Santa Cruz is the largest inhabited island at Galapagos, and Puerto Ayora is it's main town and port. So if you visit Santa Cruz Island as part of a Galapagos tour then chances are you will have some free time to kill in Puerto Ayora town. The good news is that Puerto Ayora is an attractive little town with plenty to keep you busy on a free day or afternoon. As well as interesting visitor sites to spot wildlife or relax, Puerto Ayora boasts fine dining, boutique shopping and an ocean front boardwalk with great views to enjoy.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about Puerto Ayora Galapagos. Our top picks for activities to keep you busy and places to see. Plus recommendations for Puerto Ayora restaurants, cafes, bars and shopping!
Tortuga Bay Galapagos has topped many a list as one of the best beaches at the Galapagos islands. Picture perfect swathes of white sand overlooking turquoise water make it a great spot to relax and enjoy nature. Tortuga Bay is reached by a short walk from the southwest end of Puerto Ayora and is divided into two sections. The first, Playa Brava, is a favorite among surfers early in the morning but the strong currents here make it an endurance sport for swimming. Past Playa Brava is Playa Mansa, a smaller beach off of a protected lagoon where snorkeling and kayaking along the shores is a great opportunity to spot sea turtles, rays, white-tipped reef sharks, and some of the sea birds that live and feed in the mangroves. There is also an enjoyable self-guided trail through the Opuntia Cactus forest to spot wildlife. Tortuga Bay is a lovely spot to spend half a day or more!
Las Grietas is a natural swimming hole where both fresh and seawater mix in three sections that attract locals and travelers alike to swim or snorkel in the pleasant waters. The pools boast a dramatic setting, between two high vertical lava walls in a crevasse. Las Grietas is reached by taking a water taxi across the bay from Puerto Ayora to Angermeyer Waterfront Inn. A marked path beside the hotel takes you past the German beach (Playa Aleman), across lava fields, and to Las Grietas. The first and second pools are great for swimming and cliff diving, while the third pool is reached by a short traverse of an underwater tunnel and is less crowded and the best place for snorkeling. Note: As of 2021, day trippers to Las Grietas must pay $10 per person to hire a local guide at the entrance.
The fish market on Charles Darwin Avenue along Puerto Ayora's wayerfront is a fun place to stop and watch the locals of the island do their thing. From morning to afternoon, fishermen bring in their catch to the stalls along the waterfront where hungry patrons include pelicans and sea lions! It often makes quite the spectacle to watch fishermen feed scraps to these unlikely clients, and is perfect for fun photos or videos.
The Charles Darwin Research Station is a long-standing institution that has been the scientific wing of the islands since they were declared a national park. Visiting here gives insight into the work done by the center, and also is a chance to see giant tortoises in different stages of growth. CDRS and the Galapagos National Park raise the gentle giants in captivity until they are old enough to fend for themselves. Note: As of 2021, tourists must pay $10 per person to hire a local guide at the research station entrance.
The lush green highlands of the island are easy to visit from Puerto Ayora town via taxi. There are two main points of interest to see, the Twin Craters (Los Gemelos) and El Chato giant tortoise Reserve. The twin craters are a pair of impressive lava sink hole craters that look straight out of Jurassic Park. Self guided trails take you to the lookout points and through Scalesia Forest popular with Galapagos land birds. The nearby El Chato Reserve is a private ranch where giant tortoises roam - the perfect spot to see these gentle giants in their natural habitat.
The pier might at first sound like an unusual inclusion as a point of interest for tourists, but this is actually a great place to spot wildlife. At night schools of small fish are attracted to the pier lights, which entice pelicans to make dive runs for food. It's also common to spot small reef sharks (white and black tip) from the pier, and well as different species of rays. Cruise yachts anchored at Academy Bay also light up at night, creating a romantic atmosphere and great photo backdrop.
A wide variety of day trips operate from Puerto Ayora town. For boat trips to other islands it's recommended to book ahead to get a spot. Some of the best Puerto Ayora day tours include: Santa Fe, South Plaza, Bartolome and North Seymour islands. Day dive tours are also available, including to famous Gordon Rocks for a chance to see Galapagos Scalloped hammerhead sharks.
Most of the Puerto Ayora agencies that line the street along Charles Darwin Avenue also rent bikes and snorkel equipment so you can head out to create your own adventures.
Anker is a sister restaurant to URKO in Quito, and one of the finest in Puerto Ayora town. Both places are at the top of the list for foodies as they use fresh, local ingredients and combine them into innovative plates that raise the bar for Ecuadorian cuisine. Anker’s revolving menu includes a 5-course tasting menu that showcases the different ecosystems of the islands. Dishes include ingredients from the dry forest, the marine coral, the highlands, fisherman’s wharf, and the local harvest.
