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Puerto Ayora – Santa Cruz Island

Puerto Ayora, located on the southern end of Santa Cruz Island, is the largest town and most visited place in the Galapagos Islands.
Top Activities and Attractions in Puerto Ayora – Santa Cruz Island
Puerto Ayora – Santa Cruz Island

Puerto Ayora – Santa Cruz Island

The Galapagos’ Number One Port-of-Call

Puerto Ayora, located on the southern end of Santa Cruz Island, is the largest town and most visited place in the Galapagos Islands. The hub of most activity in the Galapagos, Puerto Ayora is a charming, bustling port town where sea, sun, seabirds and sailboats coexist in happy equilibrium. On the town’s outskirts, you will also find the headquarters of the world-renowned Charles Darwin Research Station.

The vast majority of cruises pass through Puerto Ayora on their way to Darwin Station. However, those that linger longer discover that Puerto Ayora has much more to offer visitors. In fact, Puerto Ayora is a lively seaside town offering international cuisine, oceanfront hotels, outdoor bars, scuba diving outfitters and an avenue of boutiques with everything from tie-dyed sarongs to Panama hats.

Stay a Few Extra Days: Land Based Galapagos Tours

Most people in-the-know won’t hesitate to recommend a few post or pre-cruise days in Puerto Ayora. 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.

Consider a multi-day land-based Galapagos tour, also known as hotel-based or island hopping tours, departing from Puerto Ayora, as an excellent alternative to a Galapagos cruise or as a complement to gain a more comprehensive experience of this fascinating archipelago. Opting for a land-based tour allows you to customize your schedule, visit select islands, immerse yourself in island life, and participate in a variety of outdoor activities, including kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, horseback riding, and mountain biking. This option is particularly appealing to families with young children, scuba enthusiasts traveling with non-diving companions, land explorers, independent travelers, and budget-conscious adventurers.

Transportation In Puerto Ayora

How to Get to and From Ayora

  • Flights to Baltra-Puerto Ayora: Most visitors arrive by plane (about 3 hours from the Ecuador Mainland) and land in Baltra Airport, on Baltra Island, an island just off the northernmost tip of Santa Cruz and about a forty-five minute trip from town. The only places where flights arrive from outside of the islands are Quito and Guayaquil. Upon arrival at Baltra Airport, 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 an Ecuadorian cedula (a national ID card for Ecuadorian residents) the total fee is only $25. Several flights depart daily from Quito with a short layover in Guayaquil (with a few direct flights) and fare varies according to the high and low tourism season. Most flights sell out far in advance or are reserved for the companies that operate the cruises, so most travelers to the Galapagos reserve their flight through the agency that books their cruise or tour. Tickets can also be purchased through most travel agents in Quito or Guayaquil or through the websites of Aerogal, Tame, or LAN, the main airlines that fly to the Galapagos.

For more information on flights to the Galapagos Islands, please check out our Domestic Flights page in our Transportation section.

  • Heading From Baltra to Puerto Ayora: From Baltra passengers either head directly to their cruise boat, anchored a few minutes away from the airport (you will be met by your guide), or to Puerto Ayora, a short boat taxi across the Itabaca channel, and half hour journey in car to the opposite side of Santa Cruz Island. If you are heading to Puerto Ayora hop on the bus waiting outside the airport — it is the only option to get to the channel and is free; five minutes later you will reach the ferry which takes passengers across the channel (costs about a dollar and takes about five minutes). On the other side, public buses, taxis, vans 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 center of Puerto Ayora upon which you may be bombarded with offers for boats and hotels. Most of these hawkers are trustworthy islanders despite being a bit aggressive.
  • Speedboat to Santa Cruz Island: It’s also possible to get to Puerto Ayora via water taxi from the other inhabited island towns of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island (where the other major airport is located), Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island, and Puerto Velasco Ibarra on Floreana Island. Small-craft charter flights are also available from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and Puerto Villamil.

