The Galapagos Islands are a magical destination, with an abundance of unique and rare wildlife, natural wonders, stunning scenery, and many adventures to be had. Santa Cruz is one of the most popular islands, and for good reason. It’s located in the center of the Galapagos archipelago, and is easily accessible from the main airport on Baltra.
Whether you’re a wildlife and nature lover or simply seeking some tropical relaxation, Santa Cruz Island has something for everyone. This comprehensive travel guide will help you plan a memorable trip to this remarkable island.
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Best Time to Visit Santa Cruz Island
The best time to visit Santa Cruz depends on what type of experience you’d prefer during your time there. The Galapagos has two distinct seasons: the dry season (June to November) and the wet season (December to May). Here are some of the benefits for each of the seasons:
The dry season is typically considered the peak tourist season in the Galapagos, as the weather is generally more favorable for outdoor activities. The weather is mostly sunny with brief afternoon showers, and the warmer, clear water offers better visibility for snorkeling and diving.
Don’t let the name of the season fool you – this can also be a great time to visit, as there are fewer tourists and prices may be lower. And during the wet season the Galapagos’ many species of wildlife have an abundance of food available both on land and in the water. This makes it an ideal time for viewing wildlife, especially birds, as many species are nesting and breeding.
The temperature in the Galapagos remains fairly constant throughout the year, with average highs ranging from the mid-70s to low-80s Fahrenheit. However, the wet season tends to be slightly warmer than the dry season.
Getting to Santa Cruz Island
Santa Cruz Island is accessible by plane, ferry, or speedboat. Visitors can fly into the Seymour Airport on Baltra Island and then take a ferry to Santa Cruz, which takes roughly 10-15 minutes. The ferry leaves every 20-30 minutes and costs around $1-2 per person. From there you can take a public bus to Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz Island, which takes around 30 minutes and costs around $5-7 per person.
Alternatively, visitors can take a speedboat from Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz Island, to Baltra Island. This option takes around 15-20 minutes and costs around $20-25 per person.
Getting Around on Santa Cruz Island
The most common way to get around the island is by taxi or water taxi. Santa Cruz is a relatively small island, and most major attractions are within a short taxi ride from Puerto Ayora. Taxis run on a fixed fare system and rates are regulated by the government, so there is no need to worry about negotiating a fare with the driver.
If you prefer to explore the island by bike, there are several rental options available in Puerto Ayora. Bikes can be rented for around $5-10 per day. And of course, walking is a great option for those who want to explore at a more leisurely pace.
Where to Stay
We can attest to Coloma firsthand. This charming boutique hotel offers comfortable rooms with wifi and locally-themed common spaces with items made from volcanic material, endemic wood, and tile. There is a natural garden, a quaint common outdoor lounge, swimming pool, bar service, and an absolutely delightful breakfast is included upstairs in the cafe. The fresh Ecuadorian fruit that comes with each breakfast is simply mouthwatering. Hot tip: Don’t skip this breakfast. The hotel’s location makes for an easy walk to all of the restaurants and shops in town, and they’ll even let you use their bikes.
Address: Av. Baltra 521 y, Puerto Ayora 200102, Ecuador
Phone: +593 99-387-6162
Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel
The Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel is a luxury eco-hotel located just steps from the beach in Puerto Ayora. It features spacious rooms, a swimming pool, and a variety of amenities, including a spa and yoga classes.
Address: Barrio Punta Estrada, Puerto Ayora, Ecuador
Phone: +593 5-252-6297
Hotel Angermeyer Waterfront Inn
Hotel Angermeyer Waterfront Inn is a historic hotel located on the waterfront in Puerto Ayora. The hotel features rustic rooms, a restaurant, and a private pier for water taxis and boats.
Address: Camino a las Grietas, Santa Cruz, Ecuador
Phone: +593 96-989-1181
Galapagos Safari Camp
Galapagos Safari Camp is a luxury tented camp located in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. The camp features spacious tents with private balconies, a swimming pool, and a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking and horseback riding.
Address: EcuadorFinca Palo Santo, Salasaca, Santa Cruz, Ecuador
What to Eat
1835 Coffee Lab
No day (in our world, anyway) starts without coffee, and this was our go-to spot during our time on Santa Cruz Island. The Coffee Lab is a cool, modern cafe with plenty of outdoor seating and some indoors, a great menu for grabbing a sandwich or pastry, and their coffee is fantastic. Just steps from the Charles Darwin Center and right on the main drag, this is a must for getting you caffeine fix with a side of people watching.
Address: Ciclovía Av. Padre Julio Herrera, Santa Cruz, Ecuador
Phone: +593 96-060-5839
You can see where our “dining” priorities are by these first two entries, but we can’t recommend this spot enough. This gourmet artisan chocolate shop is owned by a fantastically creative chocolatier. You’ll find some of the most beautiful looking chocolates, some of which are in the form of Galapagos wildlife, such as sea turtles. All are made with the finest 100% Ecuadorian Arriba Cacao and are absolutely delicious. What more need we say?
Address: Av Charles Darwin, Puerto Ayora 200350, Ecuador
Phone: +593 99 089 3182
La Cevicheria by Isla Grill
Isla Grill is a wonderful little restaurant with an open-front dining room that faces the street. The menu is impressive, and the ceviche is some of the freshest you’ll find. Their pricing is reasonable and they have a great drink menu, and the staff is very welcoming and attentive.
