Not-to-Miss Attractions on Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

By ~ Eric-Sheets 

Whenever timing and schedules permit, it is a good idea to arrive at the Galapagos Islands at least 1 day before your cruise begins, allowing some flexibility in case are any travel complications along the way. This is particularly recommended if you are flying in from faraway international cities, where delays and weather conditions may affect your timely arrival into the islands.

So now that you’ve arrived safely and soundly (and hopefully full of excitement) into Santa Cruz Island, with the town of Puerto Ayora being the closest center of interest and resources from Baltra airport, the largest in Galapagos, what is there to do?

Here are some suggestions for a fun filled time on Santa Cruz Island, whether you choose to appreciate it all in one exciting day or over a period of a few relaxed days during your Galapagos vacation.


The intense sceneries of the Galapagos are a result of millions of years of volcanic action. On Santa Cruz, the best place to see evidence of this dramatic geological history is the Los Gemelos crater site. Its name, which translates into The Twins, refers to the two brother craters found on each side of the roadway that links Baltra airport with Puerto Ayora town. They are the result of the collapse of a large magma chamber. While it is not possible to circumnavigate the giant, deep holes, there are some short and simple trails in the area.


Puerto Ayora is the most populated urban center in the Galapagos, although it is still very much the sleepy town it has always been. Avenue Charles Darwin runs west to east and is the main visitor thruway, dotted with typical restaurants and fine boutiques on both sides. Dip into the artisanal shops offering locally made goods, of course with Galapagos themes, and various galleries showcasing the works of some of the most remotely located artists in the world. Says Alvares Martinez, a local of Puerto Ayora:


Located right on Avenue Charles Darwin, the fish market is a delightful stop for admiring just where that pescado encocado (fish cooked in a coconut sauce) you ate last night came from. To this day, fishermen bring in their catches of the day to this small dock market, and vendors masterfully slice the produce up as buyers request. Large pelicans swoop in and out or wait patiently on the simple roof, waiting for any spoils, while locals cheerfully pass the afternoon with each other on the sidelines. The Puerto Ayora fish market is a great place to experience a bit of typical Galapagos island life.


The most famous resident that ever lived at the Charles Darwin Research Center, a place dedicated to preserving and supporting turtle and various flora life found on the Galapagos Islands, was Lonesome George. The giant tortoise who called Pinta Island its home was the last of his subspecies, making him perhaps the rarest animal on earth before his death on June 24, 2012. He was more than 100 years old. His image continues to serve as the symbol of the importance of conservation and respect for nature in Galapagos, and the research center maintains its goals of helping repopulate the various islands with their turtle populations. Animal lovers will really enjoy the many baby turtles on the site, as well as the famous giant Galapagos tortoises wandering their natural habitat.


The 1.5-hour flat walk to Tortuga (Turtle) Bay can be a steamy challenge during the hottest hours of the day (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), so it is best to get there earlier or later. Along the paved walk, try spotting the many small lizards that dash back and forth before your feet. Also, take time to appreciate the candelabra cactus, the only tree-like cactus species in the world. The first beach that you reach looks as if the heavens swiped a thick brush across the land, creating a vast white sand paradise. The waters here are a bit rougher, although great for surfing. As such, swimmers and loungers are encouraged to walk another 15 minutes to the right to a much calmer bay where mangroves lurk mysteriously on the sides and marine iguanas dive with humans. If snorkeling in these turquoise blue waters, the lucky can spot white tip reef sharks and rainbow-colored Galapagos crabs. Close out your day with a sunset seen from Tortuga Bay, where the sky turns into a beautiful painting.