Ecuador (Republic of Ecuador)

Languages: Spanish

Currencies: USD · United States dollar ($)

Capitol: Quito

Continents: South America

Borders: Peru, Colombia

More useful information

Area: 276,841km2

Population: 17,643,060

Traffic/driving side: right

Landlocked country: No

Independent country: Yes

United Nations member: Yes

IDD Prefix: +593

Timezones: UTC-06:00, UTC-05:00

Last updated on April 20, 2024

Galapagos Archipelago is truly remarkable destination. The Islands are renowned for their unique and distinct features and incredible wildlife. 

The main 3 islands are: 

  • Santa Cruz (with Baltra Island where the airport is located),
  • Isla Isabela
  • San Cristobal.
  • Other popular islands are: Espanola Island, Bartolome Island, Santiago Island and Floreana Island.

I planned the whole Galapagos itinerary myslef, exploring different islands and touring across the archipelago to see all the highlights. Here is everything you need to know and best things to see in Santa Cruz in Galapagos Island (with Puerto Ayora main port city).

How to get to Santa Cruz from Baltra Airport.

Santa Cruz Galapagos is the most developed island from Galapagos Archipelago. An airport is located on a small island north direction of the main island. Once you land in Baltra the transportation from the airport to the main island is organized for all travelers. Once you land your luggage will be carefully searched by police dogs. 

Then you will have to buy a bus ticket, that takes you from the airport to the ferry to get to the main island- Santa Cruz – bus ticket is $10 both ways (keep the return ticket!). The bus drives a tiny road up to the small harbour where the ferry is already waiting for you. The wild redsoil volcanic landscape of the island is breathtaking.


Transfering to Puerto Ayora on the south of the island.

The island looks incredible, as it’s covered by a red gravel, mangrooves and wild animals can be spotted literally everywhere. Iguanas are passing the road, sea lions sit next to you on the bench. 

The bus will wait for all passengers, no need to rush and don’t be bothered with the luggage, it will be transfered to the bus and to the ferry. 

Ferry is extra paid $1/per person. Once you leave the ferry you are on the northern coast of the island and you need to take another bus to Puerto Ayora – the biggest city of the island, located on the south.

There are two ways to get from Baltra Airport to Puerto Ayora:

  • Taxi (max 4 person) is $25.
  • Public bus $5/per person.

We quickly found two other girls and took a shared taxi to save time. The road goes across the island. You can spot Giant turtoise walking along the main road. It is very likely you will see people turning the turtles around to avoid them crossing the road. Turtle road signs are everywhere. 🙂 

Buses from Puerto Ayora to Baltra Airport.

You can go back from Puerto Ayora to baltra Airport by the same bus for $5/per person. Buses to the airport run from small bus terminal in Puerto Ayora only in the morning: 6.30, 7.00, 7.30, 8.15 and 8.30 (however I wouldn’t risk taking the last bus).

Local buses in Santa Cruz Galapagos.

I was convinced there’s no local transport on Galapagos – but of course there is!! There are local buses in Santa Cruz for peanuts!

Local buses on Satnta Cruz Galapagos are blue color and run from 6 a.m. to 12.00 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. between Puerto Ayora and Santa Rosa (a small town in the middle of the island). Single bus ticket is $1/per person one way (taxi driver wanted $20!). Distance between Puerto Ayora and Santa Rosa is about 20 km. 

The bus stops are well marked and most of them have plugins! 🙂 A trip to Santa Rosa is a lovely experience to observe ordinary local lifestyle. We spent almost all day in Santa Rosa and met zero tourists. It’s a quiet town, people live very simple life but it’s so nice to visit and sit for a cup of coffee in a one-table coffee bar. 🙂

The bus stops in Santa Cruz Galapagos

Puerto Ayora - the main town in Santa Cruz.

Puerto Ayora is the largest town and the main port of entry for visitors to the Galápagos Islands. Located on the southern coast of Santa Cruz Island, Puerto Ayora serves as the central hub and the starting point for many Galápagos adventures. Puerto Ayora is the most developed town of the island but at the same time the life is slow and peaceful. The harbour is full of friendly restaurants, local shops and ATMs. 

Complete Travel Guide to Galapagos for solo travelers.

Wildlife watching is on eof the best things to see on Santa Cruz and all other islands. A good idea is taking a half-day tour around the island to see all the highlights.

Pelicans occupy every boat, the pier is full of marine iguanas obstructing the walking area. Crabs are crawling between the sleeping sea lions, so the whole view is just incredible. We dropped the luggage and just sat for an hour to watch the nature. 

Food in harbour restaurants is pretty cheap – lunch $12-$15, breakfast $6-$8. 

Lobsters: $20-$25 – best I’ve ever eaten in local night market! You have to try Ceviche – the best known Peruvian seafood dish. It consists: marinated shrimp and fish in onion and lime juice.

Best things to see in Santa Cruz in Galapagos.

Tortuga Bay pristine beach.

Tortuga Bay is a highlight of the island – located just a short walk or boat ride from Puerto Ayora – opened from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. (winter time, in summer they close at 6 p.m.). No bikes are allowed in Tortuga Bay. The path leads 2,5 km toward a stunning white beach occupied by marine iguanas and wildlife. 