Getting Around Puerto Ayora

Puerto Ayora itself is small and easily navigable, so it’s 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.

  • Taxis: Taxis are readily available across town. Although fares are generally set, it’s wise to confirm the fare before starting your trip. For short distances within the town, fares typically commence at $1. For longer journeys, it’s recommended to negotiate the fare with the driver beforehand and schedule pick-up times to prevent any inconvenience.
  • Bicycles: Exploring the island by bike is a favored option among visitors. Numerous shops on the island provide bicycle rental services. It’s essential to anticipate diverse terrain and equip yourself with suitable protective gear to enhance safety and maximize enjoyment during your excursion. Guided bicycle tours are available in the highlands and may include visits to Galapagos giant tortoise sanctuaries and locally-owned farms.
  • Guided Tours: Guided tours offer a fantastic way to maximize your time in Puerto Ayora and Santa Cruz Island. Explore top attractions such as the Charles Darwin Research Station, Tortuga Bay, Las Grietas, and the highlands with knowledgeable guides who can provide insights and enhance your experience.

Top Highlights In or Near Puerto Ayora

  • Charles Darwin Research Station: Puerto Ayora is an excellent base in which to explore the islands, by land or by sea. Most of the sports equipment necessary for the activities listed below can be rented. See individual sections for details. 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: cdrs@fcdarwin.org.ec
  • Tortuga Bay: 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 drop of sweat. 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 mangrove-bordered 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 the night. Don’t forget your repellent, since battalions of mosquitoes will definitely make their presence known. If it’s 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. Do take into account that the first beach has a considerable current and no lifeguard, so swim with caution. A pristine white-sand beach accessible via a scenic hike from Puerto Ayora. Tortuga Bay offers excellent opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, and wildlife spotting, including marine iguanas, sea lions, and various bird species.
  • Beaches in Puerto Ayora: 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. An additional medium-sized beach is located near Angermeyer Waterfront Inn which 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 minutes. 
  • Las Grietas: Once on the other side of the bay, you can take a fifteen-minute walk to Las Grietas, a magical little split in the earth that fills with refreshingly cool seawater during high tide. This natural geological formation consists of a series of deep, crystal-clear water-filled crevices, surrounded by dramatic volcanic cliffs. The crevice is so deep that intrepid locals climb up the rock wall and jack-knife into the water. However, if you attempt this, always check the water depth first, as it varies greatly according to the tides. Visitors can swim and snorkel in the refreshing waters, enjoying a unique experience amidst the island’s stunning landscapes.
  • El Chato Tortoise Reserve: Nestled in the verdant highlands of Santa Cruz Island, the El Chato Tortoise Reserve is a sanctuary for a thriving population of wild giant tortoises. Visitors can embark on guided tours to observe these ancient creatures as they roam freely in their natural habitat, gaining insights into their behavior, biology, and the ongoing conservation efforts to protect them.
  • Los Gemelos (The Twins): Situated amidst the lush highlands of Santa Cruz, Los Gemelos are a pair of striking volcanic sinkholes formed by the collapse of underground magma chambers. Hikers can traverse the rims of these impressive geological formations, marveling at the towering walls adorned with lush vegetation while enjoying panoramic vistas of the surrounding forest and valleys.
  • Santa Cruz Fish Market: Immerse yourself in the bustling ambiance of the Santa Cruz Fish Market, located in the heart of Puerto Ayora. Witness the daily spectacle as local fishermen haul in their fresh catches from the ocean, offering a diverse array of seafood, including fish, lobster, and octopus. Experience the vibrant culture of the Galapagos firsthand as you interact with vendors and sample the freshest seafood dishes.
  • Garrapatero Beach: Just a short drive from Puerto Ayora lies the serene Garrapatero Beach, a secluded oasis of tranquility amidst the Galapagos archipelago. Visitors can unwind on the soft sandy shores, take a refreshing dip in the crystalline turquoise waters, and enjoy leisurely picnics surrounded by the untouched natural beauty of the island. Keep an eye out for native wildlife, including seabirds and marine iguanas, that frequent the area.
  • Rancho Primicias: Delve into the enchanting landscapes of the Santa Cruz highlands at Rancho Primicias, another sanctuary dedicated to the preservation of giant tortoises. Wander through verdant pastures dotted with grazing tortoises, observing these gentle giants up close in their native habitat. Gain insights into the ecological significance of these iconic reptiles and the conservation efforts aimed at safeguarding their future.
  • Las Ninfas Lagoon: Located on the outskirts of Puerto Ayora, Las Ninfas Lagoon offers a serene retreat into nature’s embrace. Kayak or paddleboard across the tranquil waters of the lagoon, surrounded by lush mangroves and vibrant birdlife. Birdwatchers can delight in spotting an array of avian species, including herons, egrets, and finches, against the backdrop of the serene lagoon landscape.
  • Los Alemanes Beach: Accessible by boat or kayak from Puerto Ayora, Los Alemanes Beach beckons with its pristine beauty and inviting turquoise waters. Sink your toes into the powdery white sands as you bask in the warm equatorial sun or venture into the crystal-clear waters for a refreshing swim or snorkeling adventure. Discover a tranquil haven for relaxation and exploration amidst the stunning coastal scenery of Santa Cruz Island.

