cruise ship only.

In addition, ferry services and airports are indicated by the appropriate symbols.

🏝️ DISCOVER MORE:
BEST GALAPAGOS ISLANDS TO VISIT


Map of Santa Cruz

Map of Santa Cruz Galapagos showing all the best things to do, points of interest, and where to stay.
Map of Santa Cruz.

We’ve put together a Google Map of all the places mentioned in this Santa Cruz blog. You can click here to open the map of Santa Cruz, or click on the image above.


Top Tips for Visiting Santa Cruz

Bring CashMost businesses only accept cash and ATMs are unreliable in Galapagos.
Internet & WiFiFree WiFi is available in many places but is very slow in Galapagos.
Cell ServiceCell service is patchy, but data can be more reliable than WiFi in main towns. Claro provides the best coverage on the islands and SIM cards are cheaper on mainland Ecuador.
SunscreenSunscreen on the islands is very expensive and the sun is strong, so be sure to bring plenty with you. Ensure you are using reef-safe sunscreen to protect the incredible marine life.
ToursYou can save some money by booking tours when you arrive on the islands. However, you risk the most popular tours being sold out. Consider booking online, or at least arrange your tours as soon as you arrive.
FerriesIf you plan on traveling between islands using the inter-island ferries, you will want to consider booking these online in advance as they can often sell out. Tickets cost $30 on island and $35 online.

πŸ™‚ Our Experience Visiting Galapagos in 2023

Three people crouched behind a pair of blue footed boobies at Los Tuneles on Isabela Island Galapagos

In April 2023, we (Adam, Sophie & Adam’s 70-year-old mom) spent three weeks in Ecuador, two of which were on the Galapagos Islands.

The highlight of our visit was a guided hybrid tour of mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands with Adventure Journeys.

If you’re interested in a trip that combines culture, nature, and even a touch of luxury, we highly recommend their upcoming Thanksgiving Special: Discover the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador Cruise.

Over 7 days, you’ll discover the best that the Galapagos and Ecuador have to offer with expert guides and all of the planning done for you. This is very similar to the tour we took and absolutely loved, but includes a luxury cruise as well!

✈️ How to Get to Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz Galapagos sign in Puerto Ayora.

Santa Cruz is one of only two Galapagos islands that you can fly into, although technically the Santa Cruz airport is on the neighboring island of Baltra (formerly known as Seymour Island).

There are also only two cities that fly to Santa Cruz: Quito and Guayaquil on mainland Ecuador. There are no international flights to the Galapagos archipelago.

The GalΓ‘pagos Ecological Airport (GPS) on Baltra is the busiest airport in the Galapagos despite its rather inconvenient location.

To reach Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz where you will want to be based, requires a 90+ minute journey. This begins with a bus from the airport to the ferry terminal followed by a short boat ride across the Itabaca Canal and ends with a 45-minute bus or taxi ride to town.


Hot to get to Santa Cruz From Mainland Ecuador

Flying to Baltra Airport (GPS)

A view of the coastline from an airplane window flying over the Galapagos islands on a sunny day.

To get to Santa Cruz island in the Galapagos from mainland Ecuador, you will have to fly to Baltra (GPS) from either Quito or Guayaquil. These are the only two cities with airports that service the Galapagos.

You will need to purchase an INGALA Tourist Control Card at a desk in the airport prior to departing the mainland. This costs $20 and takes about 20 minutes, but does not require any reservations nor preparation in advance.

You will also want to have cash ready upon arrival in the Galapagos to pay the $100 per person entry fee. These fees are both important to factor into your Galapagos trip cost.

⚠️ IMPORTANT: GALAPAGOS FLIGHT PRICES

Be cautious of accidentally booking a locals-only fare!

Flight comparison sites often yield prices that are only for Ecuadorian citizens.

As a foreign visitor, you must book the higher price point or you will be charged an additional $150-200 at the airport.

