We spent two weeks in Puerto Ayora living in a second-floor apartment just northeast of downtown. When we told people we were spending two weeks here we got a lot of surprised looks. Most people, is turns out, do not visit for that long- most are island hopping with their boat cruise. We understand a little more of why after having been there for that long, but we still felt there was enough to create a Top 10 Things to do in Puerto Ayora list.
Jeff and I spent a few days creating a proprietary ranking system in which we took a sheet a paper, listed all the things we did, created not one, but two distinct columns – one labeled “J” (representing Jeff) and one column labeled “L” (representing Lindsay). We each took turns ranking the things to do 1-10 and afterwards discussed and determined final rankings. Without further ado, here are the final results.
- Scuba Diving. We’re spoiled, I know we are. This was our first “real” taste of scuba diving and we know that it’s going to be difficult to replicate. Sea lions, rays, BIG schools of fish (like thousands aka what I have termed a fish tornado), sharks, turtles, eels and even a sea horse. It was everything that it was cracked up to be. We can’t say enough good stuff about Tip Top Diving. If you’re thinking about getting certified, or want to take advanced classes you must check these guys out. They also just launched a live aboard scuba boat called Nortada if you want to dedicate your entire trip to scuba. We ended up doing 9 total dives with them (5 aboard Nortada) and obtained both our open and advanced water certification. Here’s a fun video that Jeff made from the boat trip. I’m on a boat! (this is a video with some explicit language, caution if viewing at work or in public)
- Tortuga Bay. A little trouble locating it at first because it always seems to take us more than one try to find something 🙂 It’s about a 50 minute walk from the center of town down a paved path that leads you to this beautiful beach. Known for great surfing, watching the marine iguanas, and a small protected mangrove on the far side if you want to snorkel or kayak. While we didn’t swim here on our visit, walking on the beach was amazing. It’s the whitest, cleanest, and softness sand I’ve seen in a long long time. We also did two morning jogs here on the 5K (round trip) path – which served as a great way to get in some exercise- and if you know us we always need a destination for our runs.
- Tortoise Ranch in the Highlands. Walter, our driver, took us up to the Highlands for an afternoon visit and we stopped at the Moreno Family Ranch, Las Primicias, to visit the giant Galapagos Tortoises in their natural habitat. These animals are amazing and very big, 350lbs+. They range in age from 20 years to 100+. The bigger they are, the older they are. Entrance to the property costs $3 per person to walk around the farm and see the 40+ Tortoises that reside there. One main issue the Tortoises face is the introduction of pigs, cats, dogs and other species not native to the islands that destroy and eat their eggs. The ranch helps by collecting the eggs and storing them safely until hatched to ensure the population of the Tortoises continues on.
- Las Grietas. A quick water taxi ride to “El otro lado” (the other side) for $0.60 per person from Puerto Ayora to Finch Bay, and then a 1.5km walk/hike gets you here. It’s a small body of water nestled between to volcanic rock structures where you can swim and snorkel. The water is crystal clear, chilly and about 30 ft deep. Previously, visitors would jump in from the sides (not recommended for those afraid of heights) but today with the new pier they built you can no longer jump in from the top ( a much safer and easier entrance now) We spent about 2 hours here swimming around with our friend Edu (also our scuba instructor) If you swim to the far end, you can cross underwater beneath the rock formations into a second body of water with even more & bigger fish. Totally worth it and less crowded on the far side.
- Pelican Bay. This is a small area right off the main street (Charles Darwin Ave). Pelican Bay is the spot to purchase fresh fish from the local fisherman. It’s called Pelican Bay because the fresh fish attracts a lot of Pelicans and they fight over the scraps. Pelicans plus the sea lions that come up to join in on the action makes for great morning or afternoon entertainment. Oh and it’s #5 despite the fact I did get crapped on.
- Lava Tunnels. We stopped here on our way to the Highlands with Walter. Lava tunnel/ tubes were formed when lava on the surface cooled and solidified, while the underground hot lava continued to flow, eventually leaving an emptied cave. Walter walked with us for the first part and took pictures of us walking through. We approached the very narrow point and had to army crawl through to get past it. Walter also got a photo of me doing this as well. (nice booty shot). He then said he would see us on the other side. It took us about 15 minutes to get through. The tunnels are cold, dark and wet but they did have lighting throughout which helped tremendously. Make sure to wear good walking/hiking shoes here.
- Morning jogs. Yeah, I know pretty basic but we both enjoyed this each day. A few times we took the long jog out to Tortuga bay, and others were just around the town. It’s a good way to see the entire town, familiarize yourself with the area, and get exercise all at once. We plan to make this part of our everyday routine wherever we are.
- Red Mangrove Restaurant. Jeff and I stopped here for a drink post scuba certification. It’s a nice hotel nestled right on the water before the Charles Darwin station. What makes this in our top 10 is that during our cocktail, we had front row seats to watch the sea lions. You can check out the videos on our Facebook page here. These guys make themselves right at home and sit in the lawn chairs!
- The Kioskos. Picture a small side street lined with restaurants on both sides. Each night they put out tables in the street and create a restaurant row of sorts. Each place is very similar and they are all trying to get you to eat at their restaurant. The big attraction is the fresh fish and lobster they have sitting out in front to show you the menu of the day. Prices range from $8-$15 per person depending what you get. This is a cheaper alternative to eating at the main restaurants that are closer to the water off the main Charles Darwin Ave. We ate here three times, the first and the third being our top meals. Helpful tip: you can BYOB to save some additional $. We did and it was no problem.
- Charles Darwin Research Center. This center is dedicated to preserving the giant Tortoise population in the Galapagos. Up until 2012, it was the home of Lonesome George who was the sole remaining Pinta Island tortoise and an icon of the Galapagos. His death marked the extinction of the Pinta series of tortoises. It’s free to visit and takes about an hour or so to walk though. The path begins with the babies, then adolescents, and finally to the big boys. An interesting fact: the sex of the tortoise is determined by what temperature the egg is store at. Pretty cool huh? So basically they can control how many males and females are produced here at the breeding center. I think they are doing great things here, but we preferred seeing the tortoises in the highlands. They are bigger, and much more active on the natural farm.
So there you have it..our top ten. Here’s a few additional honorable mentions.
- Boat tours (live aboard and day cruises). Most people that visit the Galapagos do it by boat vs. staying on land. There are several last minute options that the travel agencies sell to fill space on the boat so if you don’t book in advance, chances are you can find something. In addition, you can do a variety of day trips, but know that your options will be limited. The National park controls where and when boats can go and it differs if you are day boat vs. live aboard. We lucked out and got to go on a 2 day live aboard dive boat on Nortada thanks to our great friends at Tip Top Diving. (and this was our top experience on Santa Cruz but we included in with our scuba experience as #1) We would strongly recommend including a boat trip if planning a trip to the Galapagos. It’s really the only want to see some of the most beautiful and uninhabited islands.
- Los Gemelos (Twin Craters). We stopped to see this massive two “holes” in the ground on our way to the Highlands with Walter. You stand on the outer edge and look over and down. They were formed from the collapse of empty magma chambers. Needless to say the view is quite impressive.
- Municipal market. Best place to go and pick up fresh produce. It’s less expensive compared to the main grocery store and has a broader selection and better quality.
- Galapagos Deli. This place is delicious. Serves pizza, sandwiches and ice cream. You can’t go wrong here for lunch or dinner. Quality food, great service, reasonable prices.
- Garrapartero Beach. Unfortunately, we did not make it here but it came highly recommended from people we met. It’s on the other side of the island so you need to take a taxi for about $45 and takes about 45 minutes.