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Travel Guide: Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz
Smack dab in the middle of the Galapagos Islands is Santa Cruz, home to the buzzing town of Puerto Ayora. The largest town in the Galapagos, it has a population of 18,000 people and features shops, restaurants, hotels & hostels, and even a few nightclubs and bars.
If you want to extend your Galapagos cruise, consider spending few days on Santa Cruz before or after your trip. There are a number of hotels to choose from and the island’s central location makes it the ideal home base to visit sites that you might not have explored during your cruise.
The main airport in the Galapagos Islands isn’t actually on Santa Cruz, but rather on Baltra Island, across a narrow channel just north of Santa Cruz. Most flights into the Galapagos do arrive to Baltra, and a shuttle takes travelers to the ferry so they can get across to Santa Cruz. Once on Santa Cruz, travelers can either take a bus or pay a bit more for a taxi through the highlands and to the other side of the island, where the cruise vessels dock in Puerto Ayora.
Island Hopping from Santa Cruz
If you are planning a land-based tour, then staying on Santa Cruz allows you to visit the neighboring major islands on all sides, including Isabela to the west, Floreana to the south, and San Cristobal to the east. Speed boats are the most common way to get from one island to another and generally take about 2 hours, with regular departures.
What to Do on Santa Cruz
In addition to the always-lively town of Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz hosts a number of fascinating visitor sites, including…
Hike through a dense scalesia forest in the highlands to the site where two giant sinkholes have formed in the ground when volcanoes collapsed. With a sharp enough eye, you might even catch a glimpse of the short-eared owl.
El Chato Tortoise Reserve
Witness giant tortoises plodding along in their natural highland environment. This expansive private ranch is also home to a few lagoons where the tortoises bask in the muddy water and land birds splash around.
Hike in these subterranean caverns which formed when the surface lava hardened while the lava beneath continued to flow, leaving large empty chambers. Some extend for a few meters while others go on for over a mile.
Charles Darwin Research Station
Get a firsthand look at the research projects that the Galapagos National Park does and see tortoises and iguanas in all stages of life being bred and raised in the safety of pens until they are mature enough to be released back into their natural habitats.
Black Turtle Cove
All the way across the island from Puerto Ayora is this tranquil beach, which is not just a sea turtle nesting site but also a great snorkeling spot if you want to see hammerheads, reef sharks, and rays.
This is a good beach for relaxation or light swimming and snorkeling. Perfect for self-guided tours, it is just a stone’s throw from Puerto Ayora.
So named for its large population of land and marine iguanas, this site also hosts a number of land and seabirds, making it a fascinating site for avid and amateur naturalists alike.
Las Bachas Beach
Here, explorers can check out the remains of two barges that were left here to rust after World War II. More than half a century later, only their ghostly steel skeletons remain. It’s also a great place to relax or swim.