Santa Cruz Island is one of the best places to see Giant Tortoises in the wild, as well as being home to giant lava tubes, giant sunken craters filled with forests of giant daisies (Scalesia), white sandy beaches like Tortuga Bay with its beautiful mangrove lagoon and the Garapata beach. Located in the centre of the archipelago with an area of 986 km2 (381 sq mi) and maximum altitude of 864 meters (2,835 ft), Santa Cruz is the second largest Island after Isabela, and is the place where many cruises start or end. Its capital Puerto Ayora, is the main port in Galapagos with a range of hotel options, restaurants and bars and is the best base if you wish to take day scuba diving tours.
The highlands of Santa Cruz are one of the best places to see Giant Tortoises in the wild as well as being home to fascinating geological features, like lava tubes and the twin sinkhole craters of Los Gemelos, with some 300 different fern species and a forest of Scalesia, a relative of sun flowers. Usually one day with one of our team of top bilingual Galapagos National Park guides is enough, having lunch up in the highlands on one of the ranches that are visited by wild Giant Tortoises. You can also visit with your guide the Charles Darwin Research Station if it isn’t included in your program which will give them a chance to explain some of the conservation work being done to protect the islands.
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).
These impressive underground tunnels in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island are more than 1km in length and were formed when the outside skin of a molten-lava flow solidified. When the lava flow ceased, the molten lava inside the flow kept going, emptying out of the solidified skin and thus leaving tunnels. Walking through them is a reminder of the volcanic origin of the islands and quite a unique, surreal experience!
The best of these are El Chato and Las Primicias which are two privately owned ranches which are very close to each other and located around 13 miles away from Puerto Ayora. Both reserves have pathways you can walk through, with forest areas overgrown with lichens, ferns and other epiphytes, ponds and most crucially dozens of Giant Tortoises roaming freely, allowing you to come face with these magnificent giants and enjoy them at your own pace. Both reserves are also home to their own lava tubes.
Santa Cruz possesses all of the various life zones present in the archipelago, with fantastic birding opportunities. The highlands of Santa Cruz in particular offer great chances 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 the Galapagos Rail.
A great chance to learn first-hand about the conservation and research efforts in the islands. The chance to see several subspecies of adult Giant Tortoises, lots of hatchlings and learn of the repatriation programs that are saving several subspecies of tortoises and iguanas from extinction.
Overview: Tortuga Bay is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Galapagos islands. To get there you have a walk for ½ hour (2,2 km or 1,3 mi) from the town of Puerto Ayora, on a very interesting trail which will allow you to experience a typical Palo Santo and Giant Cactus forest; an ideal environment to look for several species of Darwin Finches, Mockingbirds and Galapagos Flycatchers. What you will see upon your arrival is a gorgeous coral-sand beach with turquoise waters and sand dunes, where sea turtles nest (hence the name!). The larger beach is 1 km (0,6 mi) long and usually has big waves, so most visitors prefer to continue their walk to a smaller beach located on a very protected bay surrounded with mangroves, which is ideal for families and water activities. It is in this sheltered beach where it is possible to kayak (if kayaks are a programmed part of your visit) to look for reef sharks, rays, sea turtles and pelicans. If you have time, you can also take a short walk which goes through a forest of giant Prickly-pear Cactus, where it is possible to find Marine Iguanas, Blue-footed Boobies and gulls. Important tip…. Make sure you bring plenty of sunblock and water for this visit, as there is not much shade during the entire visit!
Activities: Hike to the small beach is 7 km / 4 mi, round trip. Kayaking (if part of program), bird watching, swimming.
Type of Landing: No Landing
Highlights & Animals: Palo Santo, Giant Cactus dry forest, Darwin Finches, Warblers, Flycatchers and Mockingbirds during the hike. Blue-footed Boobies, Pelicans, Marine Iguanas, Sea Turtles and reef Sharks at the beach.
Overview: 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.
Overview: 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!
Overview: 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!