There are three airlines that fly from Ecuador to Galapagos. The fares you need to purchase for each airline are:

  • L” fare for Avianca
  • Top” fare for Latam
  • Cacao-Premium” fare for Equair

Unfortunately, this is not clear on airline websites and we met many people on the islands who had made this mistake.

✈️ FIND OUT MORE:
HOW TO GET TO GALAPAGOS ISLANDS


Getting from Baltra Airport (GPS) to Puerto Ayora

Colorful umbrellas cover a street in the tourist town of Puerto Ayora.

As mentioned, Puerto Ayora is the name of the one major town in Santa Cruz. Accordingly, this is where you will want to stay during your time on the island.

Unfortunately, the airport that serves Santa Cruz is on the neighboring island of Baltra. To get to Puerto Ayora from the airport, your journey is as follows:

CostDuration
Bus from Baltra airport to Itabaca Canal $510 minutes
Short ferry across the canal$1-$25 minutes
Bus or taxi from the port to Puerto Ayora$5 bus or $40-$50 taxi35-45 minutes

While the journey may seem a little complicated, rest assured that in practice it is pretty straightforward. The airport is very small and everyone is going to the same place, so you can just follow the crowds.

From Baltra Airport, you will take the airport bus to the Itabaca Canal. These leave from directly outside the airport and depart every 10 minutes. It costs $5 per person and takes around 10 minutes.

At the Itabaca Canal, you will board a ferry to reach Santa Cruz island which costs $1 (public boat) or $2 (private boat) per person and takes around 5 minutes. However, you may be sat on the ferry for a while as passengers and luggage are loaded and unloaded.

Finally, once you arrive on Santa Cruz, you will need to take either a taxi or bus to Puerto Ayora. The town is 26 miles (42km) from the Itabaca Canal.

Taxis in the Galapagos are white pickup trucks that can accommodate up to four people. You will find them waiting outside the airport.

Alternatively, you can take the public bus to Puerto Ayora for $5. These are usually waiting by the ferry and will drop you off in the center of Puerto Ayora.


How to Get to Santa Cruz From Other Galapagos Islands

A view of Santa Cruz island taken from the back of the Galapagos ferry.

If you are trying to get to Santa Cruz from another Galapagos island (namely Isabela or San Cristobal), the most common and cost-effective way to do so is by taking the inter-island ferry.

There are only two ferry times available to Santa Cruz from Isabela or San Cristobal each day; one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Tickets cost $35 online or $30 locally and typically fill up in advance. Be sure to arrange this ahead of time!

Technically, it is possible to fly between the islands. However, we don’t advise this for Santa Cruz because of the longer commute from the airport which mitigates the time saved by ferry.

🏝 FIND OUT MORE:
COMPLETE GUIDE TO GALAPAGOS ISLAND HOPPING

πŸš• How to Get Around Santa Cruz

A yellow water taxi pulls up at the main pier (Gus Angermeyer) in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Galapagos.
A yellow water taxi pulling up to the main pier in Puerto Ayora.

The best way to get around Santa Cruz is by walking. Most attractions and tour starting points are located within the town of Puerto Ayora, which is easily walkable.

However, taxis are readily available and short journeys are very affordable at around $1-$2 within Puerto Ayora. Taxis on the Galapagos are white pickups and can easily be flagged down or found waiting in popular spots.

For some of the remote destinations you may wish to visit, such as the Santa Cruz Highlands, there are buses and taxis available, as well as bicycle rentals for the truly adventurous.

A few destinations, such as Las Grietas and Tortuga Bay, can be reached via water taxi. These depart from the main pier in Puerto Ayora.

There are no car rentals available in the Galapagos islands.

🏠 Where to Stay in Santa Cruz

Best Areas to Stay in Santa Cruz

A view of downtown Puerto Ayora on a sunny day on Santa Cruz island in the Galapagos.

Puerto Ayora is by far the best area to stay in Santa Cruz. This is where you will find the only major town on the island and the vast majority of accommodation, restaurants, tourist services, and shops.

