The second largest island in the Galapagos Islands is Santa Cruz, which is also the most populated and often visited.
It also happens to the busiest due to its proximity to one of the islands’ two airports (Seymur Airport on Baltra Island, which is five minutes by boat from Santa Cruz Island), as well as the fact that all boats to the other islands leave from here.
If you’ve never been to the Galapagos Islands, we advise arriving in Santa Cruz first so you can familiarize yourself with the layout of the entire archipelago and take advantage of several activities that are completely free.
The key details regarding Santa Cruz Island and all the activities you can engage in are outlined in this post.
We also suggest reading the following guides:
- Galapagos entrance fee
- Flights to Galapagos Islands
- Weather in the Galapagos Islands
- When is the best time to visit Galapagos Islands?
Santa Cruz Island – Galapagos
The capital of Santa Cruz is Puerto Ayora.
It is the most complete city in the archipelago since it is the hub of the islands’ economic activities.
As a result, there is a wide selection of visitor lodgings, restaurants, ATMs, cafeterias and boutiques.
It is also the island from from which all cruises and ships to the Galapagos Islands depart. That is, if you are in San Cristobal and want to go to Isabela Island, you must first go to Santa Cruz and then to Isabela.
Last but not least, the island has stunning scenery, unusual species, beaches, and a variety of activities that will let you learn more about the Galapagos ecosystem.
Santa Cruz Map
Santa Cruz has an area of 985.22 km² and a maximum altitude of 864 above sea level.
It is home to approximately 18,000 people.
The rural areas of the island include Santa Rosa, Bellavista, El Cascajo, Guayabillos and El Occidente.
Flora and fauna
In Santa Cruz you can appreciate sea lions, iguanas, Galapagos giant tortoises, sea turtles, blue-footed boobies, mockingbirds, frigate birds, patillos, Darwin’s finches, lizards, blue sharks, among others.
Its vegetation includes Opuntias (gigantic cactus unique in the world), palo santo, miconia, among others.
Places to Visit On Santa Cruz Island
Santa Cruz Island offers beaches, craters, dive spots, highlands and even lava tunnels.
All of these attractions are open to the public, although only some of them require paid tours or licensed guides.
The rest are available to the public entirely free of charge.
To help you plan your trip to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, we’ll be posting guides to all the tourist attractions there.
While you are on the island, remember to abide by the Galapagos National Park’s regulations.
Free things to do in Santa Cruz
The following are some of the Santa Cruz tourist attractions that are free to visit:
- Tortuga Bay
- Playa La Estación
- Playa El Garrapatero
- Playa de la Ratonera
- Playas Los Alemanes
- Laguna de Las Ninfas
- Muelle de pescadores
- Malecón Puerto Ayora (Muelle Gus Angermeyer)
- Mercado artesanal
Paid tours within the island
These are fee-based tours due to the logistics involved, or they have an entrance fee:
- Charles Darwin Research Station
- Las Grietas
- Mirador Cima del Cerro Crocker
- Tour Parte Alta: Los Gemelos, lava tunnels and Las Primicias Ranch or El Chato Reserve.
Things to do on Santa Cruz
You can engage in a variety of adventurous activities in Santa Cruz’s tourist sites, as well as unwind at Puerto Ayora’s bars, restaurants, and cafes.
You can also take day trips off the island.
- Surf: There are some surf spots with northern swells from November to April and southern swells from May to October. Check out the surfing beaches in Ecuador, including Santa Cruz in the Galapagos.
- Diving: There are several diving spots near the bay of Puerto Ayora (Caamaño islet, La Lobería, Punta Estrada or Punta Carrión) or within hours from Santa Cruz (Gordon Rocks, Seymour Norte, Mosquera, Bartolomé and Roca Cousins, among others).
- Snorkeling: You can snorkel in Tortuga Bay, Playa de la Estación, Playa de los Alemanes, Las Grietas, Bachas, Pinzón, among others.
- Kayaking: There are kayaking tours in some spots of the island, such as Playa del Garrapatero, Los Alemanes, Tortuga Bay, Bahia Academia, among others.
- Hiking: Most of the touristic attractions in Santa Cruz combine trekking with other activities.
- Cycling: Undoubtedly, the best way to get to know the surroundings of the islands is with a bicycle. There is a ciclovia that crosses Puerto Ayora and goes all the way to the crater of Los Gemelos.
- Camping: Camping is allowed on Santa Cruz Island, but only on The Garrapatero Beach with previous authorization.
- Agrotourism: You can take tours to farms located in the highlands to see how agricultural activity is developed on the island.
If you have already visited all the spots in Santa Cruz, you can take the following daily excursions to other islands:
- Bahia Tour ($30): Loberia Islet and Los Perros Beach, Shark Channel, Punta Estrada, Love Channel.
- Bartolome Island ($170 – $220)
- North Seymour Island ($170)
- Santa Fe Island ($110)
- Pinzon Island ($120)
- South Plaza Island ($170)
- Floreana Island ($120)
- Isabela Island ($120)
- Sombrero Chino Island ($265)
* Prices are per person and may vary based on the local agency.
Restaurantes, bars, cafes
Visit Puerto Ayora’s bars, cafes, and restaurants to take in the city’s culture in addition to its adventure.
Prices vary based on the establishment that is visited.
Restaurants serving international cuisine can be rather expensive (dishes over $10 per person or cocktails starting at $8), but there are also places serving ecuadorian fare at more reasonable costs (between $4 and $5 per person).
Generally speaking, restaurants in Puerto Ayora that are close to the Malecon or on Charles Darwin Avenue are more expensive.
So don’t be afraid to explore the interior regions and look for other possibilities.
How to get to Santa Cruz island?
The easiest way to get to Santa Cruz is by plane.
There are flights departing from Guayaquil or Quito (stopover in Guayaquil) with Avianca, Latam and Equair airlines. The ticket cost is between $130 to $450 per person (the cheapest flights are from Equair).
The flight does not arrive directly to Santa Cruz Island. It lands at Seymour Airport, located on Baltra Island (north of Santa Cruz), and from there you must cross the Itabaca Channel by boat to get to Santa Cruz.
Summarizing, to get to Santa Cruz you must follow the following indications:
- At the exit of the Baltra airport you will have to take a bus “Lobitos” that costs $5 in order to get to the ferry port of Baltra Island (10 minute ride).
- Once there, you must take a boat that costs $1 and that crosses the Itabaca Channel until reaching Santa Cruz (5-10 minutes trip approx).
- Then in Santa Cruz, you have to pay again $5 for another bus that takes you to Puerto Ayora. Or you can take a cab van that will be costing between $30 – $35 (you can share the cab with 4 other people and split the cost). The trip from the ferry port of Santa Cruz -Baltra to Puerto Ayora takes about 1 hour, as it crosses the entire island.
From other islands
If you are in San Cristobal or Isabela and want to get to Santa Cruz, you have two options:
- Local interisland flights: They are the most expensive option, but faster, and their rates range from $130 per ticket. There are two airlines that offer interisland flights: Emetebe and Fly Galapagos. The trip lasts 30 minutes.
- Interisland ferries: They are the most economical option, although they take longer (approx. two and a half hours). The cost ranges from $20 to $30 per ticket + $1 for the cab boats.
Where to Stay on Santa Cruz Island
Accommodation prices vary depending on whether it is a hotel or hostel, and the amenities you want.
But you can easily get a room for rent from $22 a night (not in a hotel), or rent a house for $35 a night, to hotels and hostels for $50, $60 or more a night.
Here are a few options.