Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, Galápagos – Your Ultimate Guide to the best Sights and Activities

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Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos, is not only the most populous island in the Galápagos archipelago but also the most visited island by tourists. Anyone visiting the extraordinary islands will most likely be accommodated in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz’s capital, for at least a few nights.

That is why we would like to show you here some of the best Santa Cruz sights, travel tips, accommodation, excursions, transport options, prices, and more in this article.

Author’s note: If, in addition to Santa Cruz and Puerto Ayora, Ecuador, you would also like to learn more about a holiday in the Galapágos Islands in general, you should definitely read our comprehensive Galapagos Islands Itinerary.

Santa Cruz Island, Galapágos Facts

  • The capital, Puerto Ayora, is the largest city on the islands
  • Island of volcanic origin
  • round shape
  • On an area of 986 km²
  • Also manages the neighboring island of Baltra
  • The locals live mainly from tourism

Our Galápagos Video

Where is Santa Cruz?

where is santa cruz, map
Source: Google Maps

Santa Cruz is in the middle of the three main islands of the Galápagos archipelago. It stands out with its almost circular shape between the other two islands.

The Galapagos Islands are located in the Pacific Ocean, west of mainland Ecuador.

What is the best time to travel to Santa Cruz?

While the Santa Cruz, like the entire Galapagos Archipelago, can theoretically be visited all year round in beautiful weather, the months of December – May are the best months to visit. At this time, it is the warmest (around 25 – 30 °C) while the water also offers pleasant temperatures. This time is also best for seeing wildlife.

How to get to Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Galápagos

This section explains how to get from mainland Ecuador to Santa Cruz. You will also find helpful information on how to get to Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, from the island of Baltra.

Flight to Santa Cruz

There is no way around a flight to get to Santa Cruz. In order to catch a flight to the Galapagos islands, you first have to travel to mainland Ecuador. Whether you combine this with a (long-term) trip through South America or travel directly from your home is entirely up to you.

There are only two cities in Ecuador that offer (direct) flights to the Galapagos Islands: the capital Quito and Guayaquil. If you only want to visit Santa Cruz (or Santa Cruz combined with Isla Isabela), we definitely recommend flying to Seymour Airport on the island of Baltra.

Try to book your flight a few days, weeks, or a month or two in advance to save money. The more flexible you are when it comes to flight times, the more money you can save on your flight. Compare the flights with a flight comparison page. I personally prefer to use Skyscanner.

Flying out from Ecuador

Before you can start your flight to the Galápagos Islands and check-in as usual, you must first obtain an entry permit for $ 20. You can do this directly at the airport. After paying the fee, your luggage will be thoroughly searched.

Note that you must not take any food with you that could develop into plants, especially fruits and vegetables.

Since this process takes longer than a regular check-in, you should definitely arrive at the airport earlier than you would for a routine flight.

Arriving at Seymour Airport – The Airport of Santa Cruz (Baltra Island)

Before you can pick up your luggage from the conveyor, you will have to pay an entrance fee of $ 100 per Person. This money is paid in cash directly at the airport. Only then can you pick up your luggage and leave the airport.

From Seymour Airport to Puerto Ayora, Ecuador

Bus Ride to the port

Cost: $ 5

If you haven’t booked a fixed tour that picks you up from the airport, you first need to take the bus from the airport to the port. The journey takes about 5 minutes.

Boat to Santa Cruz

Cost: $ 1

After you’ve arrived at the small port of the Itabaca Channel, you have to take a small ferry to the other side, Isla Santa Cruz. The crossing costs you $ 1 and takes only a few minutes.

Taxi or Bus to Puerto Ayora, Galápagos

Cost Bus: $ 5 per Person

Cost Taxi: $ 25 (for up to 4 People)

When you finally arrive in Santa Cruz, you basically have two options on how to get to Puerto Ayora. You can either take a taxi or the public bus from here, which costs $ 5 per person. Although the bus is cheaper, it stops at every small bus stop on the way, so the journey takes a lot longer than by taxi.

Galapagos travel tip: If you are traveling alone or as a couple, try to team up with 2-3 other passengers and share a taxi. So you can get to your accommodation much faster and more comfortably.

If you choose a taxi, you have two options:

  • Either drive into town and check-in at your accommodation.
  • Or drive to the first sights on the way directly from the port. So you can negotiate a price with a taxi driver of about $ 50 to drive you to El Chato/Primicias and then to your accommodation. This way, you can save about $ 15.

Santa Cruz Transport

Boats in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island

In the following section, you will learn how to move from one place to another within the famous tourist island.