95% of people visiting Santa Cruz island should choose to stay in Puerto Ayora!

If you are looking for luxury accommodation and/or prefer to stay somewhere more isolated, the Angermeyer Waterfront Inn and Finch Bay Hotel in Punta Estrada are both good options.

While extremely limited, there are also some hotels in the nearby barrio (neighborhood) of Bellavista, just north of Puerto Ayora. If you are visiting on a honeymoon or demand seclusion, you may find some appealing options here – otherwise, there is little reason to choose this area.

Outside of these two areas, you may find a random hotel and/or homestay scattered about the Santa Cruz Highlands. We do not recommend this option to anybody except for those who find a place they are specifically enamored by.


Best Hotels in Santa Cruz

A young girl is seen swimming in the beautiful pool under tropical palm trees at Hotel Silberstein on Santa Cruz island in the Galapagos.
Approximate Hostel Price
(bed in a dorm room)
Starting at $15
Approximate Budget Price
(basic private room in a hotel, hostel, or homestay)
Starting at $20
Average Midrange Price
(3+ star hotel rooms and apartments)
Starting at $50
Average Luxury Price
(5-star hotels, entire homes, and villas)
Starting at $200

Santa Cruz has the widest range of accommodation options to choose from of the Galapagos islands. You will find a greater selection of budget and mid-range hotels than luxury ones.

With that said, there are a few luxury hotels on Santa Cruz, most notably Angermeyer Waterfront Inn and the Finch Bay Hotel in Punta Estrada. Both of these highly-rated hotels offer unique stays with their own private piers from which the hotel water taxis can take you to the main pier in minutes.

Below are some of the top-rated hotels for each budget range:

πŸ›οΈ FIND MORE:
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN GALAPAGOS

πŸ“Έ Best Things to Do in Santa Cruz

Due to the superior infrastructure and high rate of tourism, Santa Cruz provides more attractions, tours, and visitor opportunities than any other island. This also makes it the best place to stay in Galapagos for the majority of visitors.

Below are prices and information on all of the best things to do in Galapagos located on, or accessible from, Santa Cruz island.

The following destinations and attractions can all be done without booking a tour or guide!


1. See Wild Tortoises at El Chato Ranch

A giant Galapagos tortoise walking across lush green grass at El Chato Ranch Santa Cruz.

Highlights: Wild tortoise encounters
Cost:
$10 entry fee + transport

El Chato Ranch is the best place to see the iconic and endangered giant Galapagos tortoises in their natural habitat.

This tortoise sanctuary can be easily reached by hiring a taxi. For the more adventurous, you can opt to cycle or take the bus.

As it is located en route to the airport from town, the most time-efficient way to visit is by stopping there on the way to or from Baltra airport.

🐒 READ MORE:
EL CHATO RANCH GUIDE


2. Snorkel at Las Grietas

A photo from water level of Las Grietas, the most famous snorkel spot in the Galapagos on Santa Cruz island.

Highlights: Unique geological formations and crystal clear waters for snorkeling
Cost:
$10 entry fee, $2 water taxi

Las Grietas is a large fissure located near Puerto Ayora and is among the most heralded places to snorkel in Galapagos.

The fissure is comprised of towering dark volcanic rock that runs along both sides, with calm crystal clear water at its base.

🀿 READ MORE:
LAS GRIETAS GUIDE


3. See Baby Tortoises at Charles Darwin Research Station

A tiny, adorable baby Galapagos tortoise is seen amongst grass on Santa Cruz island, captured at the Charles Darwin Research Station.

Highlights: Baby tortoises, beaches
Cost:
$10 entry fee

Aside from the wildlife, Charles Darwin Research Station is perhaps the most famous attraction in Galapagos.

Visitors not only get to learn about the fascinating history that the islands played in the life of the great scientist Charles Darwin, but they also get to hang out with baby tortoises!

