The island of Santa Cruz is one of the main attractions of Galápagos, with the islands San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana.
It is not the largest island by size but it is the one where the infrastructure is the most developed.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of activities you can do on Santa Cruz:
Visit the Charles Darwin station
The Charles Darwin Station was founded in 1964 as a tribute to the English explorer, who came at a very young age and whose work to publish his book The Origin of Species, was done in the Galapagos Islands.
The station houses a research laboratory on terrestrial animals and another one on marine animals, and its aim is to preserve, develop, and monitor some giant tortoise species. There are turtoise of all sizes, some iguanas, but also the mummified body of the lonesome Georges, the last known turtoise of the species Chelonoidis abingdoni, which died in 2012 at an age between 120 and 130 years.
There are also other skeletons or bodies (shark, dolphin) and samples of local flora and fauna.
Chill at the Playa Estación
The Playa Estación is located next to the station Charles Darwin, via a path on the right before entering the center. The beach is small; the water is beautiful and fresh. It is possible to snorkel; specially when you swim 50 meters to the left once entered the water.
Swim and snorkel in Las Grietas
Las Grietas (the cracks) is a volcanic rock formation. It is a natural swimming pool 50m long, 6m wide and 10m deep. There are some species of fish of varying sizes, roaming or eating the plankton on the rocks. The water is simply marvelousl!
Enjoy the Tortuga Bay
The walk on the Tortuga Bay is pleasant at any time!
After about thirty minutes of walk by a small path paved between the trees, you reach Playa Brava where a multitude of marine iguanas lay. Some travelers even said they saw a blue-footed booby!
The beach is very wide, with a breathtaking turquoise blue but the sea has very powerful waves, swimming is simply prohibited (ban marked by a red flag).
From there, there is a path on the right that leads quickly to the other side to Playa Mansa, a small cove where the water is super quiet, ideal for snorkeling.
Walk around the Laguna Las Ninfas
The laguna is a small quiet spot on the island, where we discover the different types of mangroves present on the island. We appreciate the color of the water and the fish swimming in it. With a little luck, we can also see rays.
Walk around the Puerto Ayora fish market
The (small) fish market of Puerto Ayora takes place throughout the morning and a good part of the afternoon. A beautiful atmosphere prevails, atmosphere brought by the fishermen but especially thanks to the numerous animals squatting places! Many pelicans and sea lions come to blend in with the human mass to get their share of fish.
Walk on the docks in the evening
You can see small sharks attracted by the spotlight. We also see a lot of pelicans land before launching at full speed in the ocean to catch a fish, impressive!
Rancho El Chato and lava tunnels
For my last day in Santa Cruz, I decided to go with a couple of friends to a ranch to see giant tortoises and lava tunnels, without knowing what to expect. We chose (randomly!) to visit the Rancho El Chato and the tunnels it contains. The ranch is located about twenty kilometers from Puerto Ayora. We had to take the bus to Santa Rosa (15km climb) then finished 4 km by bike. What’s great is that our hostel lent us bikes for free, which exempts us from renting them for $ 3 per hour.
The flip side is that we had to find a bus that accepts to take the bikes, being equipped with a metal bar at the back of the bus. And that took us a whole hour waiting!!
Once arrived in Santa Rosa, we were happy that the 4 km were in a great descent, but it made us fear their climb back!!
At the ranch, the entrance costed $ 5, and we began with the visit of 3 lava tunnels, very interesting volcanic formations, the second seemed even as man made since it was well done with a beautiful corridor and a kind False ceiling !! This exceeded our expectations, we were absolutely delighted!!
We then started our walk across the ranch, seeing giant tortoises of different sizes, from near, from far, alone, in groups, motionless, or trotting.
A tortoise, which we will called Robert, is just huge! It is at least 1,20m or 1,30m and its carapace is super high!
The Rancho El Chato is not the only one of its kind, there are also next to it the ranch Las Premicias but also Fortiz and probably others.
Make the Bahia Tour
On the advice of Robert the owner of my hostel, I did the Bahia Tour excursion. Thanks to him, I even paid $ 30 instead of $ 35.
The tour lasted between 3h30 and 4 hours and included 6 spots: the Loberia to see the sea lions, another spot to see the blue-footed boobies, the Playa del amor, walk to the Playa de los perros, Las Grietas (for which access is free and I have already visited), and snorkeling.
During snorkeling, we see various fishes, but especially a multitude of sea turtles.
Always following the advice of Robert, when going to Las Grietas, I told the captain and the guide that I have already been there and that I would like to go see white tip sharks while others went to swim in Las Grietas. It turns out that all the tourists have already been to Las Grietas or plan to go on their own on the coming days, so we all went together to see the sharks!!
And it was definitely worth it! After a few minutes of research, we went to a hidden corner under a mangrove where water was infested with about fifteen sharks resting quietly at the bottom in the sand or moving in circle.
The white tip shark is the only species of shark that can breathe without moving. It aspires the water through his bronchi, extracts the oxygen and expels it again.
It feeds on tuna at night, so it is TOTALLY HARMSLESS to men. One of them has touched my arm and thigh going perpendicular to my advance, which created a nice adrenaline rush when i came to realize what happened!!
On our return to the boat, we saw Manta rays and golden rays, it’s just great!
This tour is the only paid activity I did on Santa Cruz Island, but it was worth it!!
Other activities (like the visit of the Sierra Negra volcano) and excursions with the agencies (Pinzon for example) exist, but I hadn’t the opportunity to do them.
- Once arrived on Santa Cruz, go to the tourism office, Charles Darwin Avenue, near the intersection with 12 de Febrero street: ask for the Guia Informatica Turistica, it is a map of the islands and descriptions of the activities on Santa Cruz
- Charles Darwin Station
The center is a perfect attraction when you arrive on the Galapagos Islands to get acquainted with the surrounding environment, or on a cloudy afternoon when the beach is not so attractive.
It is possible to have the passport stamped at Charles Darwin station if the customs officer has not already done so at the airport.
- Las Grietas
Las Grietas is a small place, much nicer with a low affluence. Therefore, better plan a visit in the morning or between 12h and 14h when the other tourists have their lunch.
- Tortuga Bay
Playa Mansa is nice for snorkeling. The water is not deep, it is necessary to advance well while swimming, and privilege the left side because the fish and the sharks go there to look for plankton in the rocks. Here too, it is better to go in the morning because it’s at this time that the animals come out the most and there are less people.
- Rancho El Chato
The bus to Santa Rosa costs $ 1 and comes out of a station that is in front of the Puerto Ayora market.
Asking when will arrive a bus to Santa Rosa and that can carry bicycles can be helpful to optimize the waiting time.
Do not hesitate to hitchhike back to Santa Rosa, the galapagueños are very kind and always ready to help the best way they can!
- Lava tunnels
The tunnels are dark (only one has lamps inside), think to bring a flashlight, otherwise it seems to me that they lend it in the ranch.
- If you think to go to Isabela later, think of withdrawing liquid in Santa Cruz, there is no distributor on Isabela Island!
To know the procedures to follow before arriving on the Galapagos Islands, click on this link
To follow my activities and advice on Isabela, here they are!