Where is Puerto Ayora you may ask? Well it’s the largest town in the Galapagos Islands and is one of the main ports for interisland transfers. If you end up doing a cruise in the Galapagos, you might be staying in Puerto Ayora before or after your trip. It is about 40 km’s from the closest airport of Baltra (GPS).
To travel from the airport, you will need to jump on the free airport bus to the dock, and then hop on the canal barge. This will set you back $1 USD so be sure to have some change. After a 5 minute boat ride you will arrive at Santa Cruz Island. Here you will be met by numerous taxi drivers who will offer you a ride to Puerto Ayora. The taxi will cost $18 USD and can carry four passengers plus luggage. The drive is about 30 minutes and will cross over the area known as the Highlands. For those who are looking out for their pennies, there are the public buses which will cost $2 per person, but may take a little longer as you wait until the bus is full before leaving.
You have two options with accommodation, book before you arrive or turn up and sort it out when you reach there. During the peak season (April – August), I would suggest booking in for at least one night. The advantage of booking your accommodation when you are there is the rooms will be discounted and you can view the room before saying yes. Accommodation will start from $10 USD per person for a dorm bed or $30 USD per room. One thing to note is to make sure the room has hot water. As with most South American countries, toilet paper is not allowed down the toilet. You will notice bins in the bathroom to place any foreign objects. The pipes cannot cope with paper and will be easily clogged. You will notice everything above has been quoted in US dollars; this is because it is the main currency used.
For cheap lunch and dinner, head to where the locals eat on Charles Binford Drive. It is a few blocks back from the waterfront, but has delicious meals and much cheaper than the restaurants on the waterfront. The front street is full of souvenir shops with eateries scattered between. These restaurants can be up to four times the prices but do offer some cheap happy hour cocktails. The supermarket is located down near the pier and is open until 9 pm most nights. You will also find the ATM’s here too. Around this area you will find hundreds of Marine Iguanas, Sally Long leg crabs and Sea Lions. Walk away from the supermarket, still hugging the coast, and you will come across the fish mongers stall. This is usually busy in the morning around 11 am, but depends on when the local boats arrive. The locals buy their seafood from here including various fish and lobsters. There are a few locals who don’t have to pay and one waits next to the fish mongers waiting patiently for the off cuts. This is the local Sea Lion. Birds also gather around, including Brown Pelicans who flutter about to fight over anything left by the Sea Lion.
Further a field
Las Grietas is a lava canyon which is filled with brackish water and a great place to cool off. Catch a water taxi from the main pier for only 80 cents and ask to be dropped off for Las Grietas. From the landing spot, it is a 5 minute walk down the path to a sandy beach. This is a calm place for a swim or if you want to lie on the beach. A further 5 minutes of walking and you will come by a little bar. This may seem a little out of place but it is the area which looks over some salt flats. They are pink in colour and are great to visit half an hour before sunset for some artistic photos. Walk another 5- 10 minutes and you will arrive at Las Grietas. Be sure to sign in, the National Parks agency like to know how many visitors come to the area. You may have to wait a little on sunny days as the maximum number of visitors is around 40. Down a couple of flights of stairs and you will arrive at some rocks where you can dip into the refreshing water. The deepest point in the canyon is 13 meters.
The Charles Darwin Research Station is a 20 minute walk from the town centre. It is self-guided and free to look at. They do accept donations and in fact only survive on donations, so be generous. One of the buildings houses numerous information panels in both Spanish and English to introduce what the Foundation and Research Station do. There is also some Land Tortoise exhibits and Land Iguana pens where they house animals they are conducting research with. Before the station you will walk past a path which leads to Estacion Beach. Walk down here and you may be greeted by the local Sea Lions catching some sun.
Tortuga Bay is a picturesque white sand beach and bay. It is only accessible by walking 2.4 km. The entrance begins at the end of Charles Binford Road. You can catch a taxi here for $1 USD or walk 10 minutes yourself from the pier. The track is paved all the way to the beach. Unfortunately you can’t go swimming due to strong currents but does provide a nice break for surfers. Walk along the beach for 500 metres before reaching some mangroves and Marine Iguanas. The local population are quite bigger than the ones found in town. Follow the track through the mangroves for 50 metres and you will stumble across the lagoon. At the far end of the bay you will see kayaks for rent. This sheltered bay is quite nice for a swim, but visibility may be quite low close to shore.
Heading inland from Puerto Ayora and you can visit the Highlands. This is the highest part of the island and can often be covered in fog. The flora is quite different from the coastal plants with a substantial amount being introduced. The Galapagos are famous for being home to the Giant Land Tortoise and you may have seen some in the side paddocks on your drive up. If you want to see a Tortoise up close, check out El Chato 2 Ranch. See how they move (staying at least 2 metres away) and capture a photo with them. The ranch costs $3 per person and includes a free locally grown coffee. The property also has some Lava tunnels in which you can walk through. To travel here, it will set you back around $30-$40 in a taxi, with the taxi driver waiting for you. Another option is to hire a guide and do a highlands tour for $100; $40 for the taxi driver, $60 for the guide.
Tourism is Puerto Ayora’s main economy and the livelihood of numerous locals. It is the wildlife which attracts hundreds of thousands of travellers each so be respectful of the animals and keep them wild for future generations. If you have any questions, contact me through Facebook, Instagram or via the contact me page.