Tips for a cheap trip to Santa Cruz
Isla Santa Cruz is the second largest island of the Galapagos archipelago and counts 18,000 inhabitants. The highest point is 864 metres above sea level. It is the only island that has six different vegetation zones from the arid zones where cactus grows to areas with fern and sedge, and very humid zone with forests of scalesia and miconia.
Most of the flights arrive on Isla Baltra, a small island in the north of Santa Cruz. Here is one of the two international airports of Galapagos located. Compared to Isla Isabela and San Cristobal, Santa Cruz is more populated. There are different villages located along the main street that leads from the north to the south of the island.
When you land on Baltra and you make your way south to Puerto Ayora you will be impressed by the natural diversity and the differences in the vegetation zones on this only 986 square kilometres big island.
Puerto Ayora is located in the south and it is the biggest town on Santa Cruz. Here you find a lot of hostels and even more agencies, so it is very touristy. It is also the perfect location for a lot of activities. Below you find detailed information.
HOW TO GET TO ISLA SANTA CRUZ
Three airlines, LAN, Aerogal, and TAME, are flying from the Ecuadorian mainland to Santa Cruz. At check in you pay 10 dollars for a 'visa' for the Galapagos Islands. When you arrive on Isla Baltra and your passport is being checked, you will have to pay a 100 dollars park entrance fee. It is important that you keep the small ticket of this payment for your return flight. If you do not have it at check in, you are charged a small fee.
From the airport terminal a bus brings you to the ferry. The ferry trip only takes a few minutes and costs 0.80 dollars per person. Already here you can see the first clear turquoise colored water which is a really nice welcome. After arriving on Isla Santa Cruz, there are two options how to get to Puerto Ayora. The public bus, which will be already waiting for the tourists, only costs 1.80 dollars. The ticket can be bought in the bus and the drive takes around 50 to 60 minutes.
Another option would be a taxi. These are pickups, cost 18 dollars, and you can share it with other travellers. We were four people and so it was only 4.50 dollars for everybody, which is not a bad deal for a 40 minutes ride.
THINGS TO DO ON SANTA CRUZ
That is the best on the Galapagos Islands... there are so many things you can do and see FOR FREE!
Harbour of Puerto Ayora
It is incredible but you can already see the first animals at the boat terminal in the harbour of Puerto Ayora. When it is dark and the green and blue lights of the terminal lighten the water you can see small reef sharks swimming there.
On our first evening, when we walked along the wooden boardwalk, we were welcomed by a snoring sea lion, lying on one of the public benches. It was hilarious to see it enjoying the attention it got... everybody took a picture.
Charles Darwin Research Station
Do you want to see baby tortoises? Then the Charles Darwin Research Station is the right place for you. Just follow the Avenida Charles Darwin until the end into the northeastern direction. There you will find the entrance of the national park and a few hundred meters further you are welcomed by an information booth. Here lovely people are happy to give you information about all the things you can see on the property. The Van Straelen Interpretation Centre gives information about the geology, climate, nature, and conservation of the Galapagos Islands. Afterwards you pass the tortoise corrals, where you can see fully grown tortoises, and you get to know the strory of the famous Lonesome George. Very cute are all the baby tortoises in the breeding center. They are ordered by age and it is unbelievable what a long life they have in front of them. At the end of your tour you pass the entrance to a small beach. It is quite rocky but when you feel too hot, you can take a break there.
Los Gemelos are two huge sinkholes in the middle of nature. After volcanic events of great magnitude, the magma of the chambers flow into lava tunnels and left the chambers empty.
Over time volcanic processes caused the collapse of the champers, opening up gaping craters to the outside world. It is very easy to get here as the two sinkholes are located very closely to the main road which is running from the north to the south of Santa Cruz. Take a taxi from Puerto Ayora for 10 to 15 dollars. Entrance is free.
For BoB and us it was nice to see it but it was not a highlight ;).
