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Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos: A DIY Itinerary

Are you looking to finally plan that bucket list trip to the Galapagos Islands? It is an incredible destination that most every traveler wants to see! There are, unfortunately, a few things that may be standing in your way. For one, cost, as it can be quite expensive to get there and travel around the islands. Second, there tends to be a rumor going around that you must visit on a group tour or cruise, which are very costly. Third, there isn’t a whole lot of information available online if you want to try to plan your own trip. This is why I have created my own DIY Itinerary for Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos. It is full of information, to help you plan your own, cost effective trip!

So why Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos, rather than the 4 other inhabited islands? Firstly, it’s the most populated. It has the largest town, and therefore, the most to do! Puerto Ayora has many, fabulous restaurants and bars that serve great food. Most of these places have a daily happy hours with live music. There are also plenty of shops for souvenirs! Second, it has the most to do on your own without a tour group – which is ideal for a DIY itinerary! Lastly, there are many tour operators working out of Puerto Ayora. Therefore, there are many options for day trips as well. The other islands are wonderful, though for a DIY trip, Santa Cruz Island is the perfect choice!

6 Days, 5 Nights on Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

santa cruz island galapagos

Day 1: Arrival on Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

PM Itinerary

Arrive on Baltra Island via either Guayaquil or Quito. Baltra Island is where the airport is located for Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos. After you deplane, follow a path into the airport, where you will wait to have your transit control card {purchased before departure at Quito or Guayaquil} and passport checked, and pay your $100 USD entry fee. Next put your carry-on baggage through an additional security check to ensure you aren’t carrying restricted items into the islands. Collect your checked baggage, then head outside.

Here, look for a line of buses and purchase a ticket for $5 USD at the nearby ticket station. Place your luggage under the bus, then board the bus for a short ride to Itabaca Channel. Upon arrival, your baggage will be boarded onto a ferry barge, which costs $1 USD to get over to Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos. After this very short trip, arrive at the port and have your luggage unloaded on your behalf.

santa cruz island galapagos
santa cruz island galapagos

After you get off the ferry, flag down one of the many taxis waiting, and enjoy the comfortable, 45-minute drive into town. Take the time to check into your accommodation for the next four-nights. I recommend picking out an AirBnB, as it’s a great cost effective way to stay in the middle of all the action! I stayed with a wonderful couple, who are verified Superhosts. They have four properties right in Puerto Ayora and I recommend checking them out when planning your vacation.

After checking in with your AirBnB host, walk around and explore Puerto Ayora! Make your way over to the docks and enjoy the various wildlife you will see both in and out of the water. When hunger strikes, grab some dinner at a restaurant nearby. One of my favorite places for dinner in Puerto Ayora is The Rock, a fabulous Asian Fusion restaurant near the water with great food and cocktails.

santa cruz island galapagos
galapagos islands travel

Day 2: Exploring Puerto Ayora

AM Itinerary

Wake up at a reasonable time and have breakfast at a restaurant in town. I enjoyed breakfast at Plaza El Jardin Galapagos during my stay. When finished, head on over to the Charles Darwin Station, though first check out the Fishing Piers on the way! The Charles Darwin Research Station lies on a protected area of Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos so there are plenty of naturalist guides around. You are free to walk around the center to learn about Darwin, his research, and the island’s wildlife. You may also spend some time at one of the two beaches in the area. However, if you want to tour Fausto Llerena Breeding Center, where efforts are being made to protect the Galapagos Giant Tortoise, you must be accompanied by a guide, which costs $10 USD.

Galapagos Islands Travel
santa cruz island galapagos

PM Itinerary

Spend the rest of your day at Tortuga Bay, though be sure to grab some lunch in town before you head out! The Galapagos Deli is a quick option where can even order sandwiches to go. If you are up to more walking, you can walk over to Tortuga Bay. Just beware, it’s 2.5 km one way from the entrance, which is another 2 km from the Charles Darwin Center. An easier option is via boat, which you can take from the Puerto Ayora docks for $10 USD.

At Tortuga Bay, you will be greeted by gorgeous white sands and crystal blue waters. You will also see plenty of wildlife. I saw Marine Iguanas, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, Brown Pelicans, Great Blue Herons, and Sea Lions. If you want to swim, you have to walk over to the Laguna, where may also kayak and snorkel {rentals are available} with sea turtles and sharks! 

santa cruz island galapagos
santa cruz island galapagos

The beach closes at 4:30 PM, so when you are done, head back to the AirBnB to change for dinner. One of the best local places I came across was Laguna Beach. They serve traditional Ecuadorian food and have great drink options as well.

Day 3: Snorkeling Tour to Pinzon Island

All Day Itinerary

Today, take the tour of your life! Get out the pen and be ready to cross some things off that bucket list! Before you begin, be sure to grab some coffee and something small to eat. Not much will be open prior to 8 am, but 1835 Coffee Lab has great French press and cold brew coffee as well as several pastries, breads, and toast options. If you get seasick, now would also be the time to take Dramamine. After you’ve eaten, walk over to the office of Guiding Galapagos Expeditions. Here you will be fitted for snorkeling gear and a wetsuit. After which, you will be walked down to the pier in order to board the yacht.  

