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Santa Cruz combines a rocky coastline, which is excellent for marine life, and lush highlands where giant tortoises roam freely. The island is also home to the Charles Darwin Research Station and Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre.

Marine life around the island includes; sea turtles, sharks and rays, and on land there are healthy populations of iguana (land and marine), tortoise and many birds - eight different species of finch live here.

Just north of Santa Cruz, the tiny island of Baltra is one of two commercial airports in the islands, so may be either your point of arrival in or departure from the Galapagos. Depending on your itinerary, you will either board your boat at a small harbour close to the airport or make your way to Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the archipelago, a journey that involves a short ferry crossing over the Itabaca Channel followed by a drive across the highlands of Santa Cruz island.

Some of the potential landing sites and highlights around Santa Cruz island are shown below.  There are two kinds of landing: a “dry” landing, where you step from the panga (dinghy) that takes you ashore directly onto rocks or a jetty, and a “wet” landing, where the panga edges into a sandy beach, and you step out into knee-deep water and wade ashore.

Charles Darwin Research Station

Charles Darwin Research Station

This research centre is home to Galapagos tortoises that range in length from just a few millimetres to 1.5 metres. Different sub-species interact with each other, and many of the older tortoises are habituated to humans – which makes for unrivalled photo opportunities. Hatchlings are kept here until they are around four years old and strong enough to survive on their own.

  • Location highlights: Giant tortoises in captivity
  • Activities: Walking
  • Landing conditions: All times: Dry
  • Physical demand: Gentle

Black Turtle Cove

Black Turtle Cove

This shallow inlet in the northern coast of Santa Cruz is surrounded by mangroves and can only be accessed by panga, so is a safe haven for young marine life. Black-tipped and white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles, and a variety of rays are often spotted here.

  • Activities: Panga ride
  • Physical demand: Gentle

El Chato Tortoise Reserve

El Chato Tortoise Reserve

This reserve is divided into two distinct areas: Caseta and Chato. The trail begins at Santa Rosa, some 22 kilometres drive from Puerto Ayora, with the Caseta route being the more challenging. During the dry season this is a good place to see giant tortoises in the wild, and you may also spot short-eared owls, Darwin’s finches, yellow warblers, Galapagos rails and paint-billed crakes.

  • Activities: Walking, Horse riding, Birdwatching
  • Landing conditions: All times: Dry
  • Physical demand: Moderate

Lava Tunnels

Lava Tunnels

These tunnels were formed when the outer skin of a molten lava flow cooled and solidified, leaving a core of liquid magma that continued to flow – resulting in a series of empty underground tunnels, some of which are more than one kilometre in length. You can walk through these underground tunnels, Barn owls are sometimes seen here.

  • Location highlights: Underground tunnels
  • Activities: Walking
  • Landing conditions: All times: Dry
  • Physical demand: Gentle

Los Gemelos (Twin Craters)

Los Gemelos (Twin Craters)

These twin craters are located on opposite sides of the road that leads from Puerto Ayora to Baltra. In fact, they are not real volcanic real craters, merely interesting lava formations that were created by the collapse of surface material into underground chambers and fissures. Nevertheless the view here is breath-taking.

  • Location highlights: Pit craters, Scalesia forest
  • Activities: Walking (Short hike)
  • Landing conditions: All times: Dry
  • Physical demand: Moderate

Playa Garrapatero

Playa Garrapatero

Situated on the north side of Santa Cruz, this idyllic sandy beach is surrounded by mangroves. Lying just behind the beach is a freshwater lake that is home to flamingos, herons, stilts and other shore birds. The turquoise waters offer good swimming and snorkelling.

  • Location highlights: White sand beach, Turquoise waters
  • Activities: Swimming, Snorkelling, Sea kayaking
  • Landing conditions: All times: Dry
  • Physical demand: Gentle

Santa Cruz Highlands

Santa Cruz Highlands

Reached by bus from Puerto Ayora, the highlands of Santa Cruz are lush and green, in contrast to the dry, lower reaches of this and other islands. The predominant vegetation is the scalesia tree. High on the hillside is a tortoise breeding centre where you can see these giant creatures in semi-captivity in their natural environment.

  • Location highlights: Lava tunnels, Tortoise breeding centre
  • Activities: Walking (Approximately 2.5km hike)
  • Landing conditions: All times: Dry
  • Physical demand: Moderate

Tortuga Bay

Tortuga Bay

This bay with its white sand beach owes its name to the black sea turtles that lay their eggs here. Other species seen include white-tipped sharks and marine iguanas, while the salty lagoon behind the mangroves is frequented by flamingos. The site is excellent for birdwatching, and the perfect place for a relaxing swim.

