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Guide to Day Trips on Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands

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Galapagos Islands, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Marine Iguana and Heather

Almost every trip to the Galapagos Islands will take you to Santa Cruz.

Read our quick guide to the best full-day tours for your holiday from Puerto Ayora.

Discover what to expect to see and do while staying in hotels on Santa Cruz.

 

Bartolome

Visit the iconic Pinnacle Rock and enjoy its wonderful vistas then snorkel in clear waters from an orange beach, with the chance to swim with penguins, sea lions, rays and sharks.

Highlights

  • Climb to the Pinnacle Rock viewpoint, some 350ft above sea level for a Galapagos panoramic
  • Snorkel in beautiful waters with penguins, sharks and sea lions
  • Spectacular volcanic landscapes

Sunken Crater Bartolome Galapagos

This is a very full day as we travel from Santa Cruz to Bartolome, which lies next to Santiago (James) Island, to the north west. It’s worth it – today offers spectacular volcanic landscapes and great snorkelling.

An early start and we cross Santa Cruz by bus (45 mins) to Canal Itabaca, and from here we take a speedboat (2 hours) to Bartolome. There is the chance of seeing dolphins and even whales during the crossing.

The boat will stop first at Daphne Island, a volcanic tuff cone formation to view the sea lions and various sea birds that inhabit it.

Bartolome Island itself is famous for its ‘Pinnacle Rock’ – probably the most photographed volcanic formation in the islands.  Climb up a long wooden staircase comprising 360+ steps (115m) to the viewpoint on the summit that offers uninterrupted views to nearly all the central islands in the archipelago. It’s an easy enough climb and there is plenty to see enroute, and the views from the top are other worldly.

After descending, a short dinghy ride after the walk allows you to photograph the Galapagos Penguins that live along the coastline. We also visit the beaches – the two beaches here are joined by a walking path.

We cannot snorkel or swim from the southern beach but from here you may be able to observe rays and sharks. Where we can snorkel is next to Pinnacle Rock and it’s really impressive. Hopefully penguins, marine turtles, white-tipped sharks, and other tropical fish will be around.

Lunch is served with one of the most amazing volcanic backdrops found anywhere in the archipelago.

 

Activities: Hiking (with ups and downs), snorkelling, swimming

What to bring: Bathing suit and towel, beachwear, camera, hiking shoes, cap/hat, sunglasses, insect repellent and biodegradable sun cream, water, waterproof jacket or jumper to keep warm during the crossing

Wildlife you may see: Galapagos Hawks, Lava Herons, sea lions, Galapagos Penguins, marine iguanas, sharks (Galapagos and white-tip), turtles, rays, fish

Departure time: 05.30

Return: 14.00 approximately

 

North Seymour

Fine array of nesting sea birds among varied and colourful vegetation, with the chance to see flamingos.

Highlights

  • Large populations of Frigate birds and Blue-footed Boobies
  • Wonderful trail with varied plants and wildlife
  • Beautiful volcanic and lava formations caused by seismic movements

Frigate bird Genovesa Galapagos Islands

An early start and we cross Santa Cruz by bus (45 mins) to Canal Itabaca, and from we sail across to North Seymour.

It’s a dry landing to start the day onto black stone. The walk (2km) is quite uneven in places so good walking shoes are required, especially at the start.

We begin with a walk over pillow lavas, which can make it quite uneven underfoot. Keep an eye out for Frigate birds as well as a host of other birds, as the terrain starts to level out.

We also encounter here the lignum vitae tree. In the summer season they appear dead but after the February rains they will shimmer a lovely green colour, giving North Seymour a lovely aspect. Keep your eyes peeled for green iguanas which may be taking shade under the foliage.

Our snorkel takes place at Las Bachas Beach, which is located back on Santa Cruz Island. Here you may spot sharks, a variety of fish and maybe flamingos in the beach lagoon.

 

Activities: Snorkelling, swim, walking on some rocky trails (2km)

What to bring: Bathing suit and towel, camera, sandals, hiking shoes, cap/hat, sunglasses, insect repellent and biodegradable sun cream, waterproof jacket or jumper to keep warm during the crossing

Wildlife you may see: Variety of sharks (white-tip, Galapagos), rays, Blue-footed Boobies, Frigate birds, Sally Lightfoot crabs, sea lions, marine iguanas, land iguanas, Tropicbirds

Departure time: 08.00

Return: 16.00 approximately

 

Santa Fe

Unique species abound on this intriguing island, close to Santa Cruz. Great for snorkelling, birds and land iguanas, as well as vegetation and a beautiful cove.

Highlights

  • See the iconic Palo Santo Trees
  • Endemic Barrington land iguana only found here
  • Big colonies of sea lions, great fun when snorkelling
  • See one of Galapagos’ most beautiful coves

Galapagos Islands, Santa Fe Land Iguana

Santa Fe is quite central in the Galapagos archipelago and one of the oldest in the chain. Its proximity to Santa Cruz makes it an excellent day trip.

The rocks have been dates to 4 million years ago, but Santa Fe has a flat surface rather than a conical shape due to it being formed by an uplift and not an eruption.