Begin your tour to Pinzon Island and Penguin Bay by boarding the yacht and meeting your naturalist/snorkeling guide. Take an hour and a half boat ride over to Pinzon Island. Here, the boat will anchor while you suit up and dive into the water. For approximately 90 minutes, follow your guide while snorkeling around the island. Expect to see sea turtles, sea lions, marine iguanas, white-tipped reef sharks, sea snakes/eels, manta rays, octopi, coral, and so many different types of tropical fish. When you return to the yacht, you will be served warm tea while fresh seafood is provided for lunch.

santa cruz island galapagos
Galapagos Islands Travel

After lunch, the yacht will sail to Penguin Bay. Take another thirty or forty minutes to snorkel and see more sea turtles and fish. Unfortunately, there won’t be actual penguins here. Return to the yacht and drink some delicious, homemade, hot cocoa. If there’s time and the conditions are ideal, you can try out fishing. If the group catches anything you’ll also have some fresh sashimi before disembarking.  

Return to your accommodation to shower and change around 4pm. When you are ready for dinner, try some authentic pizza at Pizza Italia! Donuts Home Made is an awesome place to grab dessert before heading back to the AirBnB as well.  

Day 4: Las Grietas

AM Itinerary

Use the morning of day 4 to relax and catch up on some rest. When you are ready to eat, walk over to TJ Restaurante in town for brunch. They serve breakfast and coffee until late, so no worries if you decide to sleep the first part of the day away!

PM Itinerary

This afternoon, head over to the other part of south Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos, only reachable by water taxi! Board one of these taxi’s at the Puerto Ayora pier and take the 5 minute ride for $1 USD per person. Depart the boat, and follow the marked path to Playa Los Alemanes. Spend some time at the beach, either laying out in the sun or swimming in the water. 

When you are done with the beach, follow the signs to Las Grietas. You will be greeted by a naturalist tour guide who will, for $10 USD, take you on a tour of the area. Here see (and taste) the salt that is mined for use across Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos. Then walk along several trails to observe Frigate Birds, Herons, Cacti, and many other native species. Lastly, take the opportunity to swim or snorkel through the main attraction, Las Grietas, or “the cracks” between the rocks.

santa cruz island galapagos
santa cruz island galapagos

Before you head back to town, grab some dinner at Isla Grill. The restaurant is situated right on the water, over looking the water taxi docks that will take you back to Puerto Ayora. Enjoy a platter of fresh seafood and delicious cocktails made with South American liquor while the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean. When you are ready, take a water taxi back to Puerto Ayora and pack your bags in preparation for check out tomorrow. 

Day 5: The Highlands of Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

AM Itinerary

Today is your last morning in Puerto Ayora. Make sure your bags are fully packed and ready to go before hunting down something for breakfast. If you’re in a rush to check-out, return to the Galapagos Deli or grab coffee to-go at Laguna Beach. After breakfast, check-out of your AirBnB and flag down a taxi to take you to the highlands. No worries about arranging a taxi in advance, they are everywhere, and if you have a suitcase, they will likely offer a ride before you have a chance to ask. Ask to be taken to the Royal Palm Galapagos, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton*. The ride should cost between $15 and $20 USD. 

PM Itinerary

Check-in to your gorgeous Highland King Villa at the Royal Palm and settle in to the suite. Walk over to the restaurant on-site and enjoy a filling lunch before your first tour of the day. I found the sandwiches and pasta dishes to be particularly delicious! 

santa cruz island galapagos

Meet in the hotel lobby at the designated time for your tour of Rancho Primicias and the Lava Tunnels. Your guide and driver will bring you to the Ranch, where you can visit with and learn all about the Giant Galapagos Tortoise. You can also explore one of the many Lava Tunnels that formed underneath Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos many years ago.

galapagos islands travel
santa cruz island galapagos

Upon your return, quickly change your clothes and meet in the lobby again for your ride to the Santa Cruz Brewery Production Plant. Take a tour with Pablo from Ecuador to learn exactly how Santa Cruz Island beer is made from start to finish. As part of the tour, you can also taste a number of samples, then enjoy a pint served on tap.

After your tour, have the driver take you back into Puerto Ayora so you may enjoy both dinner and more beer at the Santa Cruz Brewery Restaurant. This entire experience is truly five stars! Before you take a taxi back to the hotel, grab some homemade ice cream at the Gelato Bar and enjoy.

santa cruz island galapagos

Note that both of the tours mentioned above, as well as your transportation to the airport tomorrow, can be arranged in advance by the hotel before arrival. Contact the Royal Palm via email and make your request. For both tours and the airport transfer, expect to pay approximately $200 USD per person. 

Spend the rest of your evening relaxing in your gorgeous suite. I especially recommend ordering a bottle of wine from room service, soaking in the jacuzzi, then, if it’s chilly enough, relaxing by the fire in the fireplace {the staff can light one for you}. 

Day 6: Departing Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

AM Itinerary

Wake up and pack your bags. Unfortunately, today is your final day on Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos. Grab breakfast at The Royal Palm Restaurant. When you are done, head to the lobby to check-out and take the pre-arranged airport transfer to the Itabaca Channel. You will return to the airport the same way you came, via the ferry and bus. Say goodbye, but make sure to bring back all your amazing photos and memories to share with family and friends.

I hope you enjoyed my DIY itinerary for Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos! If you are interested in a packing list for the island, please see my previous post. Stay tuned for more content here on the blog and on my social media accounts! I can also help plan your trip, so if you’re interested in booking this trip or something similar, feel free to contact me!

*Please note that I engaged in a paid collaboration with the Royal Palm Galapagos, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton while staying on Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos. However, the contracted collaboration only included videography and photography content to be posted on my Instagram and TikTok pages. My choice to include the hotel in this blog was not part of the collaboration obligation and was a decision made of my own volition. 

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santa cruz island galapagos
santa cruz island galapagos

Owner and creator of Travels with Kayy. Travel blogger and adventure enthusiast, creating content to inspire and help fellow travelers plan amazing itineraries and explore all the corners of the earth!

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