Santa Cruz in the Galapagos is found in the Central Islands. It is the most populated island, with an estimated 15,000 residents. There are small settlements across the island, but many people live in Puerto Ayora, the main town. The island is the second largest in the archipelago, and it covers a surface area of 986kms square (381 miles square). Its highest point is 864 meters above sea level. Santa Cruz Island is a destination that most all visitors to the Galapagos will at least pass through at some point, since flights land on Baltra Island, and visitors are typically then transported by road across the bridge onto Santa Cruz Island. From there they typically board their boat for a Galapagos Islands cruise in Puerto Ayora, or start their land based Galapagos option there. Santa Cruz Island is important not just because it is the most populated island, but also because it is home to the Charles Darwin Research Station, which is where scientific research and conservation are continued.
Santa Cruz has a road connecting the north to the south, and this road is 42kms (25 miles) long. There has been a small population on Santa Cruz since the end of the 19th century. There was a US military base on Baltra, and as a testament to the Second World War, a large military barge, old and rusting lies on Las Bachas Beach. These days there is no such military presence. The island is a big dormant volcano, and the last eruptions happened more than a million years ago. So, just what is there on Santa Cruz Island these days? Read on to discover more about Santa Cruz Island.
Santa Cruz is a wonderful place on which to observe many of the varied species that make their home in the Galapagos Islands, though not all. One of the biggest Santa Cruz wildlife highlights are the giant tortoises that reside in the highlands of this island. You can take a trip up to one of the farms in the hills, where the tortoises have settled. These massive creatures roam around in the grass and beside pools and will often be found walking across a path right in front of you. There are excellent photographic opportunities here. Other Santa Cruz wildlife includes marine iguanas, Sally Lightfoot crabs and white tip reef sharks, all of which can be observed at Tortuga Bay. For a particularly colorful treat, head to Playa Garrapatero on the north of the island. Here, behind a sandy beach flanked by mangroves there is a freshwater lake where flamingos can be seen. You may also be lucky enough to spy herons and other birds. While at the dock waiting to board your boat, you may also at the very least see lazing sea lions and frigate birds soaring overhead.
There are plenty of things to do on Santa Cruz Island. Activities range from the educational to relaxing, to active and more. The most educational thing to do on Santa Cruz is to pay a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station, a short walk from Puerto Ayora town. Here you can learn about conservation in the islands, and there is also a tortoise breeding program. You could also take a trip to Los Gemelos (the twins) which are two massive lava craters which you can visit and photograph. There is also a long lava tunnel which the adventurous can traverse.
For relaxation, Tortuga Bay is the best place. It is not far to walk there from Puerto Ayora town. The beach itself is simply fabulous – a long stretch of white sand, and crystal-clear waters. This is the perfect place to kick back for an afternoon. For those that are more active, there are snorkeling and kayaking opportunities in these waters too. Visiting the fisherman’s market is a sight to behold as well. You will find that sea lions and pelicans are also hanging out, trying to steal fish from the stalls! If you have time, try to visit Black Turtle Cove too. This can only be accessed by dinghy, and so it is a good spot from which to observe marine life. In particular, you may get to see a range of different rays, as well as white tipped and black tipped reef sharks, and sea turtles too.
Staying on Santa Cruz Island may be a great land-based Galapagos option, as many Galapagos Islands cruises do not stop at this island for very long. Santa Cruz hotels are mostly located in Puerto Ayora and they range from the very basic to the luxurious. High end resorts include the Angermeyer Waterfront Inn, the Hotel Silberstein, the Finch Hotel, the Galapagos Safari Camp and the Red Mangrove Ecoluxury Hotel, among others. Some of the nicer hotels also have swimming pools, where you can relax after a long day of bird or wildlife spotting. Some of the more expensive options can also be found in the highlands. Cheaper accommodation is generally away from the waterfront, a few streets back. Whatever your price range, you will find that Santa Cruz hotels offer something to suit your needs.
There are a number of restaurants in Santa Cruz, with most located in Puerto Ayora. It is possible to get a range of different cuisines at these restaurants, including both Ecuadorian and international. It is even possible to get vegetarian meals and vegetarian ice cream. Most typical options are seafood restaurants, and pizzerias. La Garrapata is a popular tropical seafood restaurant, though they do also serve non-seafood options, such as chicken curry. Meanwhile, I’ll Giardino Restaurant provides both seafood options and delicious Italian meals, including pasta and risotto. If you are looking for street food, Los Kioskos offers good cheap and local seafood, and it will be cooked in front of your eyes. If you are looking for a break from the seafood, Pizza Eat may be a great option and you can choose from regular pizza or calzones as well as other tasty treats.