Las Grietas, Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos Islands

Top 9 Things To See And Do On Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz island offers such a cornucopia of attractions that it is easy to spend several days exploring its coasts and highlands.

Many make for perfect half or full day trips. You can get to many of the sites on your own, but if you’re short on time, booking a tour with a local agency will allow you to see several sites in one outing. Ambitious independent travelers can cram two attractions into one day – but relax and enjoy this paradise.

Pack a picnic lunch (remember to take your recyclables and trash back to civilization!) and head on out to these top nine things to do and see on Santa Cruz Island. All sites are open 6 a.m. – 6 p.m.

1. Fisherman’s Wharf

In downtown Puerto Ayora is the Muelle de Pescadores or Fisherman’s Wharf. Twice daily, fishermen set up shop selling the day’s catch. Multitudes of pelicans, frigate birds, herons and other sea birds as well as sea lions are on hand, making for great photos ops.

2. Jardín Cerámica

Walk through the arching dragon gateway and into the fantasy-filled Jardín Cerámic. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza riding hobbyhorses and a mermaid playing with lobsters are just two of the ceramic murals you’ll find in this garden created by local artist Cristina Nelson Gallardo. This is a pleasant rest stop on your way to (or back from) the Charles Darwin Research station.

3. The Charles Darwin Research Station

At the end of Avenida Charles Darwin is the world-renowned Charles Darwin Research Station. Check out the new museum, observation tower, native gardens and the library. Also onsite is the breeding center, and corrals with giant tortoises and land iguanas. Be sure to take your photo with the Charles Darwin statue at the Fischer Sciences Building. End your walk with a refreshing dip at one of the station’s beaches. Playa de la Estación is on the road from town, and near the Charles Darwin statue is the gate leading to Playa del Director and Playa Ratonera, both popular with local surfers.

4. Playa de los Alemanes

From the city pier, take a water taxi ($0.80, $1 on weekends) to the other side of Academy Bay. Once embarking there, walk past the inland lagoon with pintail ducks, stilts and other waterfowl, to Playa de los Alemanes, next to the exclusive Finch Bay resort. This small, tranquil cove has a white-sand beach.

5. Las Grietas

From Playa de los Alemanes, a trail passes by salt flats (salinas) and the Gus Angermeyer museum ($1) and ends at Las Grietas. Here, two high, steep walls embrace a narrow arm of the sea that washes into a deep crack in the ancient lava rock. This is a fantastic place for a refreshing swim and snorkeling. Las Grietas can be crowded on weekends and holidays.

6. Tortuga Bay

Tortuga Bay is Santa Cruz’ most popular beach. A long wooden boardwalk cuts through dry forest, emerging at the first beach, Playa Brava. The strong sea here is unsuitable for swimming, though ideal for surfing. On a clear day, you’ll see Floreana and Santa Fe islands. Walk to your right to Playa Mansa, a mangrove-encircled cove with tranquil waters. Kayaks can be hired here. Plan your visit for early morning or late afternoon, as the walk along Playa Brava is unshaded and the mid-day sun guarantees sunburn.

7. Lava Tunnels

Lava tunnels are natural formations in the once-molten rock that flowed from the volcanoes that formed Santa Cruz Island. They are often home to owls. Even though they have electric lights, bring along a flashlight. The nearest to Puerto Ayora is El Mirador, three kilometers (1.8 miles) on the road to Baltra. Other lava tunnels are on private land at Bellavista and Santa Rosa villages. You can visit the tunnels on a tour, or catch the chiva (bus) at the bus stop (parada) one block north of Puerto Ayora’s municipal market on Avenida Baltra.

8. El Chato

If you long to see giant tortoises in their natural habitat, then head to El Chato Reserve in the highlands of Santa Cruz, near the village of Santa Rosa. The lagoon here is also nesting grounds for rail and ducks. Frigate birds are often seen. El Chato can be visited on a day tour to the Highlands, or on your own.

