We’re incredibly privileged to have Tanya Helmig on the Think Galapagos team; she has been a Galapagos guide since 1992 and knows pretty much all there is to know about the Galapagos Islands!
Many of our guests decide to spend some time on one of the inhabited Galapagos Islands before or after their cruise. We have a great team of Galapagos National Guides that can take you to visit areas of the Galapagos National Park whilst staying in the inhabited islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabela.
However there are also plenty of things you can do on your own, in areas that aren’t designated as National Park. In this first of three blogs, Tanya recommends her top five things you can do in Santa Cruz Island if you wish to explore on your own, either before or after your Galapagos Cruise.
Santa Cruz Island in Galapagos
My home town for over 20 years, Puerto Ayora is the largest town in Galapagos. Situated on the central island of Santa Cruz it has a population of around 20,000 inhabitants.
Puerto Ayora is a lively, friendly place and if you have some free time, here are a few places that you can visit on your own, if you have some free time staying on the island either before or after your cruise:
1. Tortuga Bay
West of Puerto Ayora, there is a turquoise bay rimmed by a soft white sandy beach, named after the marine turtles that nest on this beach. A beautiful 2.8 km trail takes you there through cactus and Incense tree forests, while lava lizards dodge your footsteps as they lay sunning themselves on the trails. The trailhead is a little hidden away, so it’s easier if you grab a taxi to take you there. Make sure you take plenty of water and sunscreen.
(Photograph of Tortuga Bay by Luis Die)
2. Garrapatero Beach
This beach lies on the Eastern side of Santa Cruz. Little visited beach during the week, it is ideal for swimming or for kayaking around the bay. You can rent kayaks from Carlos who is there most days. Kayaking will take you up close to the mangroves where different herons nest and feed. You may also see eagle rays and turtles.
Behind the beach is a lagoon where you can see wading birds and flamingos. To get here you can grab a taxi from Puerto Ayora to the trailhead from where you will walk 15 minutes to get to the beach.
Alternatively, you can hire bikes from town and put them on back of the taxi (all taxis in Galapagos are pick-up trucks) and get dropped off at Cascajo town from where you can cycle the rest of the way down hill (10km) to the trailhead. You’ll really appreciate the wonderful views and there is virtually no traffic on the roads.
(Photograph of Great Blue Heron at Garrapatero Beach taken by Santiago)
3. Pelican Bay fish market
This market is found on the busy main street on Charles Darwin Avenue. It keeps many passers-by amused, even the jaded locals. The fishermen bring in their catch twice a day, around mid-morning and mid-afternoon and clean their fish attracting all sorts of wildlife. Sealions, frigatebirds, pelicans and other animals jostle with each other for the juicy entrails flung out by fishermen, making for an energetic and amusing spectacle not to be missed!
(Photograph is of Gabriel, Rachel and Santiago’s son when he visited Puerto Ayora last time)
4. El Puntudo
El Puntudo is the pointed remains of an extinct volcano, and when you climb up it you are rewarded with a spectacular panoramic view of Santa Cruz and surrounding islands.
Along the way, you will walk through the Miconia vegetation zone, one of the rarest plants in the world, found only on in Galapagos. This is the best place to spot the elusive Galapagos Rail too.
The hike takes about an hour and a half along gently sloping terrain until you get to the foot of Puntudo, where it continues as a short but steep climb until you reach the top. The walk there takes about 1.5 hours and the terrain can be wet or muddy. To get to the trailhead you can pick up a taxi from Puerto Ayora.
(Photograph of King Angel Fish, one of the species of fish you may find swimming alongside you Las Grietas taken by Santiago)
5. Las Grietas
These volcanic fissures hide a narrow blue lagoon surrounded by 6 metre cliffs, where you can go for a refreshing swim accessible by a sturdy wooden staircase. To get there you start by taking a water taxi from the dock at Puerto Ayora to the other side of the town, and then follow the trail past the German beach and along a rocky path, altogether taking approximately 25 minutes.
Along the way, you will pass a salt marsh where in the past locals mined salt. This site gets very busy from 8 in the morning onwards, so my recommendation is to set off early in the morning to have the place all to yourself!