The walkability of the research station from the major tourist town of Puerto Ayora is another reason it is considered one of the must-do activities while visiting Santa Cruz.


4. Explore Lava Tunnels

A man ducking down inside the lava tunnel at El Chato Ranch.

Highlights: Caves formed by lava
Cost:
Included with a visit to El Chato or Highlands Tour

Throughout Santa Cruz, you can discover a number of underground tunnels created by ancient lava flows.

One of the best ways to visit the lava tunnels in Santa Cruz is to combine it with a Highlands tour.

There are some impressive tunnels within El Chato Tortoise Ranch that are included with your entry fee. However, you can find even larger tunnels near Santa Rosa town which exceed 0.6 miles (1km) in length.


5. Stroll the Pier at Night

Baby sharks seen in the water from the main pier in Puerto Ayora at night.

Highlights: Reef sharks, turtles, rays, sea lions
Cost:
Free

Taking a night stroll along the main pier in Puerto Ayora (officially known as Gus Angerymeyer Pier) is one of the best things to do in Santa Cruz, but also one of the most overlooked!

At no cost and a minimal time commitment, visitors can stroll the docks at night and see an assortment of marine life feeding near the surface.

Reef sharks and sea lions are the most common sight, but you are also likely to see turtles and golden rays.

πŸŒ… DISCOVER MORE:
TOP 50 BEST THINGS TO DO IN GALAPAGOS


6. Visit the Santa Cruz Fish Market

Pelicans and sea lions wait for scraps as a local woman cleans freshly caught fish at the Puerto Ayora Fish Market on Santa Cruz island, Galapagos

Highlights: Wildlife mixing with locals
Cost:
Free

Whilst exploring Puerto Ayora, be sure to stop by the Fish Market. This lively spot is right in the middle of town along the waterfront, just a 5-minute walk east of the main pier.

As well as being a bustling location for locals, it also attracts a fair amount of wildlife hoping for scraps!

You are almost guaranteed to find sea lions lounging here, as well as pelicans, lava herons, great blue herons, and marine iguanas.

It is a unique place to see Galapagos wildlife so seamlessly integrated with the resident human population.


7. Shop at Mercado Artesenal

Highlights: Shopping for souvenirs & gifts
Cost:
Depends how much you buy!

Mercado Artesenal (or Handicraft Market in English) is a great place to shop for souvenirs and gifts.

You’ll find a variety of locally made items, including keyrings, purses, t-shirts, towels, and much more.


8. JardΓ­n CerΓ‘mica (Mosaic Garden)

JardΓ­n CerΓ‘mica is one of the best hidden things to do in Santa Cruz Galapagos

Highlights: Small garden with mosaic murals & sculptures
Cost:
Free

JardΓ­n CerΓ‘mica, which translates to Mosaic Garden in English, is a hidden gem in Puerto Ayora.

Easily missed, JardΓ­n CerΓ‘mica is on the way to the Charles Darwin Research Center and can be spotted by a mosaic-tiled archway visible from the road.

As it is free to enter, it is worth meandering down this shaded walkway to see some of these beautiful works of art.


9. Walk to Laguna de las Ninfas

Laguna de las Ninfas - one of the best things to do in Santa Cruz Galapagos

Highlights: Tranquil oasis
Cost:
Free

Just outside of Puerto Ayora, Laguna de las Ninfas provides a peaceful place to take a stroll and enjoy some wildlife.

The brackish lagoon is surrounded by mangroves and provides a home to a number of different species.

While it used to be possible to walk the boardwalk all the way around the lagoon, part of the boardwalk was destroyed limiting visitors to just a short walk.


10. Hike Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill)

Highlights: Hiking trail with spectacular views and land iguanas
Cost:
Only available by cruise

This is the only destination on the list that can only be visited as part of a cruise. However, as it is one of the most popular things to do on Santa Cruz we felt it had to be mentioned.

Aptly named, Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill) is home to a large population of land iguanas.