9. Los Gemelos

Straddling the highway to Baltra are Los Gemelos, twin volcanic craters covered with scalesia forest. Darwin’s finches and the elusive vermillion flycatcher may be seen here. Los Gemelos are several kilometers north of Santa Rosa village, and most easily visited on a day tour to the Highlands.

Local tour agencies offer highland tours and cruises to Playa Punta Estrada, Islote Caamaño, Playa Las Bachas, Caleta Tortuga Negra and Plaza Sur. Santa Cruz is an excellent base to plan scuba diving expeditions. Not only can you dive in Puerto Ayora’s own Academy Bay, Gordon Rocks, Seymour Norte and other spots are close by. Guy Fawkes Sur, Punta Carrión and Punta Estrada are good for snorkeling.

Visiting Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz is the main transportation hub of the Galapagos Islands. The archipelago’s principle airport, with national and local flight service, and a cruise ship port are on neighboring Baltra.

Boats to the other inhabited islands all leave from Puerto Ayora’s pier.

Puerto Ayora has all tourist services, including dozens of restaurants and hotels for every budget. In the Highlands there are several campgrounds. There are also several banks with ATM.

Have you been to a place or done an activity on Santa Cruz island that you would recommend to fellow travelers? Share your tips in the comments below.


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Photo credit: Diego Delso

Galapagos Odyssey motor yacht

First Glimpse of the New Look Galapagos Odyssey

Is 2017 the year you are planning the adventure of a lifetime through the mythical Galapagos islands?

Do you want up-close wildlife encounters and on-board comfort and personalised service?

If so, the newly renovated Galapagos Odyssey may be your perfect match.

This first class motor yacht is back on the water after eight weeks of renovations and maintenance. In addition to the upgraded facilities, a cruise director has been added to the crew to enhance the level of personalised service for a maximum 16 passengers aboard.

The new, tasteful décor provides a light and airy ambience. The redesigned interior social areas and cabins feature new furnishings and amenities to improve your comfort and privacy.

You may choose to dine inside …


Dining Area, Galapagos Odyssey motor yacht, Nov 2016

Dining Area, Galapagos Odyssey


or al fresco on the covered deck, taking in the fresh sea breeze.


Outside Dining Area, Galapagos Odyssey motor yacht, Nov 2016

Outside Dining Area, Galapagos Odyssey


The large lounge provides plenty of sitting areas for you and your boat mates to enjoy presentations by the on-board naturalist guide, or to share your day’s observations while enjoying a drink from the bar.


Lounge and bar, Galapagos Odyssey motor yacht, Nov 2016

Lounge and bar, Galapagos Odyssey


After a day of exploring the Galapagos Islands’ unique fauna and landscapes, relax on the sun deck which includes a covered area and jacuzzi.


Shaded loungers on the Sun Deck, Galapagos Odyssey motor yacht, Nov 2016

Shaded and open air loungers on the Sun Deck, Galapagos Odyssey


Hot tub and kayaks on the Sun Deck, Galapagos Odyssey, Nov 2016

Jacuzzi and kayaks on the Sun Deck, Galapagos Odyssey


You’ll rest well at night in the completely redone cabins with air conditioning and gleaming, modern bathrooms.


Main Deck Double cabin, Galapagos Odyssey motor yacht, Nov 2016

Main Deck Double cabin, Galapagos Odyssey


Main Deck cabin, Galapagos Odyssey motor yacht, Nov 2016

Main Deck Twin cabin, Galapagos Odyssey


Bathroom, Main Deck cabin, Galapagos Odyssey motor yacht, Nov 2016

Bathroom, Main Deck cabin, Galapagos Odyssey


For more comfort, choose one of the new spacious suites on the upper deck that can also accommodate a third person in your party.


