I had a lot of challenges figuring out how to do a DIY land based tour of the Galapagos. The hardest part - figuring out where even to start. Since there are two airports in the Galapagos, I knew that my mom & I would want to stay somewhere that was accessible from either of the airports. This narrowed down my search to San Cristobal and Santa Cruz Islands. To pick which Island to stay on I considered available excursions, flight times from Quito, and availability at hotels. Ultimately Santa Cruz Island fit our needs and tight schedule the best. Now that I’ve down all of the heavy lifting here is all of the information that you need to start planning your Galapagos Adventure.
Where to Stay in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz Island is home to the most populous town in the Galapagos, Puerto Ayora. Puerto Ayora has many great hotel and restaurant options. We stayed at Angermeyer Waterfront Inn in Puerto Ayora and loved the Key West meets Greece vibes of the hotel. The hotel is accessible only by water taxi, and if you’re lucky, you may spot sea turtles on your short commute to and from downtown Puerto Ayora.
Where to Eat in Santa Cruz
There are some great restaurant options in Puerto Ayora. Here are my top recommendations.
If you are looking for a delicious and affordable meal, look no further than Los Kioskos.
ANKER mar to table
My favorite meal in the Galapagos was at Anker. This upscale restaurant offers a modern take on classic Ecuadorian dishes. We opted to do the A La Carte menu, and their Ceviche was one of the best I had in Ecuador.
What to Do & See on Santa Cruz Island
There are many easy excursions on Santa Cruz Island making it a great spot to get exposed to a lot of wildlife in a short period.
Tortuga Bay is walking distance from downtown Puerto Ayora and is home to marine iguanas, giant tortoises, reef sharks, crabs, and lots of colorful fish. No guide or paid tour is necessary to see some of the fantastic wildlife that calls the Galapagos home.
Charles Darwin Research Station
Spot giant tortoises and brush up on history at the Charles Darwin Research Station. This iconic spot is accessible by cab - you can pay a cab driver in Puerto Ayora $10-20 to drop you off an pick you up from here.
Day Trips from Santa Cruz Island
Before I dive right into it depending on the time of year that you visit the Galapagos (I went late September/Early October) you can get incredible deals on excursions. Avoid the temptation to book online and go in person to schedule your tour in Puerto Ayora. Nearly every tour operator I saw offered 50% off + because there was ample space on the tours. Another piece of advice would be to do your research on which operator you use. I recommend checking Trip Advisor reviews and consulting your hotel in advance on which operators are good.
We took a day trip to Bartolomé Island through Galapagos A La Carte. The tour was great - our boat was not very crowded, the guides were knowledgeable, and we saw some incredible wildlife. During our trip we hiked to a lookout point, snorkeled, and saw Galapagos Penguins. The seas got rough on our return back to Santa Cruz, so I recommend bringing meds for seasickness just in case. Many tour operators
Floreana is an Island that I was sad to miss, but unfortunately, no tours were departing from Puerto Ayora that fit into our schedule. Floreana is known as one of the more beautiful Islands and is revered for its great snorkeling and diving. Floreana is an excellent Island to visit if you are looking to see flamingos and sea turtles.
Many tour operators offer Isabela as a day trip, but the Island is easily accessible by public ferry. Isabela is the largest of the Galapagos Islands and like Santa Cruz is populated. I recommend staying on Isabela and spending a couple of days exploring the Islands. On Isabela, you can see flamingos, land iguana, giant tortoises, penguins, boobies, and much more. The Island is known to have some fantastic diving and snorkeling spots as well.
Getting to the Galapagos
The logistics of actually getting to the Galapagos can be tricky. Be careful to make sure you book the right airfare (some rates are only for Ecuadorian citizens) and understand the entrance fees you’ll have to pay when you arrive in the Galapagos.