How to Travel the Galápagos Without a Cruise

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We just spent four wonderful nights in the Galápagos Islands without leaving the main hub of Puerto Ayora. 🌴 It took us a while to plan a trip here because we mistakenly thought you needed to take a cruise or guided tour to enjoy the islands. But that’s not the case—we had a blast exploring everything Santa Cruz Island had to offer.

We stayed at a beautiful waterfront property that was just a 5-minute water taxi ride from Puerto Ayora. The water taxis run 24/7 and cost about $1 per person each way, so it’s really easy to get in and out of town. Our place was pretty pricey, but there are other affordable options in town.

It was fun wandering the town and checking out the Santa Cruz Fish Market.

Be sure to have dinner at Los Kioskos. These are food stands where you can pick out your fish and someone will cook it up for you. We had tuna, scorpion fish and shrimp. It was beyond delicious! This was a top-notch meal and reminded me of my time in Southeast Asia.

You can also take a short walk from town to the Laguna de la Ninfas and wander around the tranquil water and mangroves.

If you’re up for a hike, check out Tortuga Bay. The beach is stunning and you’ll get to see lots of iguanas.

Keep in mind that it’s a 40-minute hike to Tortuga Bay from Puerto Ayora—and the sun is intense! Bring several bottles of water and sunscreen and wear a hat.

The water is pretty rough at the first beach, but if you walk to the next beach, Playa Mansa, you’ll find a great spot for a leisurely swim. The water was calm and warm and inviting. We brought our snorkel gear, but the visibility wasn’t very good. Still, it was really fun excursion and a relaxing swim.

The next day we hiked to Las Grietas. This was the highlight of our stay on Santa Cruz. You can take a water taxi to the dock by the Angermeyer Waterfront Inn, which is where we stayed. It’s about a 20-minute walk from there. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes because the path is very rocky—but it’s a really pleasant hike.

Grieta means cracks or crevasse, and you can swim through the cold brackish water in this crevasse between two cliffs. We got there at about 10 am, and it was really crowded. But we found a spot to leave our belongings. We put on our snorkel gear and jumped in the water.

It was so beautiful. A school of 5 giant fish made there way around the bottom of the crevasse and other smaller fish swam near the surface. At a minimum, bring goggles so you can see the fish and rock formations below the surface. If you don’t like cold water or are not nimble enough to navigate the rocky and somewhat slippery terrain, you can still view the water from the wooden platform.

We loved Las Grietas so much that we went back first thing the next morning for a swim. This time, we set out at 7:30 a.m. and shared the place with only two other swimmers. It was amazing! After our morning hike and swim, we had a leisurely breakfast at our hotel, then we went into town and walked about 30 minutes to to Charles Darwin Research Center where we learned about some of the wildlife in the area and got to see some giant tortoises.

We didn’t go to El Chato Reserve, but that’s supposed to be a great place to see tortoises in nature. You can catch a taxi (white truck) from Puerto Ayora to the reserve, which will take about 30 minutes. You could also add a stop at El Chato on your way to or from Isla Baltra Airport.

These are the highlights of our trip to Santa Cruz Island, but there are many more beaches you can check out. You can also rent bicycles or kayaks and have a really active adventure on the island.

If you want to see more of the Galápagos, you can arrange excursions to other islands from the Santa Cruz dock at Academy Bay. If we had more time, we may have gone to Bartolome or Santa Fe for snorkeling, but we enjoyed taking it easy on our last day and enjoying the beautiful view of the bay.

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