Santa Cruz Island is one of the main islands of the Galapagos. This is where many tourists to the Galapagos Islands will visit after crossing over from Baltra Island airport to embark cruises and to stay at some of the island’s fantastic hotels.
Santa Cruz makes a fantastic base to explore the Galapagos. Either choose to explore the Galapagos on a cruise or base yourself on Santa Cruz and hop to nearby islands.
In addition to exploring surrounding islands, there are many interesting things to see and do on Santa Cruz itself.
The island is also home to some of the best restaurants, cafes, art galleries and boutique shops the Galapagos has to offer.
Santa Cruz is the second largest island in the Galapagos archipelago just after Isabela. The main town where you find the most hotels, restaurants and cafes is called Puerto Ayora. This is also where you can enjoy island hopping trips.
Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz is home to the largest human population on the Galapagos Islands. However, even here you can see incredible wildlife. Marine iguanas regularly bask in the sun on the sidewalks, sea lions laze by the coast and you can easily spot brightly colored Sally Lightfoot crabs on the shoreline.
This is also where you find Fisherman’s Wharf where fishermen come to sell their catch attracting native wildlife like pelicans, sea lions and gulls. This is a great place to absorb local activity and to see some wildlife.
You can also find the Charles Darwin Research Center to learn about the Galapagos Islands and to see the giant tortoises at their breeding station. The research center has a giant tortoise breeding facility to recover tortoise populations, which have been threatened by habitat destruction and introduced species.
Santa Cruz Island Attractions
In addition to the Charles Darwin Research Center in Puerto Ayora there are some other fantastic attractions on Santa Cruz Island itself.
Some of the favorites include:
Tortuga Bay is one of the most popular natural attractions on Santa Cruz. Enjoy kayaking, swimming or simply relaxing on Tortuga Bay. Spot sea turtles, friendly sharks, colorful fish and different rays while exploring the bay or soak up the Galapagos sun on the sand.
The bay is reached from a 20-minute walk, which takes you past some fantastic scenery and also a large population of marine iguanas, which relax on the sand under the mangroves.
The Charles Darwin Research Center
The Charles Darwin Research Center is a great place for an introduction to the Galapagos Islands. You will also learn about the work the Charles Darwin Foundation is doing to restore and protect the islands, including a tour of the giant tortoise breeding areas.
There are different trails you can walk, which take you past the exhibits, information signs and lookout points.
The favorite area of the facility is where the foundation keeps the baby giant tortoises, which are looked after until they can be released on the islands. There are also some marine iguanas and land iguanas to see.
The Fisherman’s Wharf
When walking down the main Charles Darwin Avenue Puerto Ayora, you will easily find Fisherman’s Wharf where twice a day fishermen sell their catch. Enjoy seeing the pelicans, sea lions and frigate birds that visit for an easy meal.
El Chato Reserve
El Chato Reserve is found in the highlands of Santa Cruz and is a great place to see wild giant tortoises. Note that the trails can be quite challenging and it’s often recommended for experienced hikers. For some easier trails, you can visit the ranches to see the tortoises like Rancho Primicias next door.
The Rancho Primicias
The Rancho Primicias is positioned in the Santa Cruz highlands and offers an opportunity to see the giant tortoises. The tortoises are free to move around the ranch and you will find them walking, feeding or resting in the tall grass offering fantastic photo opportunities.
Black Turtle Cove
This attraction requires a little more adventure and you can visit Black Turtle Cove on a panga as motor vessels are not permitted near the estuary. Enjoy visiting an area of mangroves teeming with wildlife. The mangroves provide nurseries and protection for young fish before they brave the open water. Enjoy seeing different reef sharks, sea turtles and rays. There are also many birds to find scouting for food.
Known as the twins in English, Los Gemelos are volcanic depressions in the highlands of Santa Cruz. The giant craters were formed when the ceiling of a magma chamber collapsed after a lava flow. The craters are a remarkable natural sight and the area is also a great place to see different birds, such as Galapagos doves and vermillion flycatchers.
Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill)
Although found on the opposite side of Santa Cruz than Puerto Ayora, Cerro Dragon can be harder to get to but is a fantastic place to visit. This is where you can find one of the largest populations of land iguanas on the Galapagos. The Charles Darwin Foundation protects the lizards, as their habitat is under threat from introduced animals. See the Opuntia cacti, which the iguanas feed on, as well as different Galapagos birds.
The Lava Tunnels
The lava tunnels are another popular attraction to enjoy in the highlands of Santa Cruz. The tunnels were formed when the crust of a lava flow solidified while the molten lava inside continues to flow. They make excellent areas to explore and to marvel at what the landscape was like when the tunnels formed. There are many to visit and some require paying a small entrance fee. You can see some at the Rancho Primicias mentioned above.