We leave from Puerto Ayora and travel for 40 minutes or so to reach Santa Fe. Our arrival is to a bay of beautiful turquoise water.

It’s a wet landing, and then we take a short walk among the island’s large resident sea lion population and then on to find the two species of land iguana that live here – a real highlight. They’ll be among the Opuntia cactus trees found here and which give the island its own personality.

Having taken many pictures, we return to the boat for lunch and then get ready to snorkel.

That bay you saw earlier – Barrington Bay to give it its name – well, time to jump into the water. The bay is an excellent swimming and snorkelling place where turtles, rays, sea lions and fish love to be, in among the (usually) warm water.

After a great swim, it’s back on board and we return to Santa Cruz.

 

Activities: Short hike, snorkelling, swimming

What to bring: Bathing suit and towel, camera, water shoes, hiking shoes, cap/hat, sunglasses, insect repellent and biodegradable sun cream, waterproof jacket or jumper to keep warm during the crossing

Wildlife you may see: Lava lizards, Santa Fe land iguana, Santa Fe Rice Rat, sea lions, Mockingbirds, Swallow-tailed gulls, Red-billed tropic birds, Shearwaters, Petrels

Departure time: 07.30

Return: 15.30-16.00 approximately

 

South Plazas

Visit one of the most spectacular islands for flora, sea lions and giant land iguanas.

Highlights

  • See many types of iguanas
  • Big colonies of sea lions
  • See Sesuvium plants turn the floor purple is the dry season and green in the rainy season
  • Famed for its flora

marine iguanas on the march Galapagos

An early start and we cross Santa Cruz by bus (45 mins) to Canal Itabaca, and from we sail across to South Plazas Island, a small island kept company by North Plazas, to the north east of Puerto Ayora.

Note: On occasion, the tour will leave directly from Puerto Ayora and sail 2 hours around Santa Cruz.

It can be a noisy welcome at the dock – some of the island’s native 1,000 sea lions will be there to greet you, lolling around. Be careful where you step, their excrement can be slippy!

As we arrive and during our walk, you can see lots of nesting Tropic birds and Swallow-tailed gulls, who make their home on the step banks and cliffs that shape the island.

There are many iguanas that live under the shadow of the Opuntia cactus plants, from Galapagos Giant Land Iguanas to hybrid iguanas that exist here. South Plazas is also a good place to watch Darwin Finches.

Our path is frequently colourful with the Sesuvium plants, bushes and Opuntia. The Sesuvium ground vegetation changes its colour from intense green in the rainy season to orange and purple in the dry season.

We eventually reach a viewing platform from where we can see much of the enormous sea lion colony. Among the females, keep an eye out for battle-marked males – some from fighting for territory, some from underwater tussles with sharks.

Note: Snorkelling is not permitted at South Plazas due to the large colony of sea lions. For those booking a trip with snorkelling, the boat usually continues to a bay called Fisherman Bay in Santa Fe Island; here you may spot sea turtles, rays, sea lions, fishes, Galapagos sharks and many more in the rocky reef.

If not snorkelling, we return to Puerto Ayora either by the short boat ride to Itabaca then a bus to Puerto Ayora, or the direct 2-hour boat ride to Puerto Ayora.

Activities: Short hike, snorkelling (if selected), swimming

What to bring: Bathing suit and towel, camera, water shoes, hiking shoes, cap/hat, sunglasses, insect repellent and biodegradable sun cream, waterproof jacket or jumper to keep warm during the crossing

Wildlife you may see: Galapagos Hawk, Galapagos Doves, marine and land iguanas, Herons, Mockingbirds, sea lions, Opuntia cactus, Sesuvium in bloom, Darwin Finches

Departure time: 08.00

Return: 16.00 approximately

 

Cerro Crocker full day trek

Energetic hike through various volcanic terrains and lava tunnels, surrounded by changing vegetation and wildlife.

Highlights

  • Hike through a mix of volcanic landscapes, flora and fauna
  • Beautiful views from the top of Santa Cruz
  • Walk into the longest lava tunnels in South America

Lava tunnel Santa Cruz Galapagos

We pick you up from your hotel and head off, in a private van, for our first visit of the day – Cerro Media Luna.

This is the remaining half of a crater, shaped like a half moon. Media Luna sits in the middle of the Miconia Zone – named for an endemic shrub species that is found only in the highlands of Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal.

Media Luna is also the site of the one of the main Galapagos Petrel nesting colonies – the nests are burrows or caves in the walls of the crater. Galapagos Rails are often seen in this area as well.

We continue our walk to the highest point of the island – Cerro Crocker (864m/2,835ft). From here, we get a wide view of the southern seas of Santa Cruz and the town of Puerto Ayora.

Next to Cerro Mesa, an ecological reserve, where we can hike beautiful trails and observe endemic species such as : scalecia, guayabillo, uña de gato, cactus (opuntia) Shala, and others.

You also be able to see a wide range of bird species like: Galapagos dove, cucubes, witch bird, and other species.