The hiking trail to the summit is one of the longest in Galapagos, winding through opuntia cacti and Palo Santo trees. Once there, you’re rewarded with beautiful views.


🏝 Best Beaches in Santa Cruz

Surprisingly, the Galapagos islands are actually quite limited when it comes to accessible beaches, and Santa Cruz is the most limited of all the inhabited islands.

This has more to do with infrastructure than availability. There are a plethora of secluded beaches tucked away in remote regions of each island, but they are only accessible by boat.

Of the many beaches scattered across Santa Cruz, very few are easily accessible and fewer still are within walking distance of Puerto Ayora.

πŸ– READ MORE
TOP 25 BEST GALAPAGOS BEACHES


1. Tortuga Bay

A marine iguana enjoys. the sunshine in this photo of Playa Mansa in Tortuga Bay in the Galapagos islands.

Without a doubt, Tortuga Bay is the premier destination for a beach day on Santa Cruz Island.

This white sand beach is fairly easy to get to and provides visitors with an expansive stretch of beautiful coastline with plenty of wildlife.

You can technically walk to Tortuga Bay from town, but most people will either take a short taxi to the trailhead ($1.50) and walk 1.5 miles (2.5km) from there.

It is also possible to take a water taxi for $10 per person each way from the main pier.

There are several beaches in the bay, but the primary one, Playa Mansa, is extremely family-friendly providing plenty of shade and calm water.


2. Playa de La EstaciΓ³n

Photo of an empty beach at Playa de La Estacion on a perfect sunny day, featuring some swimmers enjoying the water.

Playa de La EstaciΓ³n is a favorite destination for locals and tourists alike, mostly because it is the closest beach to town!

This beautiful little cove is a 5-10 minute walk at most from anywhere in Puerto Ayora and is free to enter.

While it may not feature the softest sand or swaying palm trees, it is easily the best place to go for a refreshing swim on a hot day nearby.

🀿 READ MORE:
PLAYA DE LA ESTACION COMPLETE GUIDE


3. Playa Ratonera

Lava rock and golden sand are fringed by green vegetation during golden hour on Playa Ratonera Beach, Santa Cruz

Playa Ratonera is just a few minutes walk from Playa de la EstaciΓ³n.

Accordingly, you will discover a similar quality of sand, swimming conditions, and wildlife.

Playa Ratonera is located directly adjacent to Charles Darwin Research Station. To get here, follow Charles Darwin Ave just beyond Playa de La Estacion and look for signs to the beach.


4. Playa El Garrapatero

Aerial photo of the beach at Playa El Garrapatero, one of the best beaches and snorkel spots in the Galapagos islands.

Playa El Garrapatero is extremely remote, yet easily accessible for those with spare time on Santa Cruz island.

This beautiful beach is located on the east coast of the island at the literal end of the only major highway (E5).

The beach is typically fairly quiet and is good for swimming or snorkeling, or for a casual beach day if time permits.

The downside is that it will cost about $40 roundtrip for a taxi to Playa El Garrapatero and the horseflies here can be obnoxious!


5. Playa de los Alemanes

Playa de los Alemanes beach on a quiet afternoon.

Unless you are staying at one of the few nearby hotels, such as Finch Bay Hotel or Angermeyer Waterfront Inn, you will need to take a short water taxi to reach Playa de los Alemanes.

From the main pier in Puerto Ayora, the water taxi costs $1 and takes only a few minutes.

Once dropped off, the walk from the pier to the beach is just 0.25 miles (0.4km) along a paved path then a boardwalk.

If you plan to visit Las Grietas, you will naturally pass this beach, making it an ideal stop on your way to or from this famous snorkel spot.


6. Playa las Bachas

A photo of the quiet Playa Las Bachas beach on Santa Cruz island.

Playa Las Bachas is not just a beautiful beach teeming with wildlife, but a place of modern historical significance as well.

On the beach, you will discover the remains of old barges from WW2 buried in the sand, the islands having been used for defense by the US against Japan.