What to Do in Puerto Ayora

  • Sea Kayaking: Undoubtedly, kayaking offers an intimate exploration of Isla Santa Cruz’s hidden inlets and mangrove-lined bays. Several shops in town rent kayaks, and many cruise boats provide them for paddling around Academy Bay. Keep an eye out for sea lions, rays, cormorants, frigate birds, and other wildlife often spotted close to town in the bay.
  • Scuba Diving: Declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Underwater World, the Galapagos Islands boast an extraordinary level of endemism and a rich marine biodiversity. Divers can swim with penguins, sea turtles, manta rays, tropical reef fish, and even “friendly” hammerhead sharks in the same waters. With over 30 dive sites, accessible on day trips from Puerto Ayora, accompanied by professional bilingual naturalist guides, diving in the Galapagos is an unforgettable experience. Reputable companies like Scuba Iguana and Sub-Aqua offer affordable dives and PADI dive courses.
  • Snorkeling: Puerto Ayora provides access to several excellent snorkeling spots, either directly from town in Academy Bay or by land or boat. Some accessible sites include the beach at the Charles Darwin Research Station, Loberia, Punta Estrada, and the underwater barranco near Hotel Delphin. Snorkeling gear is available for rent at dive shops like Scuba Iguana and Sub-Aqua at reasonable rates.
  • Surfing: Ratonera Beach at the Charles Darwin Station, Angermeyer Break, and Tortuga Bay are popular surf spots frequented by local wave enthusiasts. Our surfing tours page can provide more information about surfing opportunities.
  • Mountain Biking: Explore the Santa Cruz Highlands on mountain bikes, pedaling across undulating hills, enjoying hilltop picnics, observing free-roaming tortoises, and sampling tropical fruits from local farmers. Guided biking tours are available as part of multi-sport land-based tours, and bike rentals can be found in shops along the main street in Puerto Ayora.
  • Horseback Riding: Descendants of purebred horses brought to the islands by American colonists, Galapagos horses offer rugged toughness ideal for navigating the island’s volcanic terrain. Horseback riding tours offer a unique perspective of the island’s remote corners.
  • Highland Tours: Highland jeep tours typically include visits to lava tunnels, sunken craters, Scalesia forests, and wild tortoise sanctuaries. Expect spectacular views of the sea and neighboring islands, along with picnics or lunches at highland restaurants.
  • One-Day Island Tours: Puerto Ayora serves as a convenient base for island hopping, with boats like Delphin, Esmeraldas III, and Santa Fe offering day trips to Floreana, Bartolome, North Seymour, and Plazas islands. Prices vary depending on the comfort level of the boat.
  • Volunteering in the Galapagos: Limited volunteer opportunities are available in Puerto Ayora, including positions at the Charles Darwin Station, English teaching, translating, computer technician roles, dive masters, and dive instructors. Some tours include volunteer opportunities as part of the trip, providing an easy way to give back to the Galapagos. However, note that immigration to the Galapagos is strictly regulated, and overstaying allotted time is a serious offense.

