The hub of most activity in the Galapagos, Puerto Ayora is a charming port town where sea, sun, seabirds and sailboats coexist in happy equilibrium. On the town’s outskirts, you will also find the headquarters to the world-renown Charles Darwin Research Station.
Although it is the Galapaganean town most frequented by visitors, the majority of travelers just pass through on their way to see Lonesome George (a 150-year old tortoise; the last of his species) at the Darwin Station. However, those that linger a moment longer, discover that Puerto Ayora has more than geriatric reptiles. In fact, Puerto Ayora is a lively seaside town offering international cuisine, oceanfront hotels, outdoor bars, scuba diving schools and an avenue of boutiques with everything from tie-dyed sarongs to Panama hats.
It’s not the dock, it’s where the dock is: Puerto Ayora, Galapagos.
Most travelers who know Puerto Ayora won’t hesitate to recommend a few post or pre-cruise days in town. The pricey plane fare and park fee certainly warrant a few extra days in paradise: stay a moment longer and relish the Islands’ crescent slices of sand, spectacular diving, mountain top vistas and tropical climate. Fortunately TAME, the national airline whisking passengers to and from the mainland, makes it very easy to extend your ticket; Just stop by their centrally located offices on Puerto Ayora’s main drag and request a date change at no extra charge.
You may also want to consider a multi-day stay in Puerto Ayora as an excellent alternative to a boat tour. Being land-based allows you to tailor your own days, visit select islands, and choose from an array of outdoor activities, such as kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, horseback riding and mountain biking. This option is particularly attractive to families with small children, scuba-enthusiasts with non-diving friends, landlubbers, independent travelers, and those traveling on a shoestring.
Puerto Ayora is located on the southern end of Isla Santa Cruz, the second largest island in the archipelago. Most visitors arrive by plane (about 3 hours from Quito) and land in Baltra, a separate island at the northernmost tip of Santa Cruz.
Upon arrival travelers pass through immigration. Visitors must present a passport with an Ecuadorian visa, as well as $100 for the park entrance fee and the island tax. You must pay with traveler’s checks or cash; credit cards are not accepted. If you have a censo (the national ID card for foreigners) the total fee is only $25.
Flights depart daily from Quito at 8:30 am with a 30 to 45 minute layover in Guayaquil (a direct flight from Quito is available one day a week). On Wednesdays and Sundays additional flights are often scheduled depending on passenger demand. The fare varies according to the high and low tourism season. Tickets can be purchased through most Quito travel agents or directly from TAME, a commercial airline (prices are about the same).
To make it easy for those on the web, see the complete Galapagos trip planner, GalapagosIslands.com.
From Baltra passengers either head directly to a pre-arranged boat, anchored five minutes away from the airport (you will be met by your guide) or to Puerto Ayora, a 45-minute journey.
If you are heading to Puerto Ayora hop on the TAME bus waiting outside the airport — it is the only option to get to the channel and is of no cost; five minutes later you will reach the ferry which takes passengers across the channel (under a dollar and about five minutes). On the other side, public buses and private cars await passengers for the last leg of the journey to Puerto Ayora (the planes, ferry and buses are scheduled to coincide, so you won’t have long to wait). The trip is beautiful; you will pass through the core of Island’s lush highlands before descending down to the coast with its cactus forests and sea breezes.
The bus will drop you off in the town center upon which you may be bombarded with offers for boats and hotels. Most of these hawkers are trustworthy islanders despite being a bit aggressive. If you do need help looking for a hotel, boat or diving company, Victor “Poncho” Vaca or Jenni Devine are two people who seems to know the latest scoop on everything in Puerto Ayora (he speaks English, German, and Spanish).
Joining an organized boat tour in Puerto Ayora a day or two before it leaves is always the cheapest way to island hop. Not surprisingly most boats prefer to sell last minute tickets at bargain basement prices than leave berths empty. If you have the time to look and wait for a boat with a last minute berth, this is a great way to save money. However, your service may be below the class that you expected and your once-in-a-lifetime trip may not be the time of your life. Groups with more than five people can often use the power of numbers to negotiate an all-around lower fare for everyone. During the high season (around holidays and the summer) both tactics can be a bit tricky and may leave you stranded without a tour for over week.
