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Santa Cruz Island – Galapagos

Santa Cruz Island – Galapagos

A large island, just across the turquoise waters from the airport on Baltra in the centre of the archipelago, Santa Cruz is very much the centre of tourism in the Galapagos. Named after the Holy Cross, it has an area of 612 square miles and a maximum altitude of 2,835 feet and hosts the largest human population in the archipelago in the town of Puerto Ayora, where the Charles Darwin Research Station, and the headquarters of the Galapagos National Park Services are located. As a large island, with a variety of geology, wildlife and vegetation, all of the Galapagos life zones are present on Santa Cruz Island.

Bachas Beach

A beautiful white sandy beach punctuated by lava formations. The wonderfully soft sand here makes it a favourite site for nesting Sea Turtles. Here you will also see White Mangroves, one of the four mangrove species found in the Galapagos. There is a small coastal lagoon behind the sand dunes where Flamingos, Stilts, Pintail ducks and other water birds are regularly seen.

Activities: Walking along the beach, swimming, snorkelling. Difficulty: Easy

Type of Landing: Wet landing

Highlights & Animals: World War II remnants, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, Hermit Crabs, Black-necked Stilts, Whimbrels, Flamingos, Sea Turtles

Puerto Ayora

The economic centre of the Galapagos Islands. Virtually all the yachts visit Puerto Ayora anchoring in Academy Bay. Here you will find several gift and souvenir shops, with some art and craft galleries. This also provides a good opportunity to purchase any toiletry items you may have forgotten!

Charles Darwin Research Station

The Charles Darwin Research Station offers a great chance to learn about the work being done to conserve and protect the islands wildlife. For some visitors (depending on the time of year) this is the only time to see Giant Tortoises and certainly the closest range opportunity. It is also a great chance to see the Tortoise Rearing Centre.

Activities: Walking (1.2 mi. / 2km.)

Difficulty: Easy

Type of Landing: Dry landing

Highlights & Animals: Giant Tortoises, Land and Marine Iguanas, Mockingbirds, Darwin Finches.

Highlands of Santa Cruz

The highlands of Santa Cruz are home to fascinating geological features, like lava tubes and the twin sinkhole craters of Los Gemelos, which are home to some 300 different fern species as well as a forest of Scalesias, a relative of sunflowers. This is an excellent area to look for some elusive endemics like the Woodpecker Finch (one of only a few bird species in the world to use tools), Small Tree Finch, Vegetarian Finch and Galapagos Rail. The highlands of Santa Cruz are one of the best places to see Giant Tortoises in the wild.

Activities: Hike (0.9 mi / 1 ½ km)

Difficulty: Easy /moderate

Highlights & Animals: Pit craters, Scalesia Forest, Darwin finches, Warblers, Flycatchers.

Cerro Mesa

Cerro Mesa is a private ecological reserve in the highlands of Santa Cruz with many forest paths filled with endemic Galapagos vegetation, with an impressive and deep sinkhole crater. The chance to watch White-cheeked Pintail Ducks, rails, stilts and frigatebirds who are usually present in the lagoon here. The reserve also offers the opportunity to see mockingbirds, flycatchers, warblers, Galapagos Doves and Darwin’s finches. With luck you will also be able to see some of the population of Giant Tortoises that live in the reserve, which are geographically isolated from the main population of Giant Tortoises on Santa Cruz Island. (This nature reserve is a great example of a private initiative trying to work and protect the fragile Galapagos ecosystem alongside the Galapagos National Park).

Activities: Short hike (1.2mi / 2km)

Difficulty: Easy

Type of Landing: No landing

Highlights & Animals: Interesting vegetation, Darwin’s Finches, Galapagos Doves and sometimes Giant Tortoises

Punta Carrion

This visitor site has no trail and no landing. A dinghy tour will give you opportunities to see Sea lions, Blue-footed Boobies, pelicans and frigatebirds. At Punta Carrion you can snorkel from the boat to see a variety of fish, rays and possibly the harmless White-tipped Reef Sharks.

Activities: Boat tour. Kayaking and Snorkelling

Difficulty: Easy

Type of Landing: No landing

Highlights & Animals: Galapagos Sea Lions, Brown Pelicans, Boobies. Snorkel: Sea lions, Butterflyfish, Parrotfish, White-tipped Reef Sharks.

Black Turtle Cove (Caleta Tortuga Negra)

A beautiful mangrove lagoon on the north shore of Santa Cruz Island. The yacht anchors just outside the cove and you will enter on a dinghy, paddling through the calm waters of the lagoon, which is a resting site for Green Sea Turtles. A wonderfully quiet journey, through a beautiful and unique habitat. With good luck as well as Marine Turtles you will see different types of sharks and schools of Golden and Eagle Rays swimming just below the surface, whilst Yellow Warblers sing from above.

Activities: Boat tour in a lagoon, wildlife observation.

Difficulty: Easy

Type of Landing: No landing

Highlights & Animals: Lagoon surrounded by mangroves. Sharks, rays, sea turtles, pelicans and Blue-footed Boobies

Cerro Dragon or Dragon Hill

After a dry landing, the walk will take you along the edge of a salt water lagoon behind the beach where you can often see flamingos, Pintail Ducks, stilts and other bird species. A short walk inland, offers a great view of the bay and a nesting site for Land Iguanas, many of which were repatriated back to Cerro Dragon by the Charles Darwin Research Station, after their near-extinction due to feral dogs and cats.

Activities: Hiking (1 mi./ 1.6km) Snorkelling

Conditions: Moderate

Difficulty: Moderate

Type of Landing: Dry landing

Highlights & Animals: Coastal lagoon with variety of water birds: Herons, Stilts, Pintail Ducks, Oystercatchers, Flamingos. Giant Cactus, Land Iguanas, Darwin Finches, Mockingbirds. Snorkel: Parrotfish, Puffers, Snappers, Sea Turtles.

  • Cerro Dragon Santa Cruz Island Galapagos
  • Galapagos Flamingo Santa Cruz
  • Galapagos Sea Lion underwater
  • Giant Tortoise Santa Cruz Island Galapagos
  • Lava tube Santa Cruz Island Galapagos
  • Sea Turtle Galapagos