The Galapagos Islands are literally my favourite place on the planet. I completely fell in love with them, from the moment I first stepped off the plane, and onto Isla Baltra. The first stop for most visitors to Galapagos.
I actually was lucky enough to spend a couple of months living on these enchanting islands, and if it had not been for commitments back at home, I am not sure I would have ever left. In fact, it was a serious consideration of mine to just leave all that behind and stay there. I really did not want to leave, and ever since I left, I constantly find myself daydreaming about those majestic islands off the coast of Ecuador.
I was based in Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island. This tends to just be a stop at the start or end of peoples cruises around the islands, so very few people actually spend time on this wonderful island. I therefore thought I would write a post with 5 reasons as to why you should extend your Galapagos adventure, to include a few days (at least) in Puerto Ayora.
- Tortuga Bay
This is my favourite beach. I spent so many days lying on the white sand as finches danced around me, iguanas lazed next to me, and white tip sharks basked in the shallow, warm waters in front of me. The beach itself is a good 2.5km walk from Puerto Ayora, down a well marked and maintained path, that twists and turns it’s way away from the town, through a forest of cacti, towards the crystal clear, turquoise sea.
You will find yourself sharing the path with a variety of wildlife, locals carrying surf boards and in all likelihood, you will be the only tourist for miles around. At the end of the path you reach a large, open section of white sand beach with the waves of the sea lapping up against the sand with some force. This section of beach is the prime location for the local surfers and you will often find groups of them gathered around, surfing the waves and generally topping up their already golden tans.
If you walk to the right, with the sea to your left, towards the rock outcrop on the horizon, you will find yourself lost in a maze of dark volcanic rocks covered with numerous marine iguanas, basking in the equatorial sun. There is a small path you can make out and if you follow it, it takes you on a small walk through the rocky outcrops and into the iguanas lair. You can spend hours watching the iguanas dive into and out of the water, spitting the salt out of their noses and generally causing a nuisance to other iguanas near by. They really are quite captivating to watch.
Just passed the rocky outcrop is a secluded bay, which was my favourite section of Tortuga Bay, many times it was like a private beach, as very few people make the journey across to this bay. The waters here are a lot calmer and there is a line of low trees along the edge providing some much needed shade from the heat of the sun. Bliss.
2. Familiar Williams
Possibly the best meal you can get in Puerto Ayora. For $3 (this was the price at the time) you got a plate of rice, fresh prawns and a gorgeous coconut sauce (Encocado de Camaron) plus a beer. It was incredible, and I would have quite happily ate here every night. It is found part way along “3 dollar alley” as it was referred to. Mainly due to the cheapness of the food found along here. The street comes alive at night with local families cooking local food right there in front of you. The restaurants are small, open grills with plastic tables and chairs dotted around. Pull up a chair and savour the delicious food and electric atmosphere.
3. The nightlife
The people of Peurto Ayora are some of the nicest people I have ever met. They have a laid back attitude that is infectious but after dark, they turn the town into quite the party. I got quickly sucked up in to the beach by day, party by night approach to life and wow, do they know how to party. There isn’t much choice when it comes to bars and nightclubs but to be honest, in the time I was there, I never got bored. We often started our nights in Limon Y Café, drinking our extremely strong Cuba Libres, chatting away with new and old faces and generally slipping into local life.
The thing about the Galapagos is the rate that people come and go, there was always new people to meet, and that was one of the main things I loved about spending so much time here. I met people from all over the world and every night I would be partying with new people. There are very few places where you can get to know so many people in such a short space of time.
After a few too many Cuba Libres (the proportion of rum to coke is ridiculous) we would then head on to Bongo Bar. This had infectious music, awesome cocktails (I highly recommend the strawberry daiquiris) and good looking bar staff (always a plus). This club had such an electric atmosphere, every single local can dance insanely well, and you soon get swept up in the rhythm. I absolutely love Reggaeton, I wish we had more of that style of music over here. It has such a good beat and is awesome to dance to.
If that is not enough for you, then as Bongo Bar closes its doors, the remaining clientele head downstairs to La Panga, the local disco/nightclub to continue dancing until the very early hours of the morning.
4. The Island Itself
Most people visit Santa Cruz and just make a pitstop at the Charles Darwin Research Centre. I was lucky enough to be on the Galapagos when Lonesome George was still alive and I am very honoured to be able to say that I have met him!
But there is so much more to be seen on the island. You can hire a taxi for the day to drive you around the island to explore the highlands. There are numerous lava tubes dotted around that your driver can take you to. You can crawl through these to your hearts content, and you’re unlikely to come across anyone else on your explorations. You will encounter giant tortoises like you would sheep or cows over here, and often find your stopped in your tracks by a very slow moving tortoise blocking the road.
There is a gorgeous lake to the East of the island where you can see flamingos and frigate birds in their natural habitat. There is just so much to see and explore on this diverse island, that so many people never get the chance to see.
Another unique highlight of the island is Las Grietas. This is reached by taking a water taxi to Angermeyer Point (fun in itself) and then navigating your way along a very haphazard rocky path (wear good shoes), across a small salt plain and down a rocky cliff. There are a couple of signs directing you but it is not the clearest of paths. Las Grietas is just a large gap between two rocky cliffs filled with water. It is a popular snorkelling venue and you can hire lifejackets and snorkels from the locals sitting on the rocks by the waters edge. Some people also opt to jump off the various natural ledges and plunge into the deep water below however, I am not sure this is all too advisable. A friend of mine jumped off one of these ledges, completely misjudged it and ended up breaking their arm. Which resulted in an eye opening experience of getting them back from Las Greitas, to the town and to the not so well equipped hospital for treatment. It is therefore probably best to just stick to the snorkelling!
5. Cafe Hernan
This is a local haunt for good food, beers and football. I spent many a breakfast, lunch and dinner here and I really do miss Hernans a lot. The people who own and run the café are amazing and so friendly and as they got to know me, I felt like I was pretty much part of the family also. They do some really good brunches, pizzas and an incredible hot chocolate and rum (I ordered this every day around 4pm – I think it may have now become a permanent addition to the menu!).
The atmosphere in Hernans when Ecuador are playing is electric and if you are lucky enough to be around when a game is on, I highly recommend you pull up a stool and join the locals.
Sundays are the day most boats arrive/leave Puerto Ayora and the town is completely different when flooded with tourists. You do feel somewhat privileged to be on the island when the tourists have left and you get to be a part of local life. It is a completely different experience once the tourist boats have departed and one that I urge you to experience for yourself. Overall, I absolutely love Puerto Ayora and to be honest, I think a part of me misses it every day.