Puerto Ayora itself is small and easily navigable, so its straightforward to find your own way around town. The main drag, Charles Darwin, runs east-west along the bay. At the westernmost end of town you will find the Academy Bay port, the main grocery store, hardware store and post office. At the easternmost end of town is the Charles Darwin Research Station. In between you will find most of the town’s hotels, bars, shops and the only bank, El Banco del Pacifico.
For more information on flights to the Galapagos Islands, please check out our Domestic Flights page in our Transportation section.
Banking & Money
El Banco del Pacífico is open Monday to Friday 8:00 – 3:30; Saturday 9:30 -12:30. The bank cashes dollars, however expect rates a bit lower than on the mainland. Personal checks are not accepted.
The bank’s ATM (money machine) accepts only Cirrus and Mastercard (7 am – 11:30 pm). Unfortunately, the ATM is down more often than the bank would like to admit. If this is the case you can request a cash withdrawl with your Mastercard (but not with a Cirrus card) from a bank teller.
Money transfers are possible, however they take 4 to 7 days. Faster but more expensive is a MoneyGram with American Express. With a MoneyGram you will receive your dinero within hours — if the phone lines are working. You do not have to be a card holder to use a MoneyGram.
Traveler’s checks are widely accepted on the Island, as are US dollars. Credit cards become a bit trickier: Mastercard is commonly accepted while American Express and VISA usually receive shrugs and apologies.
For more information on money and banking in Ecuador and the Galapagos, please visit our Money Matters page.
International, national and local calls can be made at Pacifictel after painstakingly waiting in line. A more efficient way of making a call, although more expensive, is at a top-end hotel. Calling cards can be used, however most establishments charge about USD 1 per minute for the call to the Quito operator.
Warning: When making a phone call from the Galapagos patience is more than just a virtue, it is required, as the phone lines here are among the worst in the country.
Banco Pacifico allows people to send and receive faxes: 25 cents per page to receive; USD 3 to send to mainland/USD 15 to send abroad. They have two numbers. The first (04-2564636) goes to Banco Pacifico in Guayaquil and then to the Galapagos. The second number (04-2562297) goes directly to the Galapagos. Pacifictel offers a similar service at cheaper prices.
Electronic communication is still a bit primitive in Puerto Ayora: Only twenty-six people on the entire island have access to one wobbly internet connection! There is talk of an internet cafe opening, but really there are few places that the public can go in and send a message. Jenni Devine offers email and internet services for a few dollars a minute and a smattering offices will let you get on their computers for a price. The Red Mangrove Inn is another option for those that are in dire need of the internet. Expect to wait a good while until the shared connection goes through.
The only post office in town is located across from the supermarket at the port end of town. Prices to mainland Ecuador are the same price as a postcard or letter to North America (USD .50) and international post is at least double that price. If planning to send a postcard to friends back home, better to wait till you are back on the mainland.
Remember to set your watch back an hour — the Galapagos is one time zone behind the mainland.
For more information on communications in Ecuador, feel free to visit our Communications page.
Try to avoid bodily damage while on the islands as good medical care is limited. For basic health problems such as cuts, infections and parasites visit English-speaking Dr. Darquea. He reportedly offers the best treatment in town in a clean private environment. His office is a bit inland from the Charles Darwin Station, ask a local for specific directions; tel: 526496. For more complicated injuries go to the Red Cross hospital; for major health problems its best to go immediately to the mainland. If you need to be medi-evacuted the fastest service available is Ecuavia, an air ambulance from Guayaquil. The cost is about USD 2,000.
For dental problems contact Dr. Pino or Dr. Carrion at the hospital.
The pharmacy, Cruz Rojo, just up from the bus stop is the best-stocked pharmacy in town. Do not expect an actual pharmacist behind the counter, as there simply isn’t one.
Warning: Divers should be aware that the closest decompression chamber is in Guayaquil.
For more detailed information on medical concerns in Ecuador and the Galapagos, please read our 8-page Health Section.
The main grocery store in town is small by mainland standards, but does offer an good array of dried, canned, and boxed goods, as well as basic toiletries, cheeses, bottled water, and a liqueur section. For fresh produce your best bet is the open air market located on the road to the airport (a ten minute walk from town). Some of the produce is grown locally, while much of it is actually brought in by boat from the mainland. For this reason prices are a bit high and the town can run out of the simplest items such as tomatoes, lettuce or watermelon, for over a week. On one recent occasion the Island actually ran out of beer!