Address: 7M4Q+R7F, Ave Charles Darwin, Puerto Ayora, Ecuador
Phone: +593 96 926 8050
The Rock is a great modern bar and grill, and like many of the restaurants in town, it is open to the street and has outdoor seating as well. The menu is more elevated than your average bar & grill, with some creative twists on otherwise “common” dishes. The food is excellent, and they’ve also got a great drink menu, as you’d expect from a bar in such a tourist destination, and the service is awesome.
Address: Av. Charles Darwin & Isla Plazas, Santa Cruz, Ecuador
Phone: +593 99 712 4394
Kiosko de Los Pescados
Kiosko de Los Pescados is a casual seafood restaurant located in the Santa Cruz Fish Market in Puerto Ayora. The restaurant serves fresh seafood dishes, including ceviche and grilled fish, at reasonable prices. And lest we “bury the lead” on the fish market – it in itself is one of the top things-to-do in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. It’s quite the fun spectacle watching the local wildlife such as pelicans, sea lions, iguanas, and frigate birds all co-exist as they patiently wait their turn for scraps. It’s the best free entertainment on the island!
Address: Right on the main drag along the water in the center of Puerto Ayora – you can’t miss it!
No Shortage of Dining Options
There are so many more restaurants of all kinds on the island of Santa Cruz. Just take a walk about and check out the menus at the entrances to see what appeals to you.
Things to Do On Santa Cruz Island
#1: Respect the Wildlife!
The Galapagos is home to an abundance of unique and rare species, many of which can only be found on these islands. It’s important to respect the wildlife and follow guidelines provided by park rangers, including keeping a safe distance from animals – six feet – and not disturbing their natural habitats.
Charles Darwin Foundation
The Charles Darwin Research Center is a must-visit stop for anyone visiting the Galapagos. It is dedicated to the conservation and research of the unique wildlife and ecosystems found on the islands. Visitors can learn about ongoing research and conservation efforts, as well as view some of the islands’ most famous inhabitants – the giant tortoises. Be sure to take the guided walking tour throughout the property to get an up close look and the local wildlife and endemic plant species.
Address: Avenida Charles Darwin s/n, Puerto Ayora, Islas Galápagos, Santa Cruz, Ecuador
Phone: +593 5-252-6146
Hike to Tortuga Bay
Tortuga Bay is a stunning white sand beach just a short walk (ok, it’s around 45 minutes, but well worth it!) from Puerto Ayora. The beach is one of the most beautiful in the Galapagos, and visitors can enjoy swimming, snorkeling, and relaxing in the sun. Keep an eye out for marine iguanas and sea turtles, which are commonly seen in the area. If you’re visiting at the right time of year, you’ll also see sea turtle nests, which will be clearly roped off and marked with information such as the date the nest was made and expected hatch date. So cool! Do be respectful and keep the required distance of six feet. Just follow the signs from Puerto Ayora. Bring water and sunscreen and enjoy the lovely walk.
Coordinates: -0.7656881, -90.3335308
Los Gemelos, or “the twins” in Spanish, is a pair of volcanic craters located in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. The craters were formed by the collapse of underground magma chambers and are now home to a variety of flora and fauna, including several species of bird. If you book your trip through a travel agent, there’s a good chance they’ll include this stop on your way to Puerto Ayora upon arrival. “Travel agent? Who uses those anymore?” As a side note, if you’re on the fence about or haven’t considered using a travel agent, read this post: Why Use a Travel Agent? One Reason is Surprising.
Coordinates: 0.62610° S, 90.38638° W
El Chato Ranch Tortoise Reserve
Surely you’ve seen photos of visitors with the beautiful giant tortoises. El Chato Tortoise Reserve is a must-visit for anyone who wants to see giant tortoises up close. The ranch is located in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, and is another stop that is often made en route to Puerto Ayora upon arrival at Santa Cruz. The reserve offers visitors the opportunity to observe these incredible creatures in their natural habitat. You can also learn about the history of the giant tortoise, as well as the ongoing conservation efforts to protect the species from extinction. Fun fact: these giants move quicker than you’d expect!
Address: Parque Nacional Galápagos, Santa Cruz, Ecuador
Phone: 098 864 4178
Santa Cruz Island is known for some of the best scuba diving in the Galapagos. Divers can explore reefs and caves teeming with marine life, including sea turtles, sharks, and colorful fish. Some of the most popular dive sites include Gordon Rocks and Seymour.
While not technically part of Santa Cruz Island, a trip to the nearby Bartolome Island is a must-do for visitors. The island is known for its unique rock formations, stunning views, and wildlife, including sea lions and penguins. Visitors can hike to the top of the island for an unforgettable panoramic view of the surrounding landscape.
A trip to the Galapagos wouldn’t be complete without taking a snorkeling excursion. this is one of the best ways to experience the unique and diverse wildlife of the Galapagos. Get an up close look and swim with sea turtles, countless varieties of colorful fish, sharks,
Swim With Sea Lions!
This snorkeling adventure gets its own entry and is an must-do experience that can’t be described in words alone. You will not regret it, nor will you ever forget it.
Isabela is the largest island in the Galapagos archipelago. It is known for its unique and diverse landscape, including active volcanoes, lava fields, white sand beaches, and turquoise waters. Isabela Island is home to a variety of wildlife, including penguins, sea lions, marine iguanas, and giant tortoises, which can be seen on guided tours and hikes. The many activities available include snorkeling, diving, hiking, and visiting historical sites such as the Wall of Tears, which was built by prisoners in the mid-20th century.
The Galápagos Islands are a paradise on earth. Feel free to bookmark this Santa Cruz Island travel guide to make planning your own visit a breeze.
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