Overview: The Charles Darwin Research Station offers a great chance to learn about the work being done to conserve and protect the islands wildlife. It is also a great chance to see the Tortoise Rearing Centre. Very easy to find in the town right at the end of the main promenade.
Activities: Walking (1.2 mi. / 2km.)
Type of Landing: Dry landing
Highlights & Animals: Giant Tortoises, Land and Marine Iguanas, Mockingbirds, Darwin Finches.
Santa Cruz is the best base for those wishing to add some scuba diving before or after a Galapagos cruise. Day dive tours are ideal for guests who want to combine seeing Galapagos wildlife above the water with the amazing life below the water – for example you could combine a 5 or 6 day cruise together with a hotel stay on the island of Santa Cruz with 3 or 4 days of diving. It is also possible to do day dives from the islands of Isabela and San Cristobal. Our main partner for the day dive tours is Scuba Iguana, in operation since 1995 and the undisputed leader in providing day dive tours in Galapagos. The day dives they run are from two boats El Galapago and Iguana, both of which have been designed and specially equipped for diving day trips in the special Galapagos conditions. Details like ergonomic seating and effective spray curtains will make a difference for your comfort – and most crucially they work with the best dive masters and guides which is what sets them apart.
Check out dive + 2 tank Dives
Complete Dive Gear: 2-piece 7mm wetsuit, Regulator, BCD, mask, fins, hood, gloves, weight belt and tanks (does not include dive computer). Passengers who bring all dive gear (except tanks and weights) receive a US $20 discount on the tour.
Bilingual dive guides (according to regulation of the Galapagos National Park 1 naturalist guide Dive master of the Marine Reserve with 8 passengers assisted by a Dive master)
Insurance of boat, crew and passengers (According to the Galapagos National Park regulation) emergency oxygen equipment and first aid kit
Transport to / from dive site
Snack and hot lunch
Transportation between the dive centre and the boat
7.20am: Meeting at dive centre (Informative Session)
7.30am: Departure to dive site (via: sea or land & sea)
9.15am / 10.15am
9.15am / 10.15am: Arrival at dive site
10.15am / 11.15am
10.15am / 11.15am: First Dive (Depth 20-25 mts/65-68 ft. Max time 1 hour)
11.15am / 12.15am
11.15am / 12.15am: Surface interval and time to have snack/lunch
12.15/ 1.15pm: Second Dive (depth 15-23mts / 50-75ft. Max Time 1 hour
1.15pm/2.15pm: Snack/Lunch, Return
3.30pm/5.30pm: Arrive at dive centre
Diving location: Bartolome
Location Overview: Located at the east side of Santiago Island A small island where we see the famous pinnacle rock. Here you will find a platform at about 10 metres deep with a variety of reef fishes, also at the edge of this platform is a submarine canyon from 15 metres deep with chance encounters pelagic species. Look out for White Tip Shark Fin, Reef Fish, Barracuda, Turtles, Modula Rays, Stingrays. This chance also offers interesting rock formation with crevices and the chance of seeing Galapagos Penguins. Approx. 90 minutes from the Itabaca Channel, north side of Santa Cruz Island.
Depth: 3 - 30 Metres
Diving location: Cousins Rock
Location Overview: Located on the east coast of Santiago Island, near Bartolome It is a triangular-shaped islet usually with no strong currents, diving is on a shelving reef, with many endemic black corals on the walls. Here you will have the chance to see Pacific Seahorses, Barracudas, Sea Lions, Galapagos Shark, White Tip Shark, Sea Turtles, Reef Fish, Stingrays and a variety of invertebrates and molluscs. Cousin's Rock is also known for the large groups of Spotted Eagle Rays you may spot here and is one of the best dive sites in Galapagos. Approx. 90 minutes from the Itabaca Channel, north side of Santa Cruz Island.
