We had ten days to explore three of the Galapagos islands (San Cristobal, Isabela, and Santa Cruz) and flew into San Cristobal and out of Santa Cruz so that we didn’t have to backtrack. We spent the majority of our time in San Cristobal and Isabela, but we covered as much of the Santa Cruz as we could in two days.
Santa Cruz is the most populated and most central, so it’s a good starting point for accessing the other islands by water taxi. There’s an airport just north of the island on a small spit of land called Baltra. It’s also where most of the overnight cruises depart from, so therefor the most touristy of the islands, with all menus in English and gift shops on every corner with a plethora of I Love Boobies shirts.
We stayed in two nice hotels about a 10-minute walk from town. We started in Dreams Hotel and then were asked to swap over to Mairdeth across the street the next night, still not sure exactly why. It was no big deal, and the other hotel was equally as clean, with AC and nice staff.
We opted out of guided trips and set out en foot to what we could reach in the area. It’s a 20-minute walk from the center of town to the entrance of Tortuga Bay, followed by 40 minutes along a meandering pathway to reach the water. The blinding sun reflecting off the white sand beach and translucent green water gave us the impression we’d wandered into an alternate universe. Normally it’s a great spot for snorkeling, but there were waves that day, so instead we played like kids in the whitewash and watched the surfers.
We also hopped a 2-min (80 cent) taxi boat from the main dock to the walkway (just across the marina) for Las Grietas, a brackish volcanic crevice filled with a mix of ocean and rainwater. The walk takes about another 20 minutes. We’ve read that it can get crowded with tour groups (which leave the main dock at 9am and 2pm typically), so we went on our own time and we had plenty of space to swim down deep and scope out the fish, so undisturbed by human presence you could probably reach out and touch them. Wiggle your way over the slippery rocks at the end into the second pool where you’ll find an underwater tunnel that feeds into the third pool.
We learned that it’s okay to not do everything Lonely Planet suggests when we biked a bumpy 1.5 hour slow incline to Tunneles del Amor, a must-see according to LP. After five minutes of walking deeper into the cool dark tunnel, we knew it would be more of the same for an hour, and headed back to the sunlight. Don’t feel obligated, it was an eh experience and very out of the way. Getting out of the touristy part of town and into the densely vegetated area, and cruising Walter Mitty style without breaks the whole way back into town, however, was what made the trip worth it.
At a glance…
- Do go to Las Grietas without a tour group. Bring your snorkel equipment, avoid the touristy time and explore all three pools.
- Eat at Galapagos Deli. We were big fans of the chicken sandwich, personal pizzas, and (save room for) the ice cream. SERIOUSLY when you are all salty and dehydrated you will just want to eat ice cream (try banana and chocolate). We picked up a slice at Eat Pizza on the water and it was actually good, with thick yummy cheese (thinking of our $1 slices in NY, the $4 price per slice made us cringe though).
- Shop at the little market on the water for groceries – if coming from the marina it’ll be off to your left, as well as the ATMS. It has a small selection of everything you’ll need and the best selection of fresh produce we saw on the island.
- Stay at Dreams Hotel or Mairdeth. Both were very clean accommodations, incredibly nice staff (especially the family that manages Mairdeth), with a 10-minute walk from the dock. There are tons of other options though closer to town, but I expect the prices will be higher.
- Rent bikes at a variety of shops on the main road. You’ll see signs and the town has nice bike lanes.
- Arrive – you can either access Santa Cruz by a 2-hour ferry from San Cristobal or Isabela, or fly directly to Baltra, which is a small spit of land just off the northern end of Santa Cruz. To get from the airport to town, you must take a free bus from the airport to the water, then hop on a quick ferry (about $1-2 per person) and then you can either take a taxi all the way to town ($18 total including all passengers) or hop on a small bus ($3 per person) and then from the bus station hop in a cab to town ($3). We opted for the taxi straight from the hotel to the ferry, seemed like less room for error.
- Tips – eating out can be pricey. There are of course the $5 almuerzos at local restaurants, but if you want to eat a burrito or pizza at a tourist restaurant along the water, it’ll set you back $30-40 for two. We opted for cooking in most meals, to save up for snorkeling.