The beautiful white sand beach is also a major nesting site for green sea turtles, meaning you are very likely to see them while snorkeling here. There is also a nearby lagoon with flamingoes.

This is a common stop for Galapagos cruises due to its proximity to the main airport on Baltra, but can also be visited with the North Seymour Island day tour from Santa Cruz.

⛡️ Best Day Tours in Santa Cruz

Below are the best day trips and tours that you can take from Santa Cruz Island.

Some of them explore the island itself, such as the Highlands tours, but most will be to one of the unique uninhabited islands nearby.

On a personal note, our day trip to Bartolome Island was the highlight of our visit to the Galapagos in 2023 and is something we highly recommend!

⛡️ DISCOVER MORE:
BEST GALAPAGOS DAY TOURS


1. Santa Cruz Highlands Tour

A Galapagos tortoise eating grass with a young woman crouched in the distance behind it at El Chato Ranch in Santa Cruz.

A Santa Cruz Highlands tour will typically include a visit to one of the highland farms, such as El Chato Ranch, to see wild Galapagos giant tortoises and lava tunnels.

It will also typically include a stop at Los Gemelos (Twin Craters), which are large sinkholes formed following volcanic activity.

The Highlands Tour is a good way to see the rest of Santa Cruz island outside of Puerto Ayora.

🐒 READ MORE:
EL CHATO RANCH GUIDE


2. Bartolome Island & Sullivan Bay Tour

View of Pinnacle Rock and surrounding bays from the viewpoint at Bartolome Island.

Isla Bartolome is the most beautiful and photogenic of all the Galapagos islands.

The colorful landscape is fantastic and the photo opportunity from the viewpoint is the main reason people visit.

Beyond the natural beauty, Bartolome is also perhaps the best place to see Galapagos Penguins.

This was our favorite day trip, largely because we got to swim with penguins and saw blue-footed boobies for the first time.

🐧 READ MORE:
COMPLETE GUIDE TO BARTOLOME ISLAND


3. Gordon Rocks (Scuba Diving) Tour

A scuba diver poses behind a turtle while diving Gordon Rocks Galapagos.

For those who are SCUBA certified, Gordon Rocks is one of the best dive sites in the Galapagos.

Most notably, it is one of the best locations to spot hammerhead sharks.

You will also likely encounter sea turtles, reef sharks, and a plethora of vibrant fish.

I went with Academy Bay Diving and had a great experience.


4. Santa Fe Island Tour

A view of Isla Sante Fe taken from a boat.

Isla Santa Fe is home to the largest variety of endemic wildlife in the Galapagos, including a unique species of land iguana.

The bay also is home to a large group of sea lions, meaning you are all but guaranteed to snorkel with them here!

The landscape of the island itself is also impressive, with giant prickly pear cactus staged against a backdrop of picturesque turquoise water.


5. Pinzon Island Tour

Stunning underwater capture of an upside-down sea lion blowing bubbles and staring directly into the camera.

Those interested in island hopping should put a day tour to Isla Pinzon near the top of the list.

While the island itself is not much to look at (landings are not permitted, in fact), the water here is the clearest we snorkeled anywhere in Galapagos.

This unbeatable visibility made for some truly special photos and videos, and Pinzon was one of the few places we got to see Galapagos sharks.

🦈 READ MORE:
COMPLETE GUIDE TO PINZON ISLAND


6. North Seymour Island Tour

Magnificent frigate bird with red inflated throat pouch on North Seymour Island Galapagos.

North Seymour Island is perhaps the best island for bird-watching in the Galapagos.

It is home to the largest colony of magnificent and great frigate birds, famed for the males’ bright red throat pouches.

Blue-footed boobies also nest on North Seymour, making it a great place to witness their iconic mating dance.

Beyond the avian life, North Seymour also boasts one of the largest sea lion colonies, excellent snorkeling, and a plethora of other wildlife including the endemic Galapagos snake and land iguanas.