If you are in the market to buy souvenirs there is no shortage of boutiques offering Galapagos and Ecuadorian goods. T-shirt shops are ubiquitous, as are shops selling beach paraphernalia. Just outside the Charles Darwin Station is a unique ceramic studio, Galapagos Ceramics, producing whimsical mugs with iguana handles and other imaginative items. There are also a number of jewelry stores selling hand-crafted items from silver, tagua nut and black coral. Tagua nut, also known as vegetable ivory, is a great thing to buy. It is a sustainably harvested nut from a mainland palm that provides income to small communities. Black coral on the other hand is an endangered animal and illegal to sell in any form. The same goes for turtle shells. Please support the conservation of Galapagos wildlife and do not buy these items, as beautiful as they may be.
Being an international port, Puerto Ayora has a good selection of hotels. Backpackers on a shoestring can find a basic room across the street from the sea for as little as $6 (single) in the low season and those without budgetary constraints can check into an oceanfront bed and breakfast for around USD 75 single/USD 115 double per night. For a complete listing of recommended hotels in Puerto Ayora, please refer to our Galapagos hotels page.
Where to Eat
Stroll along the main drag, Avenida Charles Darwin, and choose from a variety of open air cafes, restaurants and bars. Seafood and Italian cuisine (especially pizza!) seem to dominate the food scene, however in between you can find sandwiches, empanadas, fruit salads and good coffee.
The little street veering inland across from the bank has a row of outdoor stalls with tables that serve tasty plates of traditional Ecuadorian food. According to the locals, “Williams” serves up the most savory dishes. (Hint: Its best to arrive early and be one of the first served, as dishes are merely rinsed in a bucket of cold water and then re-used.)
All of the establishments listed below are located on the main drag, Avenida Charles Darwin. Most places do not have addresses, so its best to practice your Spanish and ask a local.
This open air German-run cafe dishes up tasty treats all day. Come in the morning and start your day with Maria’s piping hot pancakes and a glass of fresh juice or stop by later for their yummy potato-chicken salad with toasted rolls (USD 3.50), sandwiches (USD 3), garden salad (USD 2) or plate of homemade spaghetti (USD 4). One or two freshly-baked cakes (USD 1) are also available daily to compliment a mug of coffee. Mono-lingual travelers will appreciate the tri-lingual menu which tells you how to say cheese in German, English and Spanish. While you are waiting for your lunch, play a game of chess or checkers or browse the cafe’s book exchange and gift shop.
If you plan to spend the whole day at the beach, no worries –Maria can send you off with a box lunch for USD 4. Capricho is located a couple of minutes west from the entrance to the Charles Darwin Research Station on the main street. Open: around 7 am until 8 pm. Upon request by large groups Capricho will open earlier.
Limón y Café
A typical coastal restaurant/bar in an international port, Limón y Café dishes up tasty seafood dishes and appetizers along with great tunes ranging from Bob Marley to REM. As early as 9 am when the Cafe opens, patrons start clamoring for seafood. Ceviche (a lemon-marinated fish cocktail) is the ultimate chuchaki (hang-over) cure in Ecuador. Along with ceviche, they serve other traditional foods from Esmeraldas (comida negra) such as patacones (fried green bananas) and encocados (seafood or chicken in a coconut marinade). After a hearty meal, stay a moment longer and enjoy a tropical cocktail or expresso. Open 9 am – midnight; Monday – Sunday. Accepts VISA, MC, dollars and travelers checks.
Located across from Pelican Bay on the main drag, pint-sized Tambulero’s Pub has quickly become one of the coolest after dark spots on the Island. As the day settles into night, the locals (and travelers in the know) climb up Tambulero’s stairs to get closer to the equatorial stars and a cool pint of brew. Beto, the manager, proudly reminds imbibers that his beer is ecological. Ecological beer? Well, what he means is
that every used bottle gets recycled back on the mainland. If ecological beer is beyond your comprehension just order a tequila body shot, sit back and enjoy the tunes on what will undoubtedly be a warm Galapagos night. Rain dancing, by the way, is popular on wet nights. Open: 8 pm to midnight… or later if the party is still pulsing strong.
