There's plenty to see and do here. By far the most popular and convenient way to visit the various attractions and partake in the different active adventures listed below is by signing up for a tour. A host of tour agencies are located along Avenida Charles Darwin, and most local hotels can arrange any tour on Santa Cruz, on surrounding islands, and on the water, including every tour and activity listed below.
Kids enjoy the small playground, basketball court, and skateboard half-pipe in the small public park fronting the harbor, just off the main docks on Avenida Charles Darwin.
Of the local tour agencies, I like Moonrise Travel Agency (tel. 05/2526-589; www.galapagosmoonrise.com), on Avenida Charles Darwin near the corner of Charles Binford. An excellent local tour outfit and source of information, Moonrise has staff who are friendly and can help arrange a last-minute cruise of the Galápagos, independent tours around the islands, and any of the local tours listed below.
Take note: When there are no cruise passengers in town, many of the shops close down, or operate on very reduced hours.
Charles Darwin Research Station -- This is the primary tourist attraction on Santa Cruz, and a major player in the protection and propagation of the very endangered Galápagos tortoise. The main attraction here is an interpretive walk through the grounds of the active breeding center. The guided tour takes you through the life cycle and natural history of these massive land reptiles. You'll see juveniles as well as representatives of the 11 Galápagos tortoise subspecies. This is a great place to actually note the difference in shell shapes of the various subspecies. As you walk the trails you'll find various corrals holding the tortoises; with a guide's supervision, you can enter some of these for a close encounter with the denizens.
The Charles Darwin Research Station (tel. 05/2526-146; www.darwinfoundation.org) is located at the end of Avenida Charles Darwin, about a 10- to 15-minute walk from the main dock in Puerto Ayora. It is open daily from 7am until 6pm. There is no entrance fee, and bilingual guides are provided. To offset the free admission, however, I recommend that you make a small donation to the Charles Darwin Foundation.
Cerro Chato Tortoise Reserve -- After you've learned about the giant tortoise and seen a few captive specimens at the Charles Darwin Research Station, you might want to head out to see these fascinating reptiles in their natural environment. This reserve, located southwest of the small inland town of Santa Rosa, is best visited as part of a guided tour. Most of these tours also stop at the bulk of the other attractions listed in this section. Some include horseback riding or mountain biking.
Cerro Crocker, Media Luna & Puntado -- These three volcanic peaks are the highest spots on the island, and are more or less clustered together near the center of the island. Although it's only 864m (2,865 ft.) high, it's still a vigorous hike to the top of Media Luna (Half Moon), the tallest of the three. The rewards include excellent bird-watching on the way, as well as a wonderful panoramic view from the top.
Cerro Dragón -- Cerro Dragón (Dragon Hill), on the north side of Santa Cruz, was established as a breeding and protection area for the endangered and unique Galápagos land iguana. There's a great loop trail here that offers excellent opportunities to see the land iguanas as well as many bird species, including the Darwin finch. If you're lucky, you may see flamingos in the large, brackish mangrove lagoon. Cerro Dragón is only accessible by sea, and you'll definitely need to sign up for a boat tour to visit here.
Los Gemelos (The Twins) -- The Twins are two impressively large craters that straddle the main road almost halfway between Puerto Ayora and the Itabaca Canal. This popular destination sits at a high point on the island in an area of dense cloud forest. There are easily accessible lookouts for both craters just off the highway, and a couple of nearby trails through the forests offer excellent bird-watching. If you're lucky, you'll catch a glimpse of the brightly colored vermilion flycatcher.
Playa de los Alemanes & Las Grietas -- Playa de los Alemanes (German Beach), a beautiful white-sand beach, is good for sunbathing and swimming. A 15- to 20-minute hike from Playa de los Alemanes will bring you to Las Grietas (The Grottos), where a couple of steep, narrow canyons contain calm pools filled with a mix of fresh and salt water. Las Grietas is an excellent place for a refreshing dip. More adventurous types can jump off the surrounding rocks into the deep pools. To get here, take a water taxi at the main dock in Puerto Ayora and ask the driver to drop you at the trail head to Playa de los Alemanes. It's only about a 5-minute hike from there to the beach.
Tortuga Bay -- Located just west of Puerto Ayora, Bahía Tortuga (Tortuga Bay) is one of the best and most beautiful beaches in the Galápagos. The first beach you come to is a long stretch of white sand. Be careful here: The waves and undertow are often very strong, and several drownings have occurred. If you really want to swim, head over to the far western end of the beach, where there is a calmer, protected area. Tortuga Bay is just 2.5km (1 1/2 miles) outside of Puerto Ayora, and is reached via a well-marked and paved path. Ask anyone in town to point you to the trail head, from which a gentle hike should take you less than an hour each way.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.