Depth: 5 - 27 Metres
Diving location: Beagle Rocks
Location Overview: Located off the south coast of Santiago island Beagle Rocks are three large, steep rocks, the remains of a tuff cone. Normally there are no strong currents at this site. It is a reef dive with many corals and sponges. Here you will be looking out for Sea Lions, Galapagos Sharks, Turtles, Reef Fishes, Sting Rays, Eagle Rays, Barracudas, a variety of invertebrates, Manta Rays and probably solitary Hammerhead sharks. Approx. 30 minutes from the Itabaca Channel, north side of Santa Cruz Island.
Depth: 3 - 35 Metres
Difficulty: Suitable for all levels of experience.
Diving location: Daphne Minor
Location Overview: Located just north of Santa Cruz Island Here we have two dive sites suitable for all levels of divers, although sometimes there can be strong currents. Platform reefs with a diversity of species offer the chance to observe a cleaning station, Sea Lions, and many kinds of sharks including Galapagos, White Tip Reef and Hammerhead. Mobula Rays (small mantas), Turtles, Reef fishes, Sting Rays, Eagle Rays, Galapagos Eel, Barracudas, as well as a variety of invertebrates can also be seen at this site. Approx. 30 minutes from the Itabaca Channel, north side of Santa Cruz Island.
Depth: 4 - 27 Metres
Difficulty: Suitable for all levels.
Diving location: Mosquera
Location Overview: Located north of Santa Cruz Island between Seymour and Baltra A low rocky islet holds sandy beaches where Sea Lions rest. Normally there are no strong currents at this site, a sandy bottom between 15 and 18m with Garden Eels and pelagic species. There is also a wall that starts at 18m where we find black coral and variety of invertebrates. Hammerhead sharks, Black and White Tipped Reef Sharks, Sea Lions, Turtles, Barracudas, Reef Fishes, Sting Rays, Eagle Rays and Mobula Rays are seen at this site. Approx. 90 minutes from the Itabaca Channel, north side of Santa Cruz Island.
Depth: 4 - 27 Metres
Difficulty: Suitable for all levels.
Diving location: Floreana
Location Overview: Located south of Santa Cruz Island Floreana presents an excellent selection of varied diving with 9 dive sites in generally calm waters. If there are strong currents, we can quickly move to another site, making Floreana ideal for all levels of divers. This site is one of the best in the central islands to see significant coral colonies, such as pebble coral and endemic black coral. Floreana is also one of the best sites to dive with sea lions. Also sea horses, stingrays, eagle rays, turtles, long nose hawkfish, barracudas, pelagic fish, white tip reef sharks, Galapagos sharks and hammerheads sharks. Approx 90 minutes from base.
Depth: 3 - 21 Metres
Difficulty: Suitable for all levels of experience.
Diving location: Enderby Islet
Location Overview: Located off the coast of Floreana A ridge dive that offers a large variety of marine life, usually in thick schools. Dives are usually on the outer edge of the ridge and the most interesting diving is on the side where the current hits the reef. Sights include manta rays, golden eagle rays, morays, turtles, tunas, hammerheads, whitetips, Galapagos sharks. Other common sites are sea lions, tropical fish by the thousands, barracudas, black coral, and Pacific seahorse. The occasional whale-shark has even been known to make an appearance, between December and May. Approx 90 minutes from base on Santa Cruz Island.
Depth: 6 - 30 Metres
Difficulty: Beginner to Intermediate.
Diving location: Gordon Rocks
Location Overview: Located near the east cost of Santa Cruz Island. This eroded crater at the top of a tuff cone is a world famous dive site. There are 4 dive sites in the area, suitable for intermediates and experts due to the strong currents and surge. The sites are mostly walls with a deep bottom. Hammerhead sharks are the main attraction of Gordon Rocks and often conglomerate in large schools. Also cleaning station, Galapagos sharks, White Tip Reef Shark, Mobulas Rays, Turtles, Reef Fishes, Sting Rays, Eagle Rays, Galapagos Eel, Barracudas and a variety of invertebrates. Approx. 60 minutes from base.
Depth: 7 - 20 Metres
Difficulty: Intermediate and Advanced.