There are different places on Santa Cruz where you can see giant tortoises, however we recommend to visit Rancho Primicias. At Santa Rosa you leave the main street and after a few kilometres you will reach this big farm. Already on the way there you cross the territory of the tortoises and you will see them crawling through the grass. Keep your eyes open and you will find them.
Rancho Primicias is a big farm where you can see really giant tortoises. Here you have the possibility to see them in their natural environment. They have always lived here and are not captured behind fences. At the entrance a souvenir shop and a restaurant await you and from there you can explore the property. For us it was great to walk through the grass and suddenly a really giant tortoise was crossing our way. Then we stood still and could not believe how big they can get. Keep a distance of two metres so that they do not get afraid. If they do, you will hear them hissing. And even this is very cute and we almost felt sorry for them. They tried to frighten us but they are captured in their shell and can almost do nothing. It was really interesting to see them acting like this.
The entrance to Rancho Primicias is 4 dollars whereas, we do not know why, we weren’t charged. It was such a great experience and would have been worth every single dollar! You have to come here!
Very close to Rancho Primicias you find a more than 1 kilometre long lava tunnel. You will pass it on your way from the main street, from Santa Rosa to Rancho Primicias. Do not follow the signs of the lava tunnel of 'El chato' cause there you have to pay entrance, the other one is for free. Stairs will bring you into the tunnel and the size of the tunnel is just impressive. To imagine that lava ran through here is almost unbelievable.
There is light in the tunnel so you do not need to bring a torch. You will climb over rocks and get to a point where you will have to crawl through a narrow gap. Here we turned around and went back to the entrance as we did not want to get too dirty. But who wants to do it, can go until the other end of the lava tunnel.
Our recommendation is to take a taxi from Puerto Ayora and to negotiate a price for a round trip. Los Gemelos, Rancho Primicias, and the Lava Tunnels are so close to each other that the taxi can easily connect these places within a trip. If you want to be more active, you can combine your trip with a bike tour. Rent a bike in Puerto Ayora (from 12 dollars per day) and take a taxi that brings you to Los Gemelos. From here it is a really nice bike ride as you are mainly driving downhill and you are much closer to nature.
This great snorkelling trip is perfect for spending a few hours. Take a water taxi from Puerto Ayora to the Angermeyer Restaurant on the right hand side of the harbour. The trip costs not even a dollar. From the restaurant you follow the trail to Las Grietas.
There are signs everywhere and it takes about 15 to 20 minutes walking. On your way you will pass the Playa Punta Estrada beach and a salt mine.
Take shoes with you that you can wear in the water and climb over the rocks at the end of the first pool. Behind them you will get to another pool where nobody else is and where you see a lot more fish.
Tortuga Bay is a kilometres long white beach and perfect for relaxing. From Puerto Ayora you can easily walk to the entrance of the national park.
Just follow the Charles Binford Street. From the national park entrance it takes 30 to 40 minutes until you reach the beach. It is a lot fun to jump into the waves of the turquoise water. The water here is warmer than on other places so that you can stay in the water forever. Entrance is free.
ACCOMMODATION ON SANTA CRUZ
When we arrived on Puerto Ayora on our first day, we walked throught the streets with our backpacks, searching for cheap accommodation. Suddenly a woman started to talk to us and offered us a private room for 40 dollars. That was above our limit and we began to negotiate. In the end we got the room for 20 dollars. It was very basic but it was enough for us and cheap!
Of course, not everybody finds a private room. But Purto Ayora is full of hostels where you can get a shared room for 20 dollars per night per person. And when you try to negotiate, you often can get it for 15 dollars per person.
The Flamingo Hotel is located on the second row from the waterfront, in the street Tomas de Berlanga. As our private room was occupied for one night, we got a recommendation for this place. The main building with reception area is very modern. The cheaper backpacker rooms are in the buidling in the backyard. The rooms are simple but clean and equipped with TV, fan, and a private bathroom with hot shower. WIFI does not work in the room but in the reception area. A night costs 12 dollars per person in a double room.
