Visitors to these remote areas of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador can tour mangroves that harbor baby sharks, look for flamingos in a brackish lagoon, and even see nesting sea turtles. Here’s what to expect during these 4 top boat trips on Santa Cruz Island including Bahia Ballena, Black Turtle Cove, Cerro Dragon, and Bachas Beach.
Bahia Ballena (Whale Bay in English) can be reached during a day trip from Puerto Ayora or as part of your itinerary during multi-day boat-based cruises. We visited Bahia Ballena during our cruise on the M/Y Grace with Quasar Expeditions. This place was the site of the oldest whaling camp on Santa Cruz island and features an arced beach covered in naturally green sand.
We visited in: March
Activities: boat tour of the bay and some tours also include a wet landing and hiking
Animal highlights: We saw blue-footed boobies, striated herons, Galapagos sea lions, Sally Lightfoot crabs, marine iguanas, and brown pelicans. Galapagos hawks can also be seen here, but we did not see one.
Here are photos from our visit to Bahia Ballena in the Galapagos.
Black Turtle Cove
This shallow cove is lined with mangroves which provide a vital safe haven for babies of many, many species including reef sharks and Galapagos sharks. Think of it as a nursery for marine life. Black Turtle Cove can be reached during a day trip from Puerto Ayora or as part of your itinerary during multi-day boat-based cruises. We toured Black Turtle Cove in a zodiac as part of the itinerary during our trip on the M/V Eric with Ecoventura. It was one of the most peaceful outings in the Galapagos. Your boat will motor slowly as the pilot navigates carefully past the mangroves and your guide points out wildlife in the shallow water around you.
We visited in: December
Activities: boat tour
Animal highlights: We saw lava herons, black turtles, spotted eagle rays, white tipped reef sharks, striated herons, Sally Lightfoot crabs, a hawksbill turtle, and a whimbrel.
Here are photos from our visit to Black Turtle Cove in the Galapagos.
Cerro Dragon (Dragon Hill in English), which we also visited during our trip on the M/V Eric with Ecoventura, gets its name from its large population of dragon-like land iguanas, but this species was threatened by invasive species like dogs, rats, and goats. This inspired a joint effort between the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park to control non-endemic species and better protect the land iguanas. The pleasant hike here takes visitors along a beach then past palo santo trees and cactus (the land iguanas love to eat cactus flowers) on the way to a saltwater lagoon.
We visited in: December
Activities: dry landing and hiking a 1 mile (1.6 km) trail across the beach to the lagoon and snorkeling in a bay
Animal highlights: We saw about a dozen land iguanas, marine iguanas, and a nesting sea turtle, and during certain times of the year greater flamingos can be seen in the lagoon. While snorkeling we saw…well you can see it too in our video at the end of this post.
Here are photos from our visit to Cerro Dragon in the Galapagos.
In the 1940s, parts of the Galapagos Islands were used by the US military. At the end of World War II, American soldiers left two barges at this beach. The name “Bachas” allegedly comes from the way the word “barges” was pronounced in Spanish. The highlight here is exploring 0.5 mile (1 km) long white sand beach which we visited during a guided excursion while we were staying at Pikaia Lodge.
We visited in: May
Activities: wet landing and beach walk — some tours may also include snorkeling
Animal highlights: We saw marine iguanas, oystercatchers, brown pelicans, and three greater flamingos. Sea turtles nest here seasonally.
Here are photos from our visit to Bachas Beach in the Galapagos.
See blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, Sally Lightfoot crabs, a nesting sea turtle, and underwater snorkeling splendor in our Galapagos travel video, below.
More Galapagos travel tips
Part 1 in our Galapagos Islands Travel Guide series gives you the facts you need to plan your trip to the Galapagos Islands. Part 2 is our Santa Cruz Island Travel Guide including what to do and where to sleep on this tourist hub island. Part 4 tells you about exploring islands around Santa Cruz Island. Part 5 is our San Cristóbal Island travel guide. Part 6 covers what to expect during boat trips to Cerro Brujo, Punta Pitt, and Kicker Rock around San Cristóbal. Part 7 reveals highlights of visiting Santa Fe Island.
Here’s more about travel in Ecuador
Here’s more about Island Travel
Here’s more about Galapagos Travel