Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos!

You just landed in the Galapagos Islands.  Weather is balmy: about 85 degrees, with 70% humidity.  You’re taxi-ing on the runway of Baltra Airport, just a short ferry ride from the most populated island in the Galapagos: Isla Santa Cruz.  In this “Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos,” I’ll take you on a photo journey of some of the best places to visit on the island…all with the help of a local guide. 

Let’s go to the Galapagos!!

Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, Girl Who Travels the World

Flying into Baltra Airport, next to Isla Santa Cruz, in the Galapagos Islands.

Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos

After crossing the tiny channel that separates Baltra from Santa Cruz, pile your luggage into one of the many white pick-up trucks waiting to take you into town.  Then, it’s a pleasant, 45-minute drive through lush scenery before you arrive in Puero Ayora, where all the action is (& most of the population).  And so, our tour begins…with our guide: Adicho!  A native Ecuadorian, fisherman, surfer, & expert on all things Galapagos: he’s the perfect guide for his hometown, Puerto Ayora.

Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, Girl Who Travels the World

Meet Adicho. I get it ladies, he’s pretty easy on the eyes…

What You Need in the Galapagos

Here’s what you need in the Galapagos: 1) A bathing suit, 2) Comfortable shoes, & 3) Most importantly, STRONG SUNSCREEN!!!!  The Galapagos Islands sit directly on the equator, meaning you’re incredibly close to the sun.  I can’t express how STRONG the sun is here!!  After 20 minutes in the sun, I got a horrific third-degree burn (that turned into welts!).  Bring the absolute, strongest sunscreen you can!!!  And make it mineral or broad-spectrum sunscreen, so that it starts working right away!!

Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos

Why start with Isla Santa Cruz?  Not only is it the most populated island, but it’s next door to the primary airport in the Galapagos, located on Baltra (GPS = Airport Code).  In fact, the only other airport in the Galapagos is on San Cristobal Island (SCY = Airport Code).  Thus, Puerto Ayora (the main town on Isla Santa Cruz) is significant because most tourists will pass through it ~ either on their way to other tours, or for destinations such as the Charles Darwin Research Station, Tortuga Bay, Las Grietas, & the El Chato Tortoise Reserve.

Stop #1 ~ The Fish Market & Great Coffee!

Let’s start our tour right in the heart of Puerto Ayora at the fish market.  From virtually any hotel in town, the fish market is an easy stroll.  Ave. Charles Darwin is the main street in town, where you’ll find lots of restaurants, shops, bars, & tour operators.  The fish market can be found right on Ave. Charles Darwin, across from the 2-story restaurant Il Giardino.  Every morning, I started my day by strolling down to the fish market & checking out the local action (including the cute sea lions scrounging for food)!

Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, Girl Who Travels the World

Look at the sea lion right next to her, waiting for some fish to drop!

After the fish market, you’re ready for some coffee, right?  Well, you’re in luck ~ because the best coffee I found anywhere in South America is right around the corner!  Keep walking down Ave. Charles Darwin, towards Charles Darwin Research Station.  On your left, you’ll come across a cute coffee shop with outdoor seating, called OMG Coffee.  You’ll recognize it by the statue of Charles Darwin out front.  Coffee.  Is.  Incredible.  Iced or hot ~ it’s perfect.

Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, Girl Who Travels the World

Look for the Charles Darwin statue & you’ll know you’re at OMG Coffee!

Stop #2 ~ Playa de Estancia & Charles Darwin

Enjoy your coffee, then continue walking away from town, towards Charles Darwin Research Station.  You’ll pass the Blu Galapagos Lodge on your right ~ keep going.  Before reaching the Station, look for a small sign on the right for Playa de Estancia.  This leads to a small beach where you can swim, snorkel, or simply enjoy the view.  You’ll find few tourists here, & mainly locals.  Take a peek, & if you like what you see ~ come back for a swim.

Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, Girl Who Travels the World

Playa de Estancia, a lovely little beach on your way to Charles Darwin Research Station.

Next up: Charles Darwin Research Station.  From Playa de Estancia, you’ve got about 1/4 mile to reach the Station.  Take a right when you leave the beach, & follow Ave. Charles Darwin until it dead-ends at the Research Station.  You’ll find massive tortoises & iguanas here, plus a history of the archipelago’s most famous tortoise: Lonesome George, as well as beautiful views.  Budget one to two hours, & you’ll easily be able to take in all the sights here.

Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, Girl Who Travels the World

View from the Charles Darwin Research Station.

Stop #3 ~ Lunch + Tortuga Bay

And now: lunchtime!  Head back to town the same way you came, along Ave. Charles Darwin.  Try fresh ceviche at one of the restaurants along the main drag, like Il Giardino or Isla Grill.  Or venture onto a side street for good food at 1/2 the price ~ like the Cevicheria.  Enjoy people-watching, & animal-watching…animals are everywhere on Isla Santa Cruz!