On foot

To be honest, many of the island’s Santa Cruz attractions are located near or inside of the capital, Puerto Ayora. Therefore, you can easily reach them on foot.

By bicycle

In many of the city’s accommodations and travel agencies, you can rent a bike for around $ 15 a day. So you can get from one place to another quickly and easily without having to pay for a taxi. So you can also reach some of the Santa Cruz excursion destinations that are not located directly in Puerto Ayora.

By taxi

Another option is to take a taxi from A to B. As noted earlier; this is the most convenient option to get from one place to another. However, before leaving, take a look at the route and consider whether a taxi ride is really necessary.

By bus

If you are traveling between Puerto Ayora and the airport (Baltra), you can use the public bus in addition to the taxi. It is cheaper than a taxi, but it takes longer to get there.

Water taxi

In order to get to remote beaches as well as to other boats or ferries, there is also the option of using a water taxi. The water taxi to Santa Cruz usually costs between $ 0.5 and $ 1, depending on the route, and often includes a life vest.

The best things to see in Santa Cruz, Galápagos

cacti near Las Grietas, Santa cruz
The beautiful nature on Santa Cruz

El Chato Tortoise Reserve

Giant Galápagos Tortoise on Santa Cruz, Galapagos
Giant Tortoise in El Chato, Santa Cruz

How to get there: By taxi from Puerto Ayora (approx. $ 40 round-trip) or from the airport (Baltra) (approx. $ 50 (including a trip back to Puerto Ayora) or by bike from Puerto Ayora (approx. $ 15 per day rental)

Admission fee El Chato: $ 5

El Chato Opening Hours: 8 am – 5 pm

Approximate length of stay: approx. 50 minutes

Anyone traveling to the Galapagos Islands must, of course, have seen the giant tortoises on the island. You can see some of them at El Chato reserve. Unlike in a zoo, you are here in the natural habitat of the tortoises, where they can move freely.

After you have picked up a few rubber boots of your size, you will take a circular route through the reserve. Along the way, you will come across the marvelous tortoises, who are quietly grazing, bathing, or just lying around. Even though the tortoises, with their impressive size, can seem a little scary, you don’t need to worry: they are absolutely harmless.

Nevertheless, you should keep a distance and never touch the animals – after all, they are wild animals.

The walk through El Chato is a real must-see for all visitors to the Galapagos Islands. It is a really unique experience to see these giant creatures grazing in the wild.

Rancho Primicias

tortoise shell at Primicias Santa Cruz
Becoming a tortoise

How to get there: By taxi from Puerto Ayora (approx. $ 40) or from the airport (Baltra) (approx. $ 50 (including the way back to Puerto Ayora) or by bike from Puerto Ayora (approx. $ 15 per day rental)

Entry fee Primicias: $ 5

Primicas Opening Times: 8 am – 5 pm

Approximate length of stay: approx. 50 minutes

Right next to the El Chato Reserve, there is a second reserve for giant tortoises. Since the two attractions are very similar, we recommend that you only visit one of the two reserves.

In Rancho Primicias, you can also experience the turtles on a circular route in their natural habitat. However, it is said that El Chato is more touristy and has more visitors. Therefore, Primicias is a little less touristy.

However, at the end of the loop in Primicias, you will find two tortoise shells that you can climb into. We think this is a great idea – not only to find out what it feels like to be a tortoise but also to be able to touch the shell of such a giant tortoise and be able to look at it up close. Or, of course, just for a funny souvenir photo.

Lava Tunnel

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How to get there: By taxi from Puerto Ayora (approx. $ 40) or from the airport (Baltra) (approx. $ 50 round-trip to Puerto Ayora) or by bike from Puerto Ayora (approx. $ 15 per day rental)

Lava Tunnels Opening Hours: 8 am – 5 pm

Not far from the two giant tortoise reserves, near the small town of Santa Rosa, there is a very special natural highlight of the island to be found: Lava Tunnels.

The tunnels formed, as their name suggests, through the flow of hot lava. Even today, they still run through Santa Cruz for kilometers. Whether you just take a look inside or take a longer walk is entirely up to you.

If you want to walk through the lava tunnels, you should be aware that you have to climb at a few places for a bit. You even have to crawl on your stomach through the shaft at one point in the tunnel. If you have claustrophobia, you should probably skip this travel destination.

Extra tip: It can get quite slippery. So make sure you wear sturdy shoes.