Santa Cruz is home to one of the most popular marine areas of the Galapagos Islands. You can visit Carrion Point on tours to snorkel and dive with colorful fish, rays and whitetip reef sharks surrounded by turquoise water.
Explore Nearby Islands
You can island hop from Santa Cruz to nearby islands. Enjoy day trips to Santa Fe Island, North Seymour Island, Bartolome Island and South Plaza Island. On tours of the island, enjoy trail walks, snorkeling and fantastic wildlife opportunities.
The Nymph Lagoon makes a great natural attraction to visit for a relaxing walk around the beautiful lagoon. See different fish in the crystal clear water. The water collects in the lagoon from the highlands before flowing into the ocean. There are also mangroves to see different fish and Galapagos birds.
Santa Cruz Cruises & Hotels
There are some fantastic hotels offering package tours to explore Santa Cruz and surrounding islands. This is also where you can embark Galapagos cruises to explore the islands and wildlife.
Here, we will provide 5 of our favorites:
The Galapagos Habitat Hotel
As a fantastic luxury hotel on Santa Cruz, the Galapagos Habitat Hotel offers a high level of comfort, delicious meals and offers package tours for exploring the islands.
The hotel is positioned on the main area of Puerto Ayora next door to the Charles Darwin Research Center, which is one of the island’s favorite attractions.
In addition to the research center, the hotel is near many attractions, galleries, souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants.
The Galapagos Habitat Hotel offers package tours to explore Santa Cruz and the surrounding islands. Enjoy guided wildlife tours, snorkeling opportunities, and visiting some beautifully scenic areas of the Galapagos.
The Ocean Spray Cruise
The Ocean Spray Cruise is a luxury vessel to explore the Galapagos Islands in comfort. There are many itinerary options available depending on your time on the islands, which take to you most wildlife-rich, scenic and fascinating areas of the Galapagos.
The Ocean Spray was built with performance and comfort in mind to provide a comfortable cruise between islands.
On itineraries aboard the Ocean Spray, enjoy guided island exploration for fantastic wildlife experiences.
Aboard the vessel itself, relax in comfortable accommodation and social areas, enjoy delicious meals in the dining room, or enjoy a drink on the sundeck, which is where you will also find the jacuzzi.
In addition to guided trail walks, enjoy kayaking tours, snorkeling and simply enjoying the amenities and facilities of the Ocean Spray itself.
Enjoy spotting a diversity of animals, including sea lions, marine iguanas, albatross, pelicans and Galapagos birds aboard itineraries from 4 to 15-days.
The Eco Galaxy Cruise
The Eco Galaxy is a first-class vessel for exploring the Galapagos Islands. The cruise offers a comfortable experience with expertly guided trail walks to enjoy incredible wildlife watching and beautiful scenery.
The Eco Galaxy vessel has a total of 8 cabins. There are 4 cabins on the upper deck and 4 on the lower deck. Each offers double or twin beds, air-conditioning, telephone and internet connection, and bathrooms with hot running water.
Enjoy delicious meals in the dining room and relax when not on excursions in the comfortable social areas.
Your Galapagos excursions include guided trail walks, snorkeling and kayaking tours.
The Galaxy Galapagos Cruise
The Galaxy Galapagos Cruise provides a very comfortable way to explore the Galapagos Islands.
The cruise provides comfortable cabins, expertly guided tours, and some fantastic wildlife opportunities. Enjoy visiting iconic landmarks and see famous Galapagos animals.
There are 9 cabins on the Galaxy Yacht. There are 4 on the upper deck, 3 on the main deck and 2 on the lower deck. You can also enjoy comfortable social areas, relax on the sundeck, or enjoy the lounge and bar.
While on cruise, enjoy a variety of delicious meals with a focus on Galapagos and Ecuadorian cuisine with some international options.
The itinerary features guided trail walks on the islands, panga rides, kayaking and wildlife-watching tours.
The Nemo II Cruise
Offering a more adventurous experience than the above vessels, the Nemo II is a motor-sail catamaran and a fantastic way to hop between the islands.
Visit the most popular of the Galapagos Islands to see fantastic wildlife, beautiful beaches, and iconic scenery. Explore the islands with your skilled guide to see marine iguanas, sea lions, blue-footed boobies, and the famous giant tortoises.
You can also enjoy snorkeling the warm water to find tropical fish, sea turtles and other marine life.
There are double or twin cabins with private bathrooms, comfortable social area and the dining room to enjoy delicious meals.