7. South Plaza Tour

South Plaza Island Day Tour from Santa Cruz Galapagos

The Plaza Islands consist of two small crescent-shaped islands; North Plaza and South Plaza. However, only South Plaza is accessible to tourists.

South Plaza is home to the largest colony of land iguanas, as well as a unique hybrid iguana and a host of sea birds.

In addition to impressive wildlife and great snorkeling, you’ll also find a dazzling array of vegetation. This creates a unique landscape unlike any other in the Galapagos.

Vibrant red and purple Sesuvian creates a dense, colorful carpet, contrasting against the prickly pear cacti.

A day tour here will also typically stop at Punta Carrion, just off of Santa Cruz, for snorkeling.


8. Floreana Island Tour

A close up photo of a Galapagos flamingo seen on Floreana Island.

Of all the Galapagos islands, Floreana has the richest and most fascinating human history.

As well as being the site of the first “post office”, it was home to the first Galapagos resident from 1807-1809 and was subsequently the first island to be colonized by Ecuador in 1832.

Although its limited freshwater access makes it tough to inhabit these days, Floreana still sustains a population of around 150 people and visitors can stay overnight.

In addition to its human history, Floreana is also home to both a black sand and green sand beach, as well as a colony of flamingos.


9. Academy Bay Snorkeling Tour

View of Academy Bay from La Grietas viewpoint.

Academy Bay is the natural bay that Puerto Ayora inhabits.

A half-day tour will take you on a boat ride to a number of different locations throughout the bay and give you time for both snorkeling and on-land excursions.


10. Day Tour to Isabela Island

Palm trees sway over Playa Isabela with the welcome to Isabela sign displayed in Puerto Villamil.

If your Galapagos itinerary doesn’t include time for a stay on Isabela, then a day tour is a great option.

On a day tour to Isabela from Santa Cruz you will travel to the island by speedboat and then undertake activities from there.

While the exact activities included will depend on your tour, most include:

  • Boat ride and snorkeling at Tintoreras where you can see Galapagos penguins and reef sharks.
  • A visit to the wetlands to see flamingos.
  • The tortoise breeding center to see Galapagos tortoises.
  • Time to explore Playa Puerto Villamil.

🍽 Where to Eat & Drink in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz has a wide variety of great options for eating and drinking to fit all budgets and preferences. This includes everything from high-end luxury dining to local street food and everything in between (even breweries)!

As you might expect, local food comes with more local price tags, whereas European, Asian, and American fare are available but will come at a similar price to what you’d pay back home.


Best Budget & Local Food: Los Kioskos
Night photo of Los Kioskos, the most budget friendly place to eat on Santa Cruz island in the Galapagos.

On Charles Binford Street you will find a block of local, cheap restaurants that offer comida tipΓ­ca (typical local food) at a very reasonable price.

You’ll find many options for $5 that include juice, soup, and a main.


Best Coffee: 1835 Coffee Lab
A couple sat outside 1835 Coffee Lab in Puerto Ayora Santa Cruz Galapagos.

If you are like us, you need a good cup of coffee to get you going in the morning. 1835 Coffee Lab is the place you will want to remember as it is the best cafe in Puerto Ayora.

All their coffee is great, but their cold brew goes down particularly well in the heat! The cakes, however, are just ok.


Best Beer: Santa Cruz Brewery
This photo from the balcony of Santa Cruz brewery shows a full beer in front of the main drag of Puerto Ayora.

A brew with a view is what you will find at Santa Cruz Brewery!

The craft beers at Santa Cruz Brewery are all made in the Galapagos. The brewery has several different inventive beers on tap and is one of the few places on the islands you’ll find anything beyond light lager.

We didn’t eat here but heard the food is average at best.


Best Ice Cream & Pizza: Galapagos Deli

This was the best place we found for both pizza and ice cream in Santa Cruz. With that said, we would have considered this pizza just mediocre if we’d had it at a restaurant back home. Still, it was quite good for the Galapagos (though not as good as Giuseppe’s on San Cristobal island).

