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Santa Cruz Island Galapagos Tours

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Charlotte Bleijenberg
Brilliantly colored flamingos
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Plenty of wildlife and birdwatching in the Galapagos Islands
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Galapagos' Santa Cruz Island, also called Indefatigable, is the most highly visited island in the Galapagos and home to the Charles Darwin Station, where visitors can observe tortoise research, conservation, and breeding programs. A tour of the highlands offers the chance to see enormous volcanic pit craters, lava tunnels, and giant tortoises roaming freely. Stay in the Galapagos' largest town of Puerto Ayora in a hotel by night, and explore the shoreline and highlands of Santa Cruz Island by day. Santa Cruz is an excellent base for SCUBA diving, taking day trips to world-class dive spots surrounding Santa Cruz and nearby islands. 
Best Galapagos Cruises & Tours

10 Best Santa Cruz Island Galapagos Tours for 2023-2024

Best Galapagos Cruises & Tours

10 Best Santa Cruz Island Luxury Tours for 2023-2024

Trip NameFromDaysNext DepartureSummary
Northern Islands$35005Mar 30, 2023Sail to one of the most unique archipelagos in the world on this 5-day Galapagos Islands cruise aboard the Alya catamaran. The Galapagos Islands are …
Western Islands$44006Apr 3, 2023Embark the Alya on this 6-day catamaran cruise of the Western Galapagos Islands, visiting some of the most popular sites including the Tortoise …
Northern Galapagos Catamaran Cruise$49495Apr 4, 2023The Ocean Spray luxury catamaran takes you on a 5-day Galapagos Northern Islands cruise, exploring Genovesa, South Plaza, Mosquero, and Santiago. …
West & Central Islands + Genovesa$89908Mar 26, 2023Enjoy an exceptional trip to the West & Central Galapagos Islands as you sail across one of the most magical destinations in the world. Discover the …
Western & Eastern Islands$89908Apr 1, 2023Join the M/C Elite on a spectacular 8-day small ship cruise of the Galapagos Islands. Visit San Cristobal, North Seymour, Santa Cruz, Isabela, …
Volcanic Wonders$92508Apr 2, 2023On this comprehensive 8-day tour of the Galapagos Islands aboard the M/V Origin, see unusual wildlife such as marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, …
Private Charter - Beyond Darwin's Footsteps Aboard Grace$1470008Apr 4, 2023Close encounters with nature highlight this 8-day private Galapagos cruise onboard the Grace. The islands are teeming with animals that are eager to …
Beyond Darwin's Footsteps$85008Apr 1, 2023This 8-day adventure aboard Grace offers close encounters with wildlife. The islands are full of creatures that love to interact with visitors. …
Central Islands Cruise$89908Mar 25, 2023Discover the highlights of San Cristobal, Española, Floreana, Santa Cruz, Santiago, and Genovesa islands on this incredible 8-day adventure aboard …
Luxurious Southern Galapagos Cruise$59496Apr 27, 2023On this 6-day luxury Galapagos cruise aboard one of the best yachts in Galapagos, the Ocean Spray catamaran, you'll see giant Galapagos tortoises, …
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Tour Highlights of Santa Cruz Island

Charles Darwin Research Station / Fausto Llerena Breeding Center:
This is the scientific epicenter of the Galapagos and famously where Giant Tortoises are raised from egg to five years old, when they can be repatriated into their natural environment. Originally, the program started as a way to protect endangered tortoise populations that were threatened by invasive species that had been introduced to the Islands, especially the feral dogs. Now, the efforts of the breeding center have not only successfully maintained several populations of tortoises, but also saved a few which were on the edge of extinction, including most notably the Española tortoises. In addition to being a breeding center, the Station promotes research and scientific investigation for the conservation of the fragile ecosystems of the entire archipelago.

Tortuga Bay:
Just a short walk or bike ride from the main town of Puerto Ayora, this tranquil beach has soft white sand and is great for swimming. Its name refers to the black turtles that can often be seen here, but it’s also home to rolling dunes and endemic transition vegetation that help anchor the coastal sand.

Las Grietas:
This unique site features large fissures where turquoise salt water mixes with freshwater and makes for fun swimming and snorkeling.

These National Park Visitor Spots can only be visited as part of a scheduled cruise:

Bachas Beach:
This expansive, pristine white sand beach is home to a spectacular variety of wildlife. Bachas is really a misnomer for barches, as there is a half sunken barge visible from the beach. Also visible from the beach is a brackish lake with flamingoes and water birds, and an incredible menagerie of wildlife such as nesting green sea turtles, sally lightfoot crabs, and sea lions.  

Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill):
This site is aptly named for its healthy population of land iguanas and the ominous dragon-like shape of the mountain overlooking the bay. In the 1970s, the National Park began using the site as a place to breed the iguanas safe from the predatory dogs that were threatening many native species. Now the successful repopulation of the iguanas makes it a fascinating visitor site.

Black Turtle Cove: On the northern side of the island, you will find Black Turtle Cove, accessible only by dinghy. Surrounded by mangrove colonies, it hosts a wealth of marine life, including black- and white-tipped reef sharks, hammerhead babies, sea turtles, and rays.

Garrapatero Beach:
This arid beach is a bit off the beaten path, 19 km from Puerto Ayora. Here, a trail leads you from the white sand beach through a small palo santo and cactus forest. You’ll also see land birds enjoying the brackish lagoons, including flamingos, pintail ducks, oystercatchers, and various finches.

Santa Cruz Island Travel Guide

The Highlands of Santa Cruz Island

The higland forests of Santa Cruz hide some of the world's most bizarre secrets. The volcanic island is the accumulation of volcanic erruptions and lava flows for millions of years leaving behind a cavernous maze of lava tubes and craters, and on the surface thrive Giant Tortoises to this day. 

Twin Craters (Los Gemelos):
The Twin Craters, also known as “Los Gemelos,” are two giant sinkholes in the highlands that formed when the surface material caved into underground chambers. Currently, several trails have been blazed through the dense Scalesia forest. A short hike will take you to these craters, and along the way you will likely see notable land birds such as the Vermillion Flycatcher and a variety of native and endemic finches.

Lava Tunnels:
These unique geological formations were created when magma continued to flow underneath the drying surface lava. As the lava on the surface hardened, the molten stone beneath hollowed out long tubes that resemble caves, some of which extend for more than a kilometer. Several of them have been developed as visitor sites that can be explored.

El Chato Tortoise Reserve:
The tall grasses and shallow ponds of this expansive reserve make it the ideal habitat for the giant tortoises (for which the Islands are named) to live in peace. Along the path, you will come across various finch species & flycatchers and small turtles that bask in the still ponds. The highlight of this site, though, is the opportunity to see the giant tortoises roaming freely in their natural environment. Tortoises migrate annually from the coast to the highlands, and El Chato is one of the best places to see them plodding along. Although a guide is not imperative here, it is recommended.
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