One of Puerto Ayora’s most popular restaurants, Quatro Laternas not surprisingly dishes up some of the tastiest Italian food in Ecuador. (Silvana, the owner is an authentic import from Italy). Start your dining experience with a caprese salad, garlic bread and a glass of red wine. And then lean back and consider the entrees: pasta and pizza being the house specialties. Heartier diners will appreciate the chicken and steak options. Open for dinner only.
Puerto Ayora is an excellent base in which to explore the islands, by land or by sea. Most of the sport equipment necessary for the activities listed below can be rented. See individual sections for
One of the Galapagos’ most spectacular beaches, Tortuga Bay, is only a half an hour walk from Puerto Ayora. Although the walk can be a bit grueling under midday sun its worth every sweat drop. Upon arrival you’ll immediately see why; at low tide a wide swath of glistening white sand awaits your footprints. Drop your towel here and jump into the surf or follow this sandy crescent to its point to discover a mangroved lagoon with glassy emerald water and bobbing pelicans. One of the best things about Tortuga Bay is that you’ll invariably have most of it to yourself. The majority of locals find the walk too arduous and tourists generally do not stick around long enough to make the trek.
If you stay until dusk you can watch the sun set and the sky melt from hues of tropical warmth into the cool colors of night. Don’t forget your repellent, since battalions of mosquitoes will definitely make their presence known. If its a clear night the walk down the beach under the velvety black sky, the Southern Cross, and Venus beaming brightly is nothing short of magnificent.
Warning: The first beach has a considerable current and no lifeguard, so swim with caution.
A closer beach to town is located in the Charles Darwin Research Station. Not nearly as dramatic as Tortuga Bay, this little pocket of beige sand is nevertheless popular with the locals and Station personnel. It does have great snorkeling, so bring your fins and mask.
A third medium-sized beach is located at the Hotel Delphin, however it is only reachable by boat. You can hire an aqua-taxi at the main dock which can whisk you over to “el otro lado” in a few miuntes. Once on this side of the bay, you can also walk fifteen minutes to Las Griegas, a magical little split in the earth which fills with refreshingly cool seawater during high tide. The crevice is so deep that intrepid locals climb up the rock wall and jack-knife the crystal-clear water. If you try this always check the water depth first; it varies greatly according to the tides.
Sea Kayaking is a relatively new sport to the islands and has yet to gain mass popularity. Currently the only place to rent a kayak is at the Red Mangrove Inn and they don’t even advertise this fact other than to their own guests. For USD 10 an hour non-guests can take one of their four boats out for a paddle. No motors, no crowds; just you, the kayak and the sound of your paddle as it strokes the sea. Undoubtedly, kayaking is one of the most intimate ways to explore the hidden inlets and mangroved bays of Isla Santa Cruz.
Declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Underwater World, the Galapagos Islands offers one of the highest levels of endemism in the world, as well as a sea swimming with contradictions: Only here can you swim with sea turtles, manta rays, penguins, tropical reef fish and “friendly” hammerhead sharks in the same water.
The islands feature about 30 dive sites, a combination of which can be accessed on day trips from Puerto Ayora. Divers are accompanied by professional bilingual naturalist guides and dive masters who specialize in Galapagos flora and fauna. Dives with a reputable company average about USD 110 per day (two dives). Reliable PADI dive courses are also available. For diving or dive courses contact Scuba Iguana or Sub-Aqua, the two best dive companies in Puerto Ayora.
For More info on diving in the Enchanted Islands, take a look at GalapagosIslands.com , a complete Galapagos trip planner.
From Puerto Ayora you can access a number of good snorkeling spots either from land or by boat. The most accessible sites are:
The Charles Darwin Research Station’s beach
Loberia (the small island 15 minutes off shore from Puerto Ayora)
Punta Estrada (one of the best local places to see white-tipped sharks, blue footed boobies, marine iguanas and sealions)
The underwater barranco (shelf) just off shore from the beach at Hotel Delphin
Snorkeling equipment is available at Neptuno, Scuba Iguana and Sub-Aqua. Rates range from as little as USD 3 up to USD 8 a set per day.
