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Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos


Located in the center of the Galapagos, Santa Cruz Island is at the heart of human activity in the archipelago. The round volcano-shaped island is home to white-sand beaches, green Scalesia forests, hundreds of lava tunnels, thriving wildlife populations icluding the Galapagos Giant Tortoise, and Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the Galapagos.

At 986 square kilometers (381 square miles), Santa Cruz is the second-largest island in the Galápagos National Park. This sprawling volcanic land teeming with exotic endemic the island is a long-dormant volcano with its last eruption approximately 1.5 million years ago. There are remnants of volcanic activity scattered across Santa Cruz—gaping craters, beautiful calderas, and winding lava tunnels lending the island its distinct character.

Santa Cruz is one of the few places in the Galapagos where travelers can freely explore without a guide due to large swaths of privately owned reserves, farms and residences, as inside the Galapagos National Park borders, a guide is always required.

Gateway to Galapagos via Baltra Island Airport

The  majority of travelers arrive to the Galapagos via Seymour Airport (GPS), also known as Galápagos Ecological Airport, which is located the neighboring Baltra Island. After disembarking from your flight, you’ll take a short but picturesque bus ride to Itabaca Canal where you and your luggage will board a ferry for the crossing of the canal which only takes a few minutes.

Visitors drive along a 42-kilometer (26-mile) road connecting the south of the island to the airport

Santa Cruz’s central location and transportation available to other populated islands like Isabela, Floreana, and San Cristobal makes it a convenient base for adventurers who want to experience as much of the archipelago as possible. But even without venturing off the island, Santa Cruz has enough visitor sites for an unforgettable Galapagos vacation.

Key Visitor Points

Puerto Ayora

Set in Academy Bay on the southern coast of Santa Cruz, Puerto Ayora is famous for being the largest town in the Galapagos and home to most of the people who live on the island. The charming port town is the main tourist center of the archipelago, with hotels, seafood restaurants, cafés, bars, and shops lining the streets. There are also services like banks and a hospital. Close to sites like Tortuga Bay and El Chato Tortoise Reserve, Puerto Ayora is the best place for travelers who prefer a land-based trip rather than a liveaboard cruise. Many island hopping, kayaking, diving, snorkeling, and inland tours are available here.

Charles Darwin Research Station

Established to help preserve the Galapagos Islands ecosystem, the Charles Darwin Research Station is the center of operations of the Charles Darwin Foundation. It features a variety of educational exhibits on the history and wildlife of the islands. The station is also home to the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center, an active breeding center for endangered giant tortoises.

Las Grietas

A deep crevasse filled with crystal-clear waters, Las Grietas is one of the most stunning swimming holes in Santa Cruz. Towering volcanic rocks rise on either side of the natural pool, shielding the channel from currents and waves. It’s a relaxing place for swimming, snorkeling, and cliff jumping. Best of all, the crevasse is close to town. Travelers can get to Las Grietas by riding a water taxi from Puerto Ayora.

Playa de Los Perros

A small beach just a rocky trail or water boat ride from Puerto Ayora, Playa de los Perros is a fantastic spot for wildlife viewing. The highlight of visiting this spot is a lookout point affording a view of a pond of whitetip reef sharks. At the beach, travelers will spot marine iguanas and sea lions while blue-footed boobies, great frigatebirds, and pelicans flit around.

Tortuga Bay

Kick back and relax at Tortuga Bay, an idyllic white-sand beach ideal for swimming and bird watching. The bay is known for the black sea turtles who lay their nests here in the first few months of the year. Hatchlings emerge in April and May. Other wildlife around the bay includes marine iguanas, sea lions, whitetip sharks, pelicans, and finches. Go past the mangroves for a saltwater lagoon home to flamingos.

Follow a trail from Puerto Ayora to Tortuga Bay; the trip should take around an hour, with many sightings of resident land birds along the way. Travelers who would rather skip the long walk may take a water taxi instead.

Santa Cruz Highlands

The highest points on the island are known as the Santa Cruz Highlands, found in the central region with a maximum altitude of 854 meters (2,834 feet). This part of the island is a refreshing contrast to the sunny coast and arid regions. Here, lush Scalesia forests cover the expanse. Hiking and bird watching are popular activities. A tour of the Highlands will typically include visits to El Chato Tortoise Reserve and the Twin Craters.


Go deeper inland to visit Bellavista, a village about 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) from Puerto Ayora. Parts are residential areas, but the village is also a kick