Santa Cruz Island is home to Tortuga Bay, one of the top attractions in the Galapagos Islands. It’s the perfect spot for swimming, snorkeling, and seeing some amazing Galapagos wildlife. In this post, I’ll share 9 things to know before you visit.
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Tortuga Bay, Galapagos: 9 Things to Know
Tortuga Bay can rightly be described as a hidden gem, in fact, its best feature is tucked away so well that many people only go as far as Playa Brava – a beach where swimming is prohibited.
You can visit Tortuga Bay without a guide which is awesome but means it’s best to know all you can before you go. That way you won’t miss out on the full Tortuga Bay experience.
More reading: Buyers Guide to the Best Sun Protection Hats – specifically for travelers to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
In this post you’ll learn about:
- When to visit Tortuga Bay
- How to get there
- Snorkeling at Tortuga Bay
- Kayaking at Tortuga Bay
- What you can see
- What to pack
- Safety tips
- Where Tortuga Bay is located (map included)
- Hotels near Tortuga Bay
Before we get started let’s watch a short video. In this video, you’ll see the calm waters and relaxed atmosphere at Playa Mansa – Tortuga Bay.
Video of Tortuga Bay Galapagos (Playa Mansa):
Now that you’ve seen how pretty it is, let’s talk about what you need to know before you visit.
1. When to Visit Tortuga Bay
Thanks to the year-round warm temperatures and stable climate of the Galapagos islands you can visit Tortuga Bay year-round.
But there are some things you need to know.
- The location is open from 6 am to 6 pm. You need to sign in when you arrive, and out when you leave. At the beginning of the path to the beach, there is a small building where you will sign in. You can buy water and some snacks there as well.
- I would recommend using the washroom before you leave for this little oasis – because there are no washrooms or change rooms at the beach.
- The Galapagos Islands have a subtropical climate and get pretty hot during midday, especially December through May which is the hot season. It would be most comfortable to time your walk to or from Tortuga Bay in the morning or afternoon.
- The water will be a little warmer during the hot season, but the cooler waters during the rainy season (July through October) bring more wildlife and lusher foliage. You’ll see wildlife all year round at Tortuga Bay.
More reading: 4 reasons to visit the Galapagos
2. How to Get to Tortuga Bay Galapagos
You can either walk or take a water taxi from Puerto Ayora to Tortuga Bay.
Walking is the most popular way to get there. You can hire a taxi or walk from town to the trailhead. The trail/path starts with stone steps that take you past a gorge and up to the Park Services station. The stone path continues for around 2.5 km (1.55 mi) and leads to a white sand beach – Playa Brava.
At a relaxed pace, it takes around 30 to 45 minutes to walk, longer if you have young children. It’s a fairly easy walk with only a few hills and a rest stop about halfway through.
Read more about Galapagos Islands animals
It may be best to hire a taxi from Puerto Ayora to drop you off at the path. The taxi will cost around USD$1-2.
Walking the path is an experience in itself. We saw lava lizards and a number of birds including a yellow warbler and a Galapagos mockingbird. Some of the birds were curious and flew from tree to tree following us part of the way. We also enjoyed seeing the cactus and other plants along the way.
The walk would be pretty all year round, but the foliage would be best during the rainy season, July through October.
Once you get to the end of the path you’ll come to Playa Brava. Swimming is prohibited at this beach because of dangerous currents.
You’ll need to walk (to the right) along this beach until you come to a path through the mangroves that takes you to Playa Mansa a protected bay where you can swim and enjoy the shade of the mangroves.
Some people mistake Playa Brava for “Tortuga Bay” and don’t get to experience swimming and snorkeling in this amazing location.
If you don’t want to walk a water taxi can be hired from the pier in Puerto Ayora and will cost roughly $10 USD (per person), each way.
3. Snorkeling at Tortuga Bay
Did you notice the mangroves lining the bay in the video at the beginning of this post? They attract little fish and plant growth that animals like blue-footed boobies, small white-tipped reef sharks, marine iguanas, and sea turtles like to feed on. That makes for some pretty awesome snorkeling.
Don’t forget to bring a waterproof bag for your Galapagos trip. Here are our picks for the best waterproof dry bags.
The water is clear but can get stirred up easily near the shore because of the fine white sand. The weather can also cause some problems with visibility, especially if it has been raining. But once you get out a little deeper the visibility should improve.
The water is usually calm which makes for nice snorkeling. You’ll want to bring your own gear because you can’t rent it once you get out there.
The following video is of snorkeling at Tortuga Bay. You’ll notice how calm and clear the water is.
Snorkeling at Tortuga Bay, Galapagos video:
4. Kayaking at Tortuga Bay
Kayaks are available to rent at Tortuga Bay. But once again you need to walk past Playa Brava to the protected bay, that’s where you’ll find the kayaks.
The paddling is pretty easy because of the calm water. And it’s usually easy to see the wildlife because the water is so clear.
Remember to bring small bills ($5, $10) and/or change to make renting easy.
5. What can you see at Tortuga Bay Galapagos?
There is a lot you can see at Tortuga Bay.
On the walk alone you’ll probably see lizards and birds (finches and mocking birds), interesting cacti, and flowers.
Some of the cacti along the way are said to be over a hundred years old.
On the beach, you’re very likely to see marine iguanas. Blue footed boobies and pelicans are a common sight, as are white-tipped reef sharks and sea turtles.
The white sand beach, cacti, turquoise water, and black volcanic rocks make for beautiful scenery, as do the mangroves. There are also many varieties of endemic plants along the path and beach area.