The farthest beach at the Charles Darwin Station, Ratonera, has become popular surf turf for the local wave junkies, as have Angermeyer Break and Tortuga Bay. For a full review of surfing in the Galapagos, check-out Surfer Magazine’s 1997 article.
For informaiton a list of surf tour providers in Ecuador, please check out our Surf Tours page.
Captain Haro’s glass bottom boat is a one of a kind in the Galapagos. His magical boat will take you to a collection of interesting wildlife sites including Naufruagio, Buque Iguana, Isolate Caamano, Punta
Estrada, Las Grietas and Bahia Franklin. See sharks, sealions, colorful reef fish and iguanas feeding on the ocean floor. With 19 years of guiding experience in the Galapagos, Captain Haro also provides you with a few lessons in natural history (in Spanish, English or Italian). Minimum of four people; USD 20 per person. Monday through Sunday. Contact Neptuno Tours or head directly to the port for specific information on departures.
Mountain bikes let you explore the back roads of the Santa Cruz Highlands: Peddle across undulating hills rich and green with moss-covered trees, enjoy a hilltop picnic with panoramic views of the surrounding islands, observe free-roaming tortoises, visit local farmers, sample their tropical fruit, and see the island in a way that few visitors do. Contact: Neptuno or the Red Mangrove Inn. Rentals start at USD 10 per day; tours with a guide and/or support vehicle are also available.
For further information on mountain biking and biking tours in Ecuador, check out our Moutain Biking Guide and our Biking Tour Providers page.
Galapagos horses are descendants of the purebreds brought to the islands by an American colonist before the Islands were declared a National Park. Over the generations they have lost their purity but gained a toughness that allows them to scamper over the island’s rugged volcanic terrain and whisk you off to the island’s remotest corners. Contact: Neptuno or Amalca Horseback Tours via channel 22 on the radio or just ask around town. USD 15 per person with four or more people.
For more information on horseback riding in Ecuador and the Galapagos, feel free to visit our Horseback Riding Guide and our Horseback Riding Tours page.
Highland Jeep Tours
Highland jeep tours usually include a walk through lava tunnels, around a sunken crater, and through Scalesia forests (related to sunflowers) and a wild tortoise sanctuary. On a clear day you are assured spectacular views of the sea and neighboring islands. Most tours also include either a picnic, barbecue or lunch at one of the highland restaurants. Contact: the Red Mangrove Inn, Neptuno Tours, or Victor Vaca.
Charles Darwin Research Station
Most organized boat tours and independent travelers stop by the world famous Charles Darwin Research Station to learn about the island’s flora and fauna, and local conservation issues. The highlight of the Station is its tortoise breeding program, with 150-year old Lonesome George as its poster tortoise. Poor George is the last of his species and to the chagrin of the Station’s biologists, he has no interest in the perky females (of a closely related sub-species) let loose in his pen. The younger tortoises seem to find the Station a perfectly adequate environment for romance, as the Station’s repopulation program is continuing strong after five years. Stroll through the Station and see tortoises of all ages starting at two weeks old.
The Educational Center provides a photo exhibit with information in Spanish and English about the Island’s unique flora and fauna. Open daily.
There is no entrance fee, yet the Station miraculously manages all that it does on a bare-bones budget. Donations are much needed and always appreciated. Contact the administrative office for more information or at: firstname.lastname@example.org
One-Day Island Tours
Puerto Ayora provides the most convenient land-base in the Galapagos for island hopping. There are three boats, the Delphin, Esmeraldas III and Santa Fe, that offer day trips to Florena, Bartoleme, North Seymore and Plazas. Prices range from USD 50 to USD 100 per person per tour. The higher the price tag the more comfortable the boat.
Working & Volunteering
Being a tourism magnet, Puerta Ayora has an array work and volunteer opportunities. Landing a position on-the-spot is not uncommon. Ask around town for the right contact. Below is a typical list of options:
Dive Masters: contact Scuba Iguana or Sub-Aqua
Dive Instructors: same as above
Charles Darwin Station
Restaurants, Bars, and Cafes
For those seriously considering working in Ecuador or the Galapagos, EE.com has created a work and volunteer page as well as a classifieds page.