The Hostal Elizabeth is located in the Avenida Charles Darwin and run by a family. The rooms are clean and from the higher levels you have a view of the harbour from where you get a fresh breeze. The lower levels are not equipped with hot showers. The owner speaks english and likes to give information of the island. A double room with cold showers costs 15 dollars per person.
Best Home Stay
The Best Home Stay is located in Calle Piqueros, in the eastern end of Puerto Ayora. It is a 15 minutes walk to the harbour, a taxi only costs 1 dollar. It offers one dorm room for four people, consisting of two bunk beds, full kitchenette, air condition, unlimited fresh water, hot showers, and WIFI. When you find other travellers, so that you are a group of four, the price is 20 dollars per person.
FOOD ON SANTA CRUZ
Puerto Ayora offers a wide range of restaurants from which you can choose. Every day we visited another restaurant and we were surprised that we did not have to pay a lot for a good lunch 'almuerzo' or dinner.
Especially during lunch time it is very easy to find cheap menus. Almost every restaurant offers them. For dinner you have to look for 'meriendas' which is another word for dinner. Many restaurants offer it next to the normal menu.
Every evening, between 6pm and 7pm, one part of the Charles Binford Street turns into a restaurant place. Chairs and tables are put on the street and there is a special and very nice atmosphere. All restaurants offer fresh caught fish that lies on tables in front of their restaurants. Here you can choose your own fish or lobster for dinner.
Blue Footed Booby Restaurant
In this restaurant we had a lunch for 4 dollars including caldo de Bola or sopa de mariscos, and as main dish pescado a la plancha or carne a la plancha or pollo al horno with salat and rice, and a juice.
Restaurant Sol y Luna
Here we enjoyed a potato soup and fresh fish with rice and vegetables, and a juice for 4 dollars. It is a typical local restaurant.
Kiosko de Renato
Kiosko de Renato was one of our favourite restaurants. Unfortunately they do not offer the cheaper menus but we tried shrimps with fried rice and shrimps with coconut sauce and both were fantastic. The price was 8 dollars each. One night we wanted to spoil ourselves with a fresh lobster. It is hard to resists when you see them everywhere, freshly caught. One lobster costs 25 dollars and we shared one. One half was with garlic sauce and the second half with coconut sauce. Although we had two plates with rice and salad they only charged us for one plate. So we had a lot of food and a great delicious lobster for both of us.
Sabroson is another restaurant in the Avenida Charles Darwin and one of the bigger restaurants. They have restaurants of both sides of the street. One evening we had 'meriendas' with noodle soup, fried rice and banana as a main dish, and a juice for 4 dollars. The food is good but unfortunately they serve the soup and the main dish at the same time so you have to hurry up a bit when you want to enjoy a warm dish.
The freshest fish you can probably find on Santa Cruz is here. Follow the Avenida Charles Darwin into the northeastern direction and you will easily find the fish market on the right handside. This is the spot where all fishermen land when they come back from their fishing tour and are welcomed by lazy and hungry sea lions and pelicans. In the evening at around 6pm tables and chairs are set up and your fish will prepared in front of you. It is a special atmosphere and fish lovers should definitely try this place.
One animal you have in mind when thinking about the Galapagos Islands, are the famous giant tortoises. A lot of travellers who we met before, were crazy about these interesting creatures so that we became very curious. When we arrived on the property of Las Primicias with our bikes, we were already welcomed by the first tortoises that were sitting on the side of the road. At home you see dogs and cats running around... on the Galapagos Islands there are turtles. The visit of the farm was an outstanding experience for us. We could have observed the tortoises forever... it was a real pleasure!
We hoped you like our tips about 'Galapagos: Isla Santa Cruz on a budget' and that they will help you to plan a trip to these beautiful islands. Don't forget to check out the other Galapagos blog posts for:
Safe travels and thanks for reading
BoB, Liane and Lars