While swimming is prohibited at Playa Brava, people still surf there, so you may see some surfers.
6. What to Pack for Tortuga Bay
The walk to Tortuga Bay Galapagos may not be all that long, but you could be walking in hot weather, and there are no toilets or shops once you get out there.
So you’ll want to have a few important things on hand.
What to pack for your Tortuga Bay hike:
- Sunblock: A few things to keep in mind. First, on the equator the sun is very strong and you can get a sunburn very quickly. Second, sunblock is expensive in the Galapagos Islands. And there isn’t much selection. You’re going to want to pick some up before your flight. Make sure that it’s a high enough SPF and that it is either waterproof or, at least, water-resistant. Something like this Neutrogena SPF 70, water-resistant sunscreen should do the trick.
- Sunhat: while there are lots of options, we are loving our Outdoor research sun hats. I use the Sombriolet hat on all my longer hikes, including to Tortuga Bay and our last hike up Sierra Negra.
- Beach umbrella (just remember you have to carry it the whole way)
- Sunglasses: This is a pretty standard item for a beach day. Remember that the sun can be pretty intense close to the equator.
- Towels / small beach mat: This is going to make relaxing on the beach much more comfortable.
- Snorkel gear: Depending on your hotel/resort, you might be able to borrow a set from them. If not, it’s a great idea to bring your own. Every time we visit the Galapagos Islands, we bring our own – well we started to after the first trip. On one outing, we were a set short and I missed out on an excursion. Since then, we bring our own. A snorkel set like this one by US Divers is a great choice. Inexpensive and it comes with everything you need – mask, snorkel, fins, and gear bag.
- Sure, there are lots of options for underwater cameras, but you should get a GoPro. How many times do you plan on visiting the Galapagos? GoPro shoots amazing images/footage and it is reliable. Here’s a guide to shooting underwater with a GoPro.
- Compact binoculars. If you love watching for birds and other local wildlife, a pair of binoculars is a must. Not sure which model is best for you? Here’s a guide to deciding on the best compact binoculars for your trip.
- First aid kit: A small first aid kit for scrapes, scratches, and blisters is always a good idea. Something lightweight like this 66pc travel kit is worth looking at.
- Cash: Small bills for renting kayaks or purchasing water/snacks at the check-in station at the beginning of the trail. And for taxi fare.
- Water: You’ll probably want a couple of bottles each. Many of the hotels/resorts provide filtered water. Or you can stop at a convenience store or supermarket and pick some up. Make sure you travel with plenty of water.
- Snacks: You can either pack some from your hotel, or grab some treats when you pick up your water at one of the stores in town.
- Travel Stroller: A small, rugged, travel stroller is great on the trail, but will need to be carried once you come to the beach. You might consider a super light stroller like the Pockit Lightweight Stroller – the world’s smallest folding stroller. Folds to 12x7x14″ and weights less than 10 lbs. Once it folds, you can drop it in a tote bag and head across the beach.
There are no beach chairs or umbrellas at the beach so a towel or mat to sit on and a sun hat could make your visit more comfortable.
7. Safety tips for visiting Tortuga Bay, Galapagos
Tortuga Bay is a pretty safe place. The water is usually calm and the walk is not dangerous.
But with that in mind it’s always good to think – safety first. So here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Wear comfortable walking shoes that won’t chafe and cause blisters.
- Apply sunscreen before you start the walk to Tortuga Bay.
- Wear a sunhat and sunglasses for protection from the strong equatorial sun.
- Heed the warnings not to swim at Playa Brava.
- Drink water to stay hydrated during the walk and after physical activity, snorkeling/kayaking.
- Pack a small first aid kit for scrapes/scratches.
- Obey National Park rules especially #4 “maintain a distance of at least six feet (two meters) from wildlife to avoid disturbing them, even if they approach you.”
- Sign in and out at the Park Services building (located at the beginning of the trail).
8. Where is Tortuga Bay located?
Tortuga Bay is located on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. It’s situated about 20 – 30 minutes (walking) from the town of Puerto Ayora.
Once you arrive at the entrance, you’ll have another 30 to 45-minute walk to Playa Brava. After walking along that beach (approx 20 minutes) you’ll come to a protected bay (Playa Mansa) where you can swim, snorkel, and kayak.
You’ll see that area on the following map to the right of the red pin.
The following photo shows the road from the trail-head looking back at Puerto Ayora.
Map of Tortuga Bay Galapagos
For directions to Tortuga Bay click on the following map and then click the directions arrow and enter your current location in Puerto Ayora.
This is very popular, so the locals (shop owners, taxi drivers…) will all know how to direct you as well.
9. Hotels near Tortuga Bay Galapagos
Tortuga Bay is near Puerto Ayora, so there are many hotel options available, and if you stay in town they will all put you relatively close to the trail.
The hotels on this shortlist are highly rated by travelers and within 700 meters of the center.
Some of the best options in Puerto Ayora are:
Tortuga Bay Galapagos and You
Have you been to Tortuga Bay? Are you planning a trip? Whatever the case, we would love to hear about it. Please share by commenting on this post.
Tortuga Bay was one of our favorite Galapagos experiences. We saw finches picking flies off of marine iguanas on the beach, it felt like it was straight from the pages of National Geographic or something. So if you’re in Puerto Ayora we definitely recommend a trip to Tortuga Bay!
If you’re planning a trip to the Galapagos these books might help.