Los Gemelos

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Also known as the twin crater of Santa Cruz, these deep pits are another popular attraction on the island. If you want to discover the Gemelos, it is best to make a stop here when you arrive from Baltra airport, as they are located directly on the route. A visit to the Gemelos can, therefore, also be combined well with El Chato/Primicias or a visit to the Lava Tunnels.

The two giant craters were formed when the empty magma chambers collapsed after the volcanoes that once stood here had erupted.

In addition to beautiful nature, there are a lot of local bird species to discover on this hiking trail.

The Fish Market of Puerto Ayora

Sleeping sea lions at the fish market of Puerto Ayora
Sleeping Mama and baby sea lion at the fish market of Puerto Ayora

An absolute must-do in Santa Cruz is a visit to the fish market in Puerto Ayora. Freshly caught fish is sold here, but most visitors come here for a completely different reason: the island’s sea lions.

Nowhere else on the island you can probably see so that many sea lions at once and up close. For sure, this is simply the perfect place to watch the hungry seals beg, sleep, cuddle, and waddle around.

Take in mind: the fish market is closed on Sundays.

Charles Darwin Research Station

Darwin Research Station Santa Cruz
Also at Darwin Research Station, you can meet some super cute tortoises

Charles Darwin Research Station Opening Hours: 7:30 am – 12:30 pm; 2 – 5.30 pm

Entrance Fee Charles Darwin Research Station: free of charge

Charles Darwin Research Station is one of the main attractions of Santa Cruz if you want to learn more about the unique wildlife on the island. Here you can find out more about the giant tortoises that make the island so famous.

There is also some information about birds and other species on the island. And, of course, you can also find out a lot about Darwin here. Because on the Galapagos Islands, he did an important part of his research on his world-famous theory of evolution.

In addition to various exhibitions, there are also a few real creatures to discover, such as iguanas and tortoises.

Galapagos Extra Tip: Be sure to bring your passport with you when you visit Darwin Research Station. Because here you can get a stamp of the Galapagos Islands.

Playa de la Estación

Playa de la Estacion, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz
Perfect for a little refreshment: Playa de la Estación

There is a wonderful little beach right next to the Charles Darwin Research Station. Many visitors overlook this small beach. That is why you will find many locals here, especially in the summer months, who enjoy the cool water of the surrounding ocean.

In the clear water, you can spot some tropical fish and rays.

Galapagos tip: swim along the stones a little further from the beach. Here you not only have a better view but also there are a lot fewer people and, therefore, more chances to spot a few tropical fish, rays and even water turtles.

Playa de Los Alemanes

Sunrise, Playa de los Alemanes, Santa Cruz
At this time early in the morning, you just have to share the beach with some birds

Water taxi: $ 1 (before 6 am), $ 0.80 after 6 am

Playa de Los Alemanes is one of the most popular beaches on the whole island – and not without reason. A visit here can be perfectly combined with a visit to Las Grietas due to their proximity.

Simply take a water taxi from the port. It will drop you off at a landing point about 5 minutes away on foot. Just follow the boardwalk that leads you straight to the beach.

Extra tip: Playa de Los Alemanes and las Grietas are two of the most popular places on the island. If you want to enjoy these two must-sees without the annoying crowds of tourists, we recommend visiting them early in the morning at sunrise. Even if it doesn’t exactly provide a holiday feeling that you have to get out of bed so early, a visit here early is definitely worth it.

Las Grietas

Las Grietas, Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands
Las Grietas – a stunning place on Santa Cruz. Especially before the crowds arrive

Water taxi: $ 1 (before 6 am), $ 0.80 after 6 am

Las Grietas is perfect for an ice-cold refreshment in cool water. The walk here leads you past the Playa de Los Alemanes and a whole lot of impressive cacti. Even if there are not too many fish or other sea creatures to discover here, the unique setting of Las Grietas is definitely worth a visit.

Las Grietas is one of the most beautiful places in Santa Cruz. Unfortunately, it’s not quite an insider-tip and, therefore, a lot of tourists visit this place every day. If you follow our recommendation and arrive early in the morning, you have this fantastic place all to yourself. Enjoy the cool water, take some extraordinary photos, and disappear as soon as the first tourist groups arrive.

Extra tip: It is worth having your snorkeling goggles with you. There are a few big and brightly colored fish in the water. Before this sight is full of people, you have a great view of the crystal-clear water.

Alternative: If you visit Las Grietas later in the day when the water is already full of people, you have the opportunity to climb over the stones to another bay. However, it can get slippery, so it’s best to wear swimming shoes.