Almar is part of the Red Mangrove Aventura Lodge and focuses on fresh seafood dishes with a gourmet twist. The outside patio overlooks a secluded bay, making it a great place for lunch or dinner while taking a break before or after a cruise or island hopping trip. Some of the house specialties include ceviche with fish, shrimp, and octopus marinated in a yellow pepper extract; and a risotto made with the catch of the day.
Across the bay in one of the earliest family’s hotel to settle in the Galapagos when tourism was starting, La Cueva de Gus in the Angermeyer Waterfront Inn is a great place to enjoy the islands while sampling great food. The restaurant is another great spot with an incredible view overlooking Academy Bay. Their menu items include lobster pizza, sushi, ceviche, and an assortment of dishes featuring fresh seafood and locally sourced ingredients.
For fresh bread, good breakfasts, deli sandwiches to go, brick oven pizza, specialties like fish and chips, and great ice cream, the Galapagos Deli can’t be beaten. Vegetarian options include pasta, pizza, sandwiches, and salads.
For a cheerful place to have a cocktail before or after dinner, try TJ Bar on the waterfront. It’s a local and traveler’s favorite for daily drink specials as well as an affordable menu.
For Puerto Ayora pub grub and craft beers, head to the two-story Santa Cruz Brewery overlooking Charles Darwin Avenue for a great view of the waterfront and a variety of brew flavors to choose from. In fact a wide range of craft beer pubs have sprung up in Puerto Ayora - definitely a welcome addition to town's night life.
Without a doubt the very best Galapagos coffee is to be found at 1835 Coffee Lab. It's just a small hole in the wall along Charles Darwin Avenue, but the creative decoration gives the joint an undeniable charm. The coffee is sourced locally from their farm up on Santa Cruz highlands, and professional barristas are flown in from mainland Ecuador to serve up an excellent brew. There are few things better on a hot, tropical day at Puerto Ayora than an ice cold frapuccino. This is also a great social meeting place, to chat to the servers or local customers.
Sometimes the loud music at bars close to the docks can become a little overwhelming; that's where a more laid back place like Ukku - Acai comes in! Located at the quiet end of Charles Darwin Avenue, this chill-out bar is open all day long for a cheeky quick beer or well-made cocktail. Happy hour deals serve up 3 for 2 deals, and the local owner (James) is a popular Galapagos tour guide - he's more than happy to answer your Galapagos questions while you enjoy a drink.
Puerto Ayora has a select group of art galleries featuring the work of local artists, and wonderful boutiques selling unique artifacts. Some of them may not be cheap, but they do stock wonderful items for gifts or souvenirs. For those with a tighter budget, don't worry, there are also plenty of shopping options to buy T-shirts and fridge magnets in Puerto Ayora or at Baltra Airport.
One of our favorite boutiques along Charles Darwin Avenue in Puerto Ayora is colorful Galeria Exotico. They focus on Fair Trade handicrafts made by local artisans, communities, associations and families from all regions of Ecuador. If you're after a more authentic gift or souvenir then pop in for a visit. Exotica is definitely a welcome alternative to the usual Galapagos t-shirts and trinkets, and the friendly owners are happy to tell the story behind their products.
The Angelique Art Gallery is the creation of Sarah Darling, a British expat who has lived in the islands since 1991. Her work includes painted silk, ceramics, jewelry, and canvas. Sarah can be found in her shop in Puerto Ayora which is also her studio.
Maki Art Gallery in Puerto Ayora is the brick and mortar storefront for a collection of artists. Their work showcases works using recycled glass, gourds, tapestries, wood, metal, and tile.
A jewellery store specializing in handcrafted pieces by Ecuadorian artists, focusing on Galapagos wildlife.
Another popular jeweler with works inspired by the Galapagos Islands, made from silver, gold, and lava.
Ease away your aches and pains of life on the move at a Puerto Ayora health spa
Specializing in Thai massage practiced by a licensed therapist from Thailand, Famai Thai Massage offers a variety of treatments ranging from full traditional massages to back, neck, head, and shoulder massages.
Zenia Spa offers an assortment of treatments and services including massages, wraps, peels, manicures, pedicures, and facials.
For more information about the activities that Happy Gringo can help arrange on a free day in Puerto Ayora and the different options available for island hopping, cruises in the Galapagos Islands, or Puerto Ayora Hotels, CONTACT a member of our team to start planning a trip of a lifetime.
In conclusion, Puerto Ayora has much to offer to intrepid Galapagos visitors. Not only are there diverse visitor sites to explore, but also enjoyable night life and the best shopping to be had at the Galapagos islands. So don't despair if you have free time to kill here, it's not difficult to wile away a pleaseant day or two without getting bored.