  • Location highlights: White sandy beach, Salty lagoon
  • Activities: Swimming, Snorkelling, Birdwatching
  • Landing conditions: All times: Dry
  • Physical demand: Gentle

View suggested itineraries

Key info

  • Ideal for viewing: giant tortoise, green turtle, marine iguana, vermilion flycatcher, Galapagos rail
  • Where: Central Islands, Galapagos Islands

Wildlife trips

This wildlife location is featured in the following itineraries:

Galapagos Islands: Luxury on Land

Discover the natural wonders of the Galapagos archipelago and its unique wildlife by land, sea and air. Accommodation is a tented safari camp on Santa Cruz Island, with daily excursions to some of the surrounding islands, where you will find Galapagos sealions, green turtles, flamingos and white tip reef sharks.

  • When to go: Jan-Dec
  • Duration inc. flights: 10 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £5,595 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea

Wildlife of Ecuador & the Galapagos

Combine two of South America’s finest wildlife destinations – the Amazon rainforest and the Galapagos Islands. View the outstanding variety of wildlife on walking trails and by boat from a luxury eco-lodge in the Amazon jungle, and cruise the unique Galapagos archipelago for close-up wildlife encounters.

  • When to go: Jan-Dec
  • Duration inc. flights: 12 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £6,945 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea

Galapagos & Ecuador in Style

Take a journey to the enchanting cloud forests of the Andes, staying in a unique biodiversity reserve, and viewing the varied wildlife from walking trails or a rainforest canopy. A luxury naturalist-led cruise in the Galapagos Islands offers emerald waters, rugged coves and a remarkable number of endemic species.

  • When to go: Jan-Dec
  • Duration inc. flights: 13 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £8,995 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea

4 day deluxe Eastern Islands cruise

A short trip to four of the Galapagos’ remarkable islands - San Cristóbal, Española, Floreana and Santa Cruz – to see marine iguanas, sealions and marine birds aplenty. Walking trails and panga (dinghy) rides along the rugged coastline afford spectacular views of the islands’ unique landscapes,

  • When to go: Jan-Dec
  • Duration exc. flights: 4 days
  • Price exc. flights: From £2,175 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour

5 day First Class Northern Galapagos cruise

An exploration of the some of the Galapagos’ smaller northern islands, exploring lagoons filled with flamingos on Santa Cruz, colonies of sealions at Rábida and thousands of marine birds on Genovesa. There are plenty of opportunities to view the exceptional wildlife on hikes or panga rides.

  • When to go: Jan-Dec
  • Duration exc. flights: 5 days
  • Price exc. flights: From £3,570 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour

8 day First Class Galapagos Highlights

Spend a week exploring in depth some of the larger islands in the Galapagos, including Isabela, the largest of the archipelago and home to flamingos, Galapagos penguins, green turtles and land iguanas. Discover a host of unique bird species, including magnificent frigatebirds and iconic blue-footed boobies.

  • When to go: Jan-Dec
  • Duration exc. flights: 8 days
  • Price exc. flights: From £3,695 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour

8 day Superior Southern Galapagos sailer

This trip visits the archipelago’s smaller islands, exploring them by panga (dinghy) and on foot. You’ll discover noisy sealion colonies leisurely wandering around, fiery coloured iguanas, blue-footed boobies and Sally Lightfoot crabs surrounding the rocks, and a wealth of colourful birdlife.

  • When to go: Jan-Dec
  • Duration exc. flights: 8 days
  • Price exc. flights: From £3,110 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour

8 day deluxe Western Islands cruise

A comprehensive voyage of discovery covering the western islands, discovering pristine island environments and an amazing wealth of wildlife. Landings include Rábida, one of the most colourful islands in the archipelago, home to Galapagos penguins, sea lions and some of the rarest birds in abundance.

  • When to go: Jan-Dec
  • Duration exc. flights: 8 days
  • Price exc. flights: From £4,285 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour
Suggested accommodation is shown below. Please contact us for further recommendations.

Galapagos Safari Camp

Situated in the lush highlands of Santa Cruz, this camp allows you to enjoy the natural wonders of the Galapagos Islands from the comfort of a luxury tent. Nine en suite safari-style tents are tucked into the hillside below the main lodge overlooking the surrounding forests and the Pacific Ocean.

Recommended cruise vessels:

Anahi

Anahi is a power catamaran yacht, which provides great stability, and is the ideal vessel for passengers with little or no experience at sea. Eight cabins equipped with portrait windows, air-conditioning, lower berths, and a private bathroom, provide comfortable accommodation for Galapagos cruises.

Mary Anne

The elegant Mary Anne is an environmentally friendly ship with an astonishing 1,000 metres of canvas sail. She accommodates passengers in 12 well-appointed cabins, all with air conditioning and private facilities. On board there is a lounge and bar area, solar deck and outdoor dining area.

Nemo II

The Nemo II is a first class sail catamaran accommodating a maximum of 12 passengers in six tastefully designed cabins, each slightly different in size and configuration. There is a common area both inside and out, as well as a small sun deck complete with lounge chairs, and a small bar.

Santa Cruz II

The Santa Cruz II is an elegant vessel, which carries 90 passengers in 50 modern cabins. Air conditioned throughout, facilities across the five spacious decks include indoor and outdoor dining, a lounge bar, library, a gym and two hot tubs overlooking the ocean. Activities include kayaking and snorkelling.