Tortuga Bay (Bahía Tortuga)

Tortuga Bay, Marine Iguanas at the beach
A Marine Iguana enjoying the sun at Tortuga Bay

How to get to Tortuga Bay: approx. 1-hour hike from Puerto Ayora

If you don’t want to leave Galapagos without having visited a heavenly dream beach when, you shouldn’t miss Bahía Tortuga, the turtle bay. A beautiful sandy beach awaits you here.

Although this beach at Tortuga Bay isn’t really suitable for swimming, you can discover a bit of the island’s wildlife here. Watch the turtles and marine iguanas swim and sunbathe on the beach.

Extra tip: Be sure to bring enough water with you, as it can get pretty warm on the 1-hour hike here. Despite everything, there are plenty of exotic birds to spot along the way.

Playa El Garrapatero

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Getting to Playa El Garrapatero: By bike, e-bike or taxi (approx. 30 minutes by taxi)

Playa El Garrapatero is the perfect place in Santa Cruz for a relaxing day at the beach. Bring enough food and especially sufficient water. Even if you take a taxi, it still takes around 10 minutes to walk through the mangroves to reach the beach.

Due to its location on the mangroves, the beach offers a great advantage to many other places on the Galapagos Islands: shady spots.

Extra tip: This beach is a popular place not only for tourists but also for many locals. Therefore, try to come here early in the morning to get a spot on the shady mangroves.

Although there are much better places to snorkel on the island, the beach itself is definitely worth a visit – it is usually less crowded than Tortuga Bay and also suitable for swimming.

Laguna Las Ninfas

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Getting to Laguna Las Ninfas: Short walk from Puerto Ayora

This lagoon is perfect for anyone looking for a quiet nature walk. On a wooden walkway, you walk through the mangroves and can spot some birds, rays or even turtles. However, you are not allowed to swim here.

With its location not too far from the Charles Darwin Research Station, this place can be perfectly combined with other attractions in Puerto Ayora.

Cerro Crocker

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How to get to Cerro Crocker: by taxi or bus (in the city of Bellavista)

The hike to Cerro Crocker is one of the most beautiful hikes on the island. The special thing about this hike is that you can do it individually and without a group or guided tour. This walk is particularly affordable if you arrive by bus. Just follow the signs on the road to the start of the hiking route.

In order to know which bus to take, ask in your accommodation for instructions.

Another reason to choose this Cerro Crocker hike is the great view that awaits you there. Even if there are not many wild animals to be discovered apart from a few birds, the nature that surrounds you is all the more beautiful.

Las Bachas

How to get to las Bachas: by boat and bus

Las Bachas is one of the less-visited beaches in Santa Cruz. It is characterized by the wonderful animal life that you can find there. In addition to the blue-footed boobies so famous for the Galápagos Islands, you can especially discover marine iguanas, sea turtles, and flamingos.

The name of the beach goes back to the two barges of the US Navy, whose wrecks are still on the beach.

Cerro Dragón

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How to get to Cerro Dragón: With a tour

As its name probably suggests, this very special mountain is named after the many iguanas that can be discovered here.

Once when the mountain was explored, it was found that the population of the iguanas that lived here was threatened by dogs brought to the island. For this reason, many of the iguanas have been relocated to the neighboring island of Venecia. Today there are a lot of impressive animals on Venecia as well as on Cerro Dragón.

But not only land iguanas, but also water iguanas are plentiful to discover here. Together with the region’s finches and flamingos, they definitely make a hike here a real highlight for reptile- and bird lovers.

Recommended Snorkeling Trip from Santa Cruz


Sealion in Pinzon, Santa Cruz
Swimming with Sealions in Pinzón

Tour duration: approx. 8 hours

Price: from $ 100

Our absolute highlight during our time in Santa Cruz was our snorkeling trip off the coast of Pinzón. Each provider has its own route, but basically, the tours are all quite similar.

The tour should include your complete snorkeling equipment, snacks, drinks, lunch, transport, and a guide. Depending on the tour, snorkeling takes place at two different locations: off the coast of Pinzón and another location on the way there. The most popular of these are La Fe, Las Palmitas, and Roca Sin Nombre. Many tours also include a short fishing session. Some tours prepare the caught fish on-site as lunch for the excursion participants.

Galapagos tip: If you are prone to seasickness, you should take a tablet to treat motion sickness before the boat trip (approx. 1 hour – 30 minutes before the start of the tour). Therefore, either bring a tablet from home (that doesn’t make you tired!) or buy Anautin on-site. This was recommended to us by various tour agencies and helped me a lot, as it can get a bit rocky, especially when getting ready or eating on the boat.