The ice cream was very good and came in a wide variety of excellent flavors. Our favorites were lemon and the salted caramel.


Best for a Special Occasion: Finch Bay Restaurant

Assuming you’re staying in Puerto Ayora, you will need to take a water taxi to reach Finch Bay Restaurant.

Located at the Finch Bay Hotel, you can expect excellent quality seafood, as well as a wide range of other dishes, and delicious cocktails.


Best for Sushi: Midori Sushi

While we never got around to trying it, Midori Sushi was recommended to us time and time again and, as their name suggests, their sushi is reportedly incredible.

πŸ™‹β€β™€οΈ FAQs About Santa Cruz

Night photo of the main street of Puerto Ayora on the popular island of Santa Cruz.

Below are answers to the most frequently asked questions about Santa Cruz Island that most first-time visitors have.

Simply click the drop-down arrows to reveal answers.

Is Santa Cruz the best Galapagos island to stay on?

Santa Cruz provides a wider array of tourist services, such as restaurants, hotels, and shops, than any other Galapagos island, making it the best option to stay on for most visitors. It also has an airport!

Some consider San Cristobal to be the superior choice of islands to stay on in Galapagos, but which is best is entirely subjective to personal preferences.

What is Santa Cruz island in the Galapagos known for?

Santa Cruz is the major tourist hub of the Galapagos islands. It is the most populated and developed of the islands and home to one of only two airports that you can fly into.

In addition to a wide variety of shops, restaurants, bars, hotels, and tour operators, some of the main attractions on Santa Cruz island are the Charles Darwin Research Station & Tortoise Breeding Center, Tortuga Bay, Gordon Rocks, and Las Grietas.

Why visit Santa Cruz island in Galapagos?

Santa Cruz is the best Galapagos island to begin and/or end a trip as it is one of only two places that you can fly to or from Galapagos. Additionally, Santa Cruz is the major tourist hub of the region and provides more tourism services than any other island.

Other reasons to visit Santa Cruz include seeing giant Galapagos tortoises in the wild at El Chato or baby tortoises at Charles Darwin Research Station, diving Gordon Rocks, and arranging day trips to some of the nearby uninhabited islands such as Isla Bartolome, Isla Pinzon, Isla Floreana, or North Seymour.

Can you stay on Santa Cruz Island Galapagos?

Santa Cruz is by far the most popular of the 4 islands that you can stay on in Galapagos. The islands you can stay on, in order of popularity and population, are:

  1. Santa Cruz
  2. San Cristobal
  3. Isabela
  4. Floreana
How many days do you need in Santa Cruz Galapagos?

You would only need 2-3 days to explore the highlights and top attractions of Santa Cruz island, but you will want to budget an extra day for any tours you wish to add to your itinerary.

Santa Cruz is the gateway to many uninhabited islands that can only be visited via cruise or on a tour beginning in Santa Cruz. These include the islands of Floreana, Bartolome, Santiago, North Seymour, Pinzon, South Plaza, and Santa Fe.

How do you get around in Santa Cruz Galapagos?

The best way to get around Santa Cruz is by walking as most attractions and tour starting points are located within the town of Puerto Ayora.

For some of the remote destinations you may wish to visit, there are buses and affordable taxis available, as well as bicycle rentals for the truly adventurous.

There are no car rentals available in the Galapagos islands.

Where can I see a Galapagos giant tortoise on Santa Cruz?

The best place to see a wild Galapagos giant tortoise in Santa Cruz is at El Chato Ranch in the Highlands, but you can also see baby and juvenile tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Station & Breeding Center in town.

Can you walk around Santa Cruz Galapagos?

Puerto Ayora is the only major town on Santa Cruz island and can be explored entirely by foot. For destinations that are not in walking distance, you will have to hire a taxi, book a tour, or rent a bike.

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