Afterwards, we visit Bellavista Tunnels, this stunning cave of 2,2km long is considered to be the longest lava tunnel in South America. We enjoy our box lunch here and then return to our Puerto Ayora hotel.

 

Activities: Hiking (5 hours, moderate)

What to bring: Camera, hiking shoes, cap/hat, sunglasses, insect repellent and biodegradable sun cream, waterproof jacket (it can get windy/foggy at the summit), water, snacks

Highlights: Petrels, Galapagos Rails, Galapagos Doves, Opuntia cactus, lava tunnels, Witch Birds,

Departure time: 09.00

Return: 15.00 approximately

 

Pinzon Island Snorkel (full day)

Beautiful snorkel among Galapagos marine life in crystal clear, turquoise waters.

Highlights

  • Snorkel next to one of Galapagos’ most idyllic islands
  • Crystal clear waters give great visibility as you swim with turtles, sharks and fish
  • Bring a water camera as rays glide by

snorkeller on zodiac Galapagos

This is the tour for those that like to jump in the sea and snorkel.

There are 2-3 separate snorkels, each around 45-60 minutes long, all of which are next to Pinzon Island, a desert island to the west of Santa Cruz.

Pinzon Island (sometimes called Duncan Island) is about 90 minutes sail from Santa Cruz. It is home to sea lions, giant tortoises, marine iguanas and dolphins, as well as other endemic species. There is no landing site without a special permit which is why this is a snorkel-only tour. Keep an eye out for dolphins en route.

We jump in and out of the water (all according to the guide’s instructions) and you may be able to spot sea turtles, Galapagos sharks, white tip sharks and lot of fish. In the bay, we hope to spot rays, Galapagos sharks, white-tipped sharks, black-tipped sharks and more.

After a boxed lunch aboard, we return to Santa Cruz mid afternoon, with plenty of time to relax.

 

Activities: Snorkelling

What to bring: Camera, water shoes, cap/hat, sunglasses, insect repellent and biodegradable sun cream, waterproof jacket for the boat journey, water, bathing suit, towel

Highlights: Crystal clear waters, desert island, turtles, sharks, banks of fish, rays

Departure time: 09.00

Return: 15.30 approximately

 

Bay Tour (half day)

Enjoy some of Santa Cruz’s most beautiful volcanic formations along with great snorkels and swims.

Highlights

  • Wildlife-rich tour that takes just half a day
  • Swim in volcanic ravines, snorkel with sharks, turtles and sea lions
  • Visit the beautiful Las Grietas ravine and the Channel of Love!

Sea Lion on bench Puerto Ayora Galapagos

In the morning we take a tour around the bay of Santa Cruz. We start at Punta Estrada, a small gulf of calm waters, and a place where you can see Terns, Boobies, Frigates and sea lions. We jump into the water here for a taste of Galapagos’ fantastic marine wildlife.

Having swam with (hopefully) sharks, fish, turtles and sea lions we will visit the Sharks’ Channel which was formed by magmatic chamber swellings. From the viewpoint you can see the port and the upper part of the Island.

Next, we hike 15 minutes to a beach, to and area called The Channel of Love, another fissure of formed by magma and very scenic. Finally, we head towards to Las Grietas, here you can do jump into the water and snorkel

We hike back to the boat and then return to Puerto Ayora.

 

Activities: Snorkelling, hiking, swimming

What to bring: Camera, hiking shoes, water shoes, cap/hat, sunglasses, insect repellent and biodegradable sun cream, waterproof jacket for the boat journey, water, bathing suit, towel

Highlights: Las Grietas ravine, lava formations, sharks, rays, sea lions, finches

Departure time: 08.00

Return: 12.00 approximately

 

Tortuga Bay (half day)

Spot finches on the walk to this beautiful bay used for nesting by turtles then snorkel in the clear waters.

Highlights

  • One of Galapagos’ most beautiful beaches
  • Unique cactus, finches and vegetation on the walk in
  • Pelicans, marine iguanas, pigeons and more call this home
  • Snorkel in clear waters or relax on the beach

enjoying the beach family holiday Galapagos

Today we set off early, to avoid the heat of the sun, for a hike to one of the Galapagos Islands’ most beautiful beaches – Tortuga Bay.

People come here to sunbathe and sometimes surf while we are here to appreciate all its wonderful wildlife.

It takes about 40-minutes to walk from town to Tortuga Bay, and our walk on a cobbled, flat walkway is usually accompanied by various finches feeding in the lush vegetation.

When we arrive, we will see the bay’s famous white sands and green mangroves. This place was named after the turtles that use it for nesting.

Other species such as Pelicans, Darwin’s Finches, Cucubes Pigeons and marine iguanas can also be observed in this magical place.

Once our guide has shown us around the Bay, we jump into the water for an opportunity to snorkel and observe marine species that live in this area – turtles, sharks and more.

 

Activities: Snorkelling, hiking

What to bring: Camera, hiking shoes, water shoes, cap/hat, sunglasses, insect repellent and biodegradable sun cream, water, bathing suit, towel

Highlights: Wildlife on walk in, beautiful beach, snorkel, Pelicans, Finches

Departure time: 08.00

Return: 12.00 approximately

 

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