Las Grietas on the island of Santa Cruz in the Galapagos is literally a canyon-like crevice in the volcanic rock. Sea water enters the canyon via a pathway that is chock full of mangrove trees. And fresh water enters from the opposite direction. The roots of the mangroves filter the sea water and help create a magical turquoise blue, crystal clear, pool that is a favorite destination for swimmers and snorkelers alike. Though, be warned, there is little life to see in the canyon. The mixture of salt and fresh water limits the amount of sea life that could possibly survive in this extreme microhabitat.
It is possible to visit Las Grietas without a guide. It’s a quick trip across the bay via water taxi from the main port. Unless you’re lucky enough to be staying the Finch Bay side of the island in the first place… it’s known as the expensive side. Once there, you will hike past Playa de las Alemanes, past a lagoon, onto a wooden walkway that crosses the low-lying tidal waters that play against volcanic rock, onto a rocky trail and eventually to Las Grietas. Plan on taking lots of photos of marine iguanas and herons. Bring water if it is a hot day.
Las Grietas is one of the most popular destinations on Santa Cruz, therefore we recommend an early morning show time to enjoy the location with fewer tourists. Officially, it opens at 8am but hiking the trail earlier is the best way to enjoy the location with the fewest people. And we speak from experience… we used a guided tour that combined a kayaking trip from Playa de las Alemanes to Punta Estrada, a short snorkel near the trailhead to Playa de los Perros, and a visit to Las Grietas. It was too much for the time allotted. We ended up practically running down the trail to see Las Grietas just before closing time at 5pm. At that point, the park stops allowing people to enter the water. And you’re hiking against the flow of people leaving the area… all of whom just took a dip in the cold, clear water. That means just prior to 5pm, the beautiful location probably doesn’t look so beautiful as it will be full of sun-screen covered tourists making space for each other in the narrow canyon. We saw evidence of the sun screen in a slick of oil that sits atop the water.
Soon, Las Grietas will be over-loved, if it isn’t already. It is popular with locals and tourists alike (be warned that weekend visits are the most crowded). On the busiest days, the Park Service only allows 10 people at a time to enter the water. The rest must wait their turn. Yet another reason to arrive early in the morning or you can attempt a late afternoon arrival like our own. After all, everyone was walking the other way… without our guide, however, we’re not sure the park service would have allowed us the few extra minutes to stay.