Tortuga Bay (Santa Cruz Island)#1 in Best Things To Do in Galapagos Islands
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Outdoorsy types don't flock to these two white sand beaches simply to bake in the warm equatorial sun. Travelers visit this isolated strip of Santa Cruz Island's southern coastline for some quality face time with the Galápagos' marine turtles. If you visit between January and February, you may even catch sight of the black turtles laying their eggs (hatchlings emerge and make their way to the sea between April and May). Even if you're not a turtle-lover, you can still get up close and personal with the other beach combers like marine iguanas and Sally Lightfoot crabs.
While most recent travelers describe their visits to Tortuga Bay as a highlight of their trips, some do caution that it can feel like quite a trek to get there from Puerto Ayora, especially in the hot sun. Also, remember that the beach closest to the bay's entrance (Playa Brava) has strong currents, so it's not suitable for swimming. If you want to swim, continue walking to the bay's other beach (Playa Mansa).
The easiest way to reach Tortuga Bay from Puerto Ayora is to walk, bike or take a water taxi. If you decide to walk, a trail that starts at the western end of Charles Binford Street will take you to the bay's entrance. The area welcomes visitors every day between 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. At the bay's entrance, you'll find a conservation center, a ranger station (where the property's only restrooms and snack shop reside), a parking lot and bike racks. At Playa Mansa, kayak rentals are also offered. The beaches are free to visit, but you'll need to sign in at the ranger station before entering. To learn more about Tortuga Bay, check out Ecuador Travel's website.
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#2 Rancho Primicias (Santa Cruz Island)
One of the Galápagos Islands' most well-known creatures is the giant tortoise, and one of the region's best places to see them is at Rancho Primicias. Located on Santa Cruz Island roughly 13 miles away from Puerto Ayora, this privately-owned animal sanctuary is filled with giant tortoises. The site also features empty tortoise shells to climb into and tunnels made of cooled, hardened lava to walk through, plus facilities like a restaurant and restrooms.
Though you'll find the island's more popular El Chato Tortoise Reserve situated next door, past travelers were glad they chose to visit Rancho Primicias, citing its less crowded atmosphere and ample photo ops as highlights. Just remember to keep your distance from the tortoises; feeding and touching the animals is not permitted. Many previous visitors also enjoyed trekking through the ranch's lava tunnels, which are free to explore.
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