The Top Things to See and Do on Santa Cruz Island

From seafood specialties to giant tortoises, these are the top things to see and do on the island of Santa Cruz
From seafood specialties to giant tortoises, these are the top things to see and do on the island of Santa Cruz | © Leon Werdinger / Alamy Stock Photo

Santa Cruz is often one of the first islands tourists visit after arriving at the airport on Baltra Island, given its close proximity to other popular islands in the Galápagos such as North Seymour, Santa Fe, Isabela and Rabida. Head straight to Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz, and book yourself on a day trip if you haven’t already bagged yourself a spot on our exclusive five-day trip. As for the rest of the time, here’s our list of all the other things you should see and do while you’re on the island.

1. Chill at Tortuga Bay

Natural Feature

Take your time to enjoy the white-sand beach of Tortuga Bay and watch the marine iguanas chilling in the shade. Walking the full length of Tortuga Bay will leave you at Playa Mansa, a beautiful lagoon that’s perfect for swimming in peacefully while admiring the epic scenery.

2. Check out the Darwin Research Centre

Architectural Landmark

A great way to start your trip to the Galápagos Islands is with an introduction to the species that live here at this research centre. You can find out all about the giant tortoise breeding program, and get a closer look at baby tortoises, land iguanas and endemic plant species.

3. See giant tortoises at El Chato Reserve

Natural Feature

If there’s one thing you really can’t miss in the Galápagos Islands, it’s the giant tortoises. The best place to observe them is in their natural habitat in El Chato Reserve. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see them mate (but try not to put them off).

4. Enjoy local seafood at Los Kioskos

Restaurant, Seafood, Street Food

Los Kiosko
© Rowan Palmer / Flickr

It’s no secret that you’ll find amazing local seafood on the Galápagos Islands, and you don’t need to go to a fine-dining restaurant to get it. Come to this authentic local restaurant late at night, and experience Galápagos cuisine at its finest.

5. Go for a swim at El Garrapatero

Natural Feature

About 30 minutes’ drive from Puerto Ayora you will find Garrapatero beach, an idyllic expanse of sand where you’re all but guaranteed to spot flamingos and iguanas. Get there early enough and you could be the first one to step onto the sand and enjoy the unspoiled beauty all by yourself.

6. Take a trip to Las Grietas

Natural Feature

Meaning ‘the cracks’ in English, Las Grietas is a spot where deep ocean water runs through a crevasse between two tall cliffs. You can swim, dive and snorkel here – spotting tropical fish and many rock-dwelling creatures. Visiting Las Grietas is a good option for a half-day trip and you can get there easily by taking a cheap boat taxi.

7. Soak up the sun at Las Bachas

Natural Feature

Just north of Puerto Ayora is the beautiful beach of Las Bachas – so-called due to the old WWII barge still rusting away on the sand, and (supposedly) the way in which ‘barges’ is pronounced by locals. The water is shallow and the waves are calm so it’s a great beach to bring the kids to.

8. Walk through the lava tunnels

Natural Feature

Imagine walking through a long tunnel that was created by flooding lava. You can do that here, after such tunnels were formed by the cooling of the outside layer of lava, creating a crust containing hot lava within. When the lava flowed out, it created the tunnel we see today. The lava tunnels in Santa Cruz are on private property, but can be visited with or without a guide.

9. Drink With the locals at Bongo Bar

Bar, Beer

© Jean-Christophe Jacques / Flickr
The Bongo Bar in Puerto Ayora is the best place to go if you want to party – think live music, Salsa lessons and cocktails galore. It’s also rumoured to serve up the best sushi on the Galápagos Islands, so go hungry if you’re a seafood fanatic.

10. Experience Santa Cruz Fish Market

Architectural Landmark

Get up early and watch the fishermen preparing their morning catch for market – if you’ve the stomach for it. You won’t be the only onlooker either – the pelicans will be swooping in like clockwork, ready to snap up any smaller fish left unattended for more than a few seconds.

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