I would recommend getting there early the morning to spend a full day exploring this exceptional place. While entering Tortuga Bay you will be asked to sign an entry regulation form. 

Best things to see in Santa Cruz in Galapagos.
Best things to see in Santa Cruz in Galapagos.

Attractions in Tortuga Bay.

First of all mind the currents in this pristine beach – flag colour will tell you if it’s allowed to swim in the lagoon waters. The turquise sea is very tempting but the currents are extremely strong. There was a red flag while we were there, but we did some snorkeling instead.

The main attraction of the beach are marine iguanas and wildlife watching. The beach is maintained by the guards, who make sure all visitors keep at least 2 metres distance from the animals. It’s totaly understandable, I’m sure we’ve all seen instagram photos of people holding marine iguanas, which is against all regulations protecting biodiversity and natural environment. Human touch (and smell) has damaging impact on natural eco system and natural habbits of the animals. Some of the species hate human smell and might be excluded from their environment.

Snorkeling in Tortuga Bay.

The best snorkeling spot is locate at the end of Tortuga Beach near the rocks and mangrooves. It’s a beautiful place with great water visibility, where you can spot marine wildlife including baby sharks and colorful fishes. This wide white sand beach is one of the most spectacular places in Santa Cruz. Swimming iguanas and sea lions can be seen around. The beach is closed for a night time, as the turtles come out and occupy the beach.

On the other side of the mangrooves there’s a small bay beach with calm water, where you are allowed to swim. However, the bay beach is less attractive, it’s full of locals and noisy. 

Charles Darwin Research Station.

Our next destination was Charles Darwin Research Station, which is on of the best things to see in Santa Cruz. We decided to walk back on foot to admire the giant turtles that can be easily spotted along the road.

Darwin centre – is located a short walk from Puerto Ayora harbour (10-15 minutes). Charles Darwin Centre is one of the most significant landmarks in Puerto Ayora. Visitors can learn about the ongoing research and conservation efforts in the Galápagos Islands and see various species of giant tortoises, including the famous Lonesome George. 😉

It is a great place if you want to learn how they rescued and protected wildlife spieces. In 1978 a huge volcano explosion took place in Galapagos Islands. Somehow they managed to rescue last 30 giant turtles. Luckily some of them were very healthy male representatives, which made the reproduction process easy and succesful. Soon there was hundred new turtles on the island.

The main reason behind turtles population drastic decrease before volcano erruption was pirates activity. Pirates used to take lots of giant turtles on board, keeping them alive for months, as the turtles were delicious source of fresh meat.

Santa Cruz Fish Market.

Fish market is located on the way to Darwin centre. The fish market in Puerto Ayora offers a unique experience, with sea lions and pelicans frequently gathering to snatch fish scraps. It’s a vibrant and lively spot where you can witness the interaction between humans, wildlife, and the local fishing industry. 

Street food night market.

Street food night market – or rather luxury street food market, located in the middle of the town. It offers an amazing choice of exotic fresh fish, langustinas and delicious lobsters. Lobster prices range between $15-$30 per amazing lobster, cooked or grilled. It was the best lobster I had so far – grilled with garlic butter.

Where to stay in Santa Cruz?

Puerto Ayora is definitely a place to stay. The island is totaly uninhabited and everything is concentrated around Puerto Ayora. We stayed one night in jungle bungalows in the middle of the island and honestly – it was a rainy day and we didn’t find it that spectacular. Apart from the fact nobody knew how to get there (not even taxi drivers), it is a pitty to skip all the attractions of Pyerto Ayora harbour.

Accomodation in Galapagos Islands is quite cheap given the magnificent location. You must remember you are 1000 km from the mainland, so $50 for a private room with a bathroom is affordable and fair price.

Complete travel guide to Galapagos Islands for solo traveleres.

In Puerto Ayora we stayed in 4 starts Hotel Crossman (on the photo), highly recommended (it was only around $30/per double room), you can book it HERE.

Similar options I can recommend: 

If you are looking for a mid-range accommodation, here are few recommended options:


ATM's in Santa Cruz.

ATM’s are in the availale in Puerto Ayora own. They are nowadays available also on San Cristobal and Isla Isabela

Explore Puerto Ayora.

Explore Puerto Ayora, take a walk throu the small port town. There are cosy coffee places and lovely bars in the harbour (best ceviche in the whole island). 

women at San Cristobal

Meet the 417 kilograms giant tortoises!

One of the best things to see in Santa Cruz are giant tortoises. The giant turtles can be spotted along the main road, leading from the north (Baltra Airport) toward south port town – Puerto Ayora. You even notice turtles road signs! The tortoises are enormous – it is the largest living species of tortoise, with some Galápagos tortoises weighing up to 417 kg! 

the giant turtles

Travel between the islands by fast boats.

You can easily travel between the 3 main islands by fast boats – Read my Complete Travel Guide to Galapagos Islands where you can check Fast boats schedule between the islands – please note times might change depending on a season +/- 1 hour. 

Sassari Sardinia

Hey - I'm Eva!

Hiker, adventurous traveler and the author of this blog. My biggest joy is mountaineering and writing reportage travel stories here on this blog, to help you create a unique travel experience. Traveling is freedom, allows you seeing the world truly, meet communities, grow. Taste it!

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