It was just my second day on my Galapagos Island tour when I went to Las Grietas, and though I think it is sometimes underrated in travel guides, it was one of my favorite places from my trip. Before I headed out for this self-guided mini-tour, I already could not believe how many amazing things I had seen here on Santa Cruz Island just moving around the town. Sea lions laze around on docks and sidewalks, pelicans hang near the fishermen begging for scraps, jet-black marine iguanas sun bathe all along the paths near the water. It was honestly very surreal.
The guides gave the tourists recommendations about different tours and unique experiences that can be taken, including a land tour, a hopping tour, and a land tour only on Santa Cruz Island. Here you can learn more about these tours:
We woke up early as we had a big day planned. My partner and I had a free morning so I decided to use this morning to visit Las Grietas Galapagos, and though I didn’t know exactly what to expect, I was excited. At breakfast I did a quick search on the internet and it seemed like all we needed was swimming gear (best if already below our clothes), a towel, our snorkel gear (which we had already rented from our hotel), sunscreen, decent walking shoes, and a change of clothes if we wanted it, though we could just walk the short distance back and change at the hotel later. It seemed like it was quite close and that we would definitely be back by lunch time. After a delicious breakfast of tigrillo and warm coffee, we headed down to the main docks of Puerto Ayora, where we had to catch a $2 “taxi boat” just to the other side of the harbor where we could then start the walk to Las Grietas.
We then set off walking along a nice stone path between nice hotels and lodges that make up this more isolated side of Puerto Ayora. Among volcanic rock and incredible Giant Galapagos Cacti, you almost forget for a small moment that you are right next to the ocean, until you turn the next corner and are greeted once again by the incredible turquoise waters that surround Santa Cruz Island. There are clear signs to guide you on your way, so there is no worry about getting lost.
We walked along a boardwalk that hugs the beach known as Playa de Los Alemanes. While walking slowly and enjoying the view I was delighted to see two small stingrays swimming in the crystal clear water right next to the shore. The way they seem to fly through the water is something I will never forget. The incredible thing about this island is the amount of ocean life you can see before you even start snorkeling!
I remembered from what I had read that morning that this little bay is also called Finch Bay, and the neighborhood is usually referred to as Punta Estrada. There is a lot going on in one spot, but since it is such a serene and beautiful beach, it was easy to see why. It would be another nice place to come back to for a free morning.
After a bit more walking we saw a fence and a sign letting us know that we had reached Las Grietas. A guide was set up to explain that there was an entrance fee of $10 for the tour to las Grietas. This tour would include multiple interest points and snorkeling for a total of one and a half hours.
Once a small group had accumulated we headed off with the enthusiastic guide. They told us to keep an eye out for lava lizards, finches, and Galapagos Magpies. I couldn’t believe that we were lucky enough to see them all before we reached Las Grietas.
The first site, just around the corner from the guide point, was the pink salt flats of Santa Cruz. This is a flat area with very shallow pools of water and extremely pink ground! We learned that the salt precipitates here and is actually mined for culinary uses - maybe we would be able to try some at a local restaurant! It was delightful and strange to see such a bright pink color in the ground! The rest of the path had multiple little lagoons, buzzing with life. Little finches flew from tree to tree, and we even saw a black necked stilt in one of the ponds, searching for little water bugs to eat.
After walking some more along the path, looking for lizards and birds the whole time, our guide let us know that we were arriving at the famous Las Grietas Galapagos. We arrived at a set of wooden stairs that led into an impressive canyon of dark rock filled with water below. It was breathtaking! We had it explained to us that Las Grietas Galapagos consisted of these small water-filled canyons, “las grietas” means “the canyons”. This canyon was the largest. There were apparently two other water-filled canyons further down and accessible by other paths, but since this was the best to snorkel in and we would have more time if we stayed, we decided to swim here. This was a great choice!
When you reach the bottom of the stairs, there is a very aesthetic long dock reaching out over the water that was perfect for some postcard-perfect photos. Walking to the end and looking down you can see that the water is very deep and very clear. Immediately I could see huge fish swimming lazily along in the water.
We were told that we now had time to snorkel and everyone decided to go for a swim. Some of the group used the big dock to run and jump into the water, while others used the little stone steps to go down into the water. I grabbed my gear and jumped into the water, cool but not cold, and really relaxing. The sun doesn’t really reach the water because of the high cliffs on either side, but I enjoyed the cool water and calm atmosphere.
The great thing you quickly learn about Las Grietas Galapagos is that the concentrated salt water makes it extremely easy to float in; so it is easy to coast along with your snorkel, enjoying the big fish below, or floating and gazing at the sky above. The sky was impossibly blue, but we did not have to worry about burning because we remained in the shade.
I spent most of my time with my goggles on looking down into the water. The colorful parrot fish were probably half the length of me, incredible. Towards the end of the Las Grietas it is a bit shallower and rocky, so if you float still enough some of the fish will pass impossibly close. Though I could not remember the name, there were these long black and gray fish with very large eyes that always swam in little groups of three or four, and they came so close to me once that I could have touched them.
We spent maybe 45 minutes snorkeling, floating, and splashing around in this quiet secluded place. It felt like it was only us in the world. Us and the big fish of course. Some people clambered a little ways up the side of the rock to jump back in, and others tried to dive down, which was quite hard considering the high concentration of salt. I enjoyed the show, but felt too at peace floating on the water to try myself.
After our time was up we dried off, put on our shoes, and headed back to Puerto Ayora. The sun was quite warm now that it was later in the day and I was glad I had brought my big sun hat. With this grand little tour now over, I looked forward to trying to find a lunch with pink sea salt! My word of advice is that if you are in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, do not miss the Las Grietas tour. Here is a quick summary of the major things to know before you go!
The tour is not very long but you do have to walk there make sure you have:
Low. The time to walk to Las Grietas is around 15-20 minutes and does not have a lot of ups or downs, except for the stairs at the end.
You may see information that Las Grietas is free but this is no longer true since the pandemic. This is now a guided tour with a $10 USD fee.
Kirstynn Joseph is a biologist, science communicator, and freelance writer who loves a good adventure, especially if it makes for a great story. She is from Canada and has lived in Ecuador for 5 years. She loves being outside and travels as much as she can, especially to places with great hikes and interesting wildlife. You can follow her adventures on Instagram!