Extra tip: Of course, the travel tablet doesn’t last forever. It is advisable to take a second tablet after some time (e.g., at best after lunch).

Schnorkeling in La Fe

Our first stop during our tour was La Fe. La Fe is not too far from Puerto Ayora. To be honest, the clarity of the water could have been better because the visibility was not overly excellent.

There was a lot of (colorful) fish to discover, but unlike other snorkeling locations on the islands, nothing remarkable (I have to admit, however, that after various snorkeling tours and diving trips in Asia and my work in the Maldives I am quite spoiled regarding seeing exotic sea creatures.)

We swam to the coast – at low tide the way there can be quite narrow in some passages because there are many stones on the ground. From there, we took a short walk to see the crabs and marine iguanas on the island.

On the way back to the boat, we could even spot a shark that made its rounds nearby.


Seelöwe in Galapagos, Ausflug von Santa Cruz
Dieser Seelöwe fand unsere Kamera total interessant 🙂

The next stop on our tour was Pinzón. When we arrived at the island of Pinzón, we could already see the first sea lions playing in the water. Simply incredibly cute! The water is crystal clear, and you can usually expect an (almost) perfect view.

In the water, there were all kinds of underwater creatures to see. In addition to sea lions (our absolute highlight!), you will find sharks, sea turtles, rays, and a whole lot of exotic fish.

Even as a spoiled snorkeler, this tour was clearly one of the best I have joined so far. Even if the tour is not precisely cheap (like every tour in the Galapagos Islands), in our opinion, it is still worth every penny.

Where to eat on Santa Cruz

Los Kioskos – Dinner on the Night market

The Nightmarket of Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz
The night market of Puerto Ayora

We recommend that you eat at the night market at least once during your stay in Santa Cruz. One of the streets in the center is closed to motorists and instead filled with chairs and tables every night. The local restaurants will then offer you great food on a long table. The whole thing is then called Los Kioskos. For us, it kind of felt like a big picnic that you can enjoy with other travelers and even some locals.

Especially fans of fresh fish and seafood can find tasty dishes here at a relatively low price. How about e.g., with lobster in coconut sauce or freshly caught fish from the grill? (both dishes cost around $ 15)

1835 Café Lab

1883 Cafe Lab, Santa Cruz
Here you can find the arguably best coffee of the island

Opening Hours: 8 am – 8 pm

You can find the arguably best coffee on the whole island in the Café Lab. Designed in Darwin style, fresh coffee directly from the Galapagos Islands is served in this cute little café.

The selection is huge – if like us, you are overwhelmed by the huge amount of coffee and don’t know which one to choose, you can get advice from one of the helpful staff and also find the perfect coffee for your taste. Conveniently, even non-coffee drinkers will find the perfect refreshment here. The ice-cold fruit juice is also absolutely recommended. (We were told that the hot chocolate is also delicious)

The Rock

Opening Hours: 6 am – 11 pm

Like the other restaurants and bars on the waterfront, this restaurant is not exactly cheap. The breakfast here (especially the waffles) was delicious. Especially if you have to wait for your boat near the port for a while like we did that day, this restaurant is a great place to spend your time.

In addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner cocktails and other drinks are also offered.

Fresh Coco

coco fresh, Santa Cruz, coconut ice cream

Here you can find the best coconut ice cream on the island.

Where to stay in Santa Cruz

Hostal La Mirada del Solitario George

This hostel is considered one of the best-rated accommodations on the island by guests. The 3-star accommodation offers deluxe and economy rooms of various sizes. Well located, all of the sights in Puerto Ayora can be reached relatively quickly.

All rooms are equipped with a private bathroom, a bath and a shower, and air conditioning.

Check Prices, Information, and availability here

Check all accommodation on Galápagos

Best Budget Accommodation in Santa Cruz

You can find the best Budget accommodation on Airbnb.

Look for accommodation in Puerto Ayora with Airbnb

Have you ever been to Santa Cruz, Galápagos? What was your absolute highlight? Or maybe you even have an insider tip for us? Let us know in the comments below!

More Galápagos

Make sure to read all of our Galápagos Guide in order to plan your once-in-a-lifetime vacation even better.


About the AuthorVicki

Hi, we are Vicki & Eduardo, an international travel couple on a mission to help you save money for priceless travel experience. Follow us through the miracles of this world and you will be rewarded with a bunch of practical travel tips.

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