After lunch, it’s time for a good walk & an afternoon swim.  Bring your swimsuit & comfy walking shoes ~ because we’ve got a bit of a hike to reach Tortuga Bay.  I could write an entire post on Tortuga Bay alone.  It is simply, STUNNING.  You’ll find marine iguanas galore, a huge, white sand beach, & soooo many photo opportunities it will blow your mind.  Most of all, you’ll find a tranquility that seems to slow time down.  Enjoy it.  Dive in.

Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, Girl Who Travels the World

The incredibly turquoise waters of Tortuga Bay, on Isla Santa Cruz. Click on the photo to find the nearest accommodations to the bay.

How to Get to Tortuga Bay!

But let’s back up: how do you reach Tortuga Bay from Puerto Ayora?  Start at Il Giardino, the restaurant on the corner of Ave. Charles Darwin & Charles Binford.  Walk up Charles Binford, into town, & away from the beach.  Stay on Binford the whole time.  It eventually turns into a smaller walking path, leading to Tortuga Bay.  You’ll pass Museo Jica on your left; shortly after is the entrance for Tortuga Bay, also on your left.  From here, you’ve still got a long walk to the bay (at least a mile).  Walk along the wooden boardwalk until it drops you off on the sand.

Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, Girl Who Travels the World

Hundreds of iguanas are hanging out on the beaches of Tortuga Bay…

Once you’re on the beach, make sure to wander all the way down to the right: because there’s another beach past the first one!  This is important ~ don’t swim in the first bay!  It’s very dangerous to swim here, due to strong currents.  Swim or snorkel in the second bay instead, down the beach to the right, around the corner. 

Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, Girl Who Travels the World

Don’t swim at the first beach you come to at Tortuga Bay ~ walk to the right, & find this second beach (you’ll see people in the water, & iguanas on the beach)! The water is much calmer here.

Playa Peninsula separates the two beaches, & you’ll find all kinds of marine iguanas here.  Budget at least three to four hours to enjoy Tortuga Bay.  Bring sunscreen, a hat, & your camera ~ plus any other desired beach gear (i.e. a snorkel).  There isn’t much shade at Tortuga, so LATHER on the sunscreen, as you’ll likely be outside for hours.

Stop #4 ~ Laguna de las Ninfas

If you have energy after Tortuga Bay, stop by Laguna de las Ninfas on your way back to town.  While walking back on Charles Binford, turn right on either Las Ninfas or Juan Montalvo.  Juan Montalvo dead-ends at the lagoon, & it’s well-worth a stop here for a leisurely stroll, or to simply rest & enjoy the view.

Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, Girl Who Travels the World

The beautiful & peaceful Laguna de las Ninfas, just outside of Puerto Ayora.

You can walk around the entire lagoon on a wooden boardwalk, which makes for a lovely afternoon stroll.  This is one of the most peaceful places on Isla Santa Cruz ~ making a great spot for quiet contemplation.

After a full day in the sun, you’re probably ready for a little siesta right about now.  Mosey back to your hotel, & take some time to relax, shower, & get ready for a low-key dinner at one of Puerto Ayora’s many restaurants.  On the menu: fresh fish, & a refreshing cocktail after a long day of adventures!  But first, enjoy the view from your patio…

Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, Girl Who Travels the World

The view from Gloria Galapagos, a colorful, family-run hotel in the heart of Puerto Ayora, with views to die for. And only $35/night! Click on photo for pricing.

Where I Stayed in Puerto Ayora:

  • Under $50/night: If you’re traveling solo in the Galapagos Islands (as I did), & want to save your money for fun activities, I highly recommend staying at the Gloria Galapagos Hotel in the heart of Puerto Ayora.  Views are amazing, my room was HUGE (it had THREE beds!!), & is easily walk-able to everywhere mentioned in this itinerary.  With its sunny yellow rooms & cheap price ($35/night), this hotel is a little gem. 
  • If you’re looking for more of a luxury hotel on Isla Santa Cruz, & want to be right on the water, try: 1) Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel ($300+), 2) Angermeyer Waterfront Inn ($250+), or 3) Casa La Iguana.
  • For a more complete list of Galapagos Island hotels, click here.  

Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos

Thanks for reading this “Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos!”  Stay tuned: because there’s a LOT more to do on Isla Santa Cruz!!  In Part 2 ~ we’ll get wet at Las Grietas ~ the island’s famous swimming grotto, swim with sharks, watch turtles in the wild, & enjoy some of Puerto Ayora’s best nightlife.

Read Next: Solo Female Travel in the Galapagos Islands!