Upper Deck Double Suite, Galapagos Odyssey motor yacht, Nov 2016

Upper Deck Double Suite, Galapagos Odyssey


Upper Deck Twin Suite, Galapagos Odyssey motor yacht, Nov 2016

Upper Deck Twin Suite, Galapagos Odyssey


Large feature windows in all cabins allow you watch the moonlight slithering across the waves and be greeted by the dawn’s rays shining upon your next destination. While the new, noise-reducing generators will guarantee you a peaceful night’s sleep.


All cruise vessels in the Galapagos islands operate to a two-week itinerary approved by the Galapagos National Park authorities. The full length itinerary is normally divided into shorter itineraries that start and end on the days the vessel is in one of the archipelago’s ports.

The Galapagos Odyssey has three short itineraries that can be combined to create three longer itineraries.

A five-day cruise takes you to Santa Cruz, Rábida, Chinese Hat, Genovesa, Bartolomé and Santiago islands.

One six-day expedition visits San Cristóbal, Española, Floreana, Santa Fe, South Plaza, North Seymour, Mosquera and Santa Cruz in the eastern part of the Galapagos archipelago.

Another six-day package explores the western islands of Isabela, Fernandina and Santiago.

The five and six-day cruises can be combined to create longer Galapagos explorations of 10, 11 and 15 days.

Now is the perfect time!

Now that the Galapagos Odyssey has relaunched after her complete renovation, there’s no better time to plan your trip of a lifetime to the amazing fabulous Galapagos islands. You’ll enjoy a wildlife safari like no other, with active days of hiking, snorkeling and kayaking, plus personalised service and good company in comfortable surroundings aboard.

Ready to book? Or want to know if your preferred dates are still available? Send a trip plan request today.

Learn more about the Galapagos Odyssey here.

Galapagos sea lion pup

Galapagos Islands: What happens in November

In November, the Humboldt Current continues to course through the Galapagos archipelago, bringing abundant nutrients for the islands’ wildlife. Snorkeling is fantastic, with good visibility. Unforgettable marine encounters will definitely be on your itinerary!

On Land
  • Sea lions are continuing to give birth, and this is a great time to see the pups in the nurseries.
  • Sea lion pups are now entering the cool waters around Champion Islet and other places – so be prepared for a close encounter with these playful creatures! (And snorkelers – watch for the nibbles at your fins!)
  • Out in the eastern archipelago, sea lions are sexually active.
  • Meanwhile, out on Fernandina Island, it is fur seal breeding season.
  • Lava lizards are ending their breeding season which had begun in July.
At Sea
  • Green sea turtles are beginning to mate.
  • Dolphins and whales can be spotted in the Bolívar Channel (Fernandina).
  • Whale sharks are sighted in the northwest of the Galapagos archipelago, especially around Wolf and Darwin Islands.
  • If snorkeling or swimming, keep an eye out for jellyfish, especially Gardner and Tortuga Islets and at Flour Beach on Floreana.
In the Air
  • The Galapagos Islands’ unique Lava Herons are nesting.
  • Brown Noddy Terns are breeding.
  • Band-rumped storm petrels start their second nesting season.
  • As the seasons are changing in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, migrant birds visit the Galapagos Islands on their way to warmer weather.
  • The low season is still on in the Galapagos – which means it’s a bit more economical now.
  • November 1 and 2 is Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead). Especially on Santa Cruz Island, where there is a significant mainland indigenous highland population, you’ll see the traditions carried out in the cemeteries. At night, families gathering in Puerto Ayora’s cemetery to visit their dearly departed and serenade them.
  • The season is changing in the Galapagos Islands, bringing warmer temperatures and clearer skies.
  • November marks the end of the garúa season. You can still expect an occasional drizzle, though, so have a rain slicker on hand.
  • Air temperatures range from 19-26ºC (68-79ºF). You may still want to pack a sweater or jacket for the cool evenings.
  • The southeast trade winds subside and days are sunnier with a slight breeze.
  • The sea is becoming a calmer and a bit warmer, with a temperature of 23ºC (73ºF) temperature.


Have you visited the Galapagos islands in November? Tell us about it in the comments below.


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Photo credit: Michael R Perry