This post is part 3 of 20 in the series Galapagos Islands Travel Guide

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.

landing Dragon Hill Santa Cruz

Travelers making the dry landing at Cerro Dragon in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.

Bahia Ballena

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.

Bahia Ballena Santa Cruz Galapagos

A zodiac carries passengers from a larger multi-day cruise boat to Bahia Ballena on Santa Cruz Island.

sea lion bahia ballena

A Galapagos sea lion hauls itself out at Bahia Ballena on Santa Cruz Island.

blue footed booby whale bay galapagos

A blue-footed booby takes a break from fishing on a rocky outcrop on the shoreline around Bahia Ballena.

marine iguana bahia ballena

A marine iguana warms up in the sun before diving back into the waters of Bahia Ballena in search of food.

Striated heron galapagos

A striated heron concentrates on fishing while Sally Lightfoot crabs hang out behind it.

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, whitetip 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.

mangrove Black Turtle Cove Santa Cruz

Approaching mangrove-lined Black Turtle Cove on Santa Cruz Island.

Black Turtle Cove Santa Cruz Galapagos

A sea turtle comes up for air near our zodiac in Black Turtle Cove.

Lava heron Black Turtle Cove Galapagos

A lava heron on the hunt.

White tipped reef shark Galapagos

Whitetip reef sharks patrol the shallow water in Black Turtle Cove.

Whimbrel Galapagos Islands

A whimbrel hunts in the lava crevices along Black Turtle Cove.

spotted eagle ray Black Turtle Cove galapagos

A spotted eagle ray sparkling in the sun in Black Turtle Cove.

Cerro Dragon

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.

beach Dragon Hill Santa Cruz galapagos

Galapagos travelers exploring the beach at Cerro Dragon on Santa Cruz Island.

galapagos land iguana opuntia cactus flower

A land iguana and one of its favorite foods at Cerro Dragon.

beach Dragon Hill Santa Cruz hike

Heading out on the trail to a saltwater lagoon at Cerro Dragon.

marine iguana Dragon Hill Santa Cruz

A marine iguana at Cerro Dragon.

sea turtle galapagos beach

As we returned to our zodiac after exploring Cerro Dragon, we silently watched this female sea turtle haul herself onto the beach in search of a place to dig a hole and lay her eggs.

dragon hill galapagos snorkel

Clear water and plenty of life made snorkeling near Cerro Dragon a treat.

Bachas Beach

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.

Bachas Beach santa cruz baltra island

Brown pelicans at Bachas Beach. Notice Seymour Airport on Baltra Island in the distance.

Sally Lightfoot crab galapagos

A Sally Lightfoot crab searches tide pools for tidbits.

galapagos greater flamingo

A greater flamingo in brackish water at Bachas Beach.

marine iguana Bachas Beach santa cruz

A marine iguana warms up on the white sand and coral beach at Bachas Beach.

galapagos pelican

Life everywhere you look: a brown pelican shares a spot with Sally Lightfoot crabs and a marine iguana.

american oystercatcher galapagos

An American oystercatcher.

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

Use our Galapagos Islands Travel Guide index post to quickly navigate through the entire series, or choose specific posts below.


Here’s more about travel in Ecuador

Here’s more about Island Travel

Here’s more about Galapagos Travel

Here’s more about Adventure Travel


Series Navigation:<< Highlights of North Seymour, South Plaza, & Daphne Islands – Galapagos Islands, EcuadorSanta Cruz Island Travel Guide – Galapagos Islands, Ecuador >>

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