Banks and Money

El Banco del Pacífico and Banco Pichincha are conveniently located in the heart of town on the main street, offering easy access for banking needs. Their ATMs (“cajero automático” in Spanish) provide options for withdrawing cash from international accounts. If they experience downtime, visitors can still request cash withdrawals using credit cards (though not debit cards) from bank tellers. For comprehensive information on money and banking in Ecuador and the Galapagos, visitors can refer to the Money Matters in Ecuador page. Additional banking facilities and services in Puerto Ayora include Western Union, and Banco Bolivariano ATM.

Communications

Internet access and mobile phone services in Puerto Ayora are steadily improving, though there may still be occasional reliability issues. Visitors can find several Internet cafes, known as cibercafes, offering reasonable rates for online access. Both major wireless carriers in Ecuador, Porta and Movistar, provide coverage in Puerto Ayora, ensuring connectivity for residents and travelers. Wireless coverage is also available while boats are docked in Academy Bay and at certain points near town. Ecuador utilizes GSM chips for mobile phones, enabling travelers with international quad-band phones to purchase a prepaid card, known as a “tarjeta prepago,” for wireless minutes and mobile data at minimal cost. As for postal services, the town’s sole post office is situated across from the supermarket at the port end of town, providing essential mail services for locals and visitors alike.

Medical Services

Good quality medical care in Puerto Ayora is somewhat limited, but there are options available for various health needs. For common health problems like cuts, infections, and parasites, English-speaking Dr. Darquea provides reportedly excellent treatment in a clean, private environment. His office is located slightly inland from the Charles Darwin Station, and locals can provide specific directions (tel: 526496). For more complex injuries, the Red Cross hospital is a suitable option, while serious health issues may necessitate immediate transportation to the mainland. In cases requiring medical evacuation, Ecuavia offers the fastest air ambulance service from Guayaquil, albeit at a significant cost. Dental problems can be addressed by contacting Dr. Pino or Dr. Carrion at the Red Cross hospital. Additionally, the Cruz Roja pharmacy, located near the bus stop, is well-stocked and provides essential medications. Other pharmacies in town offer basic medicine, but visitors are advised to bring all their prescription medicine. For emergencies or specialized care, visitors can access services at institutions like Republic of Ecuador Hospital, Medical Center and Hyperbaric Chamber, Hospital IESS, and Centro Medico de Especialidades Espinoza, ensuring comprehensive medical attention on the island.

Shopping

The main grocery store in town is small by mainland standards, but does offer a 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! Tragedy.

If you are in the market to buy souvenirs there is no shortage of boutiques offering Galapagos and Ecuadorian gifts. 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 or any natural item collected from the national park. Please support the conservation of Galapagos wildlife and do not buy these items, as beautiful as they may be.

Where to Eat in Puerto Ayora

Stroll along the main drag, Avenida Charles Darwin, and the nearby cross streets, 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 locally grown Galapagos coffee.

  • Finch Bay Hotel Restaurant: Nestled within the beautiful Finch Bay Hotel, this restaurant offers exquisite cuisine in a serene and upscale atmosphere. With a focus on fresh seafood and locally sourced ingredients, guests can indulge in a culinary journey that highlights the flavors of the Galapagos. Prices range from moderate to high, reflecting the quality and sophistication of the dining experience.
  • Golden Prague Pub: A lively and welcoming establishment, the Golden Prague Pub combines traditional Czech flavors with a laid-back ambiance. Whether you’re craving hearty pub fare or international classics, this pub has something for everyone. Prices are reasonable, making it a popular choice for both locals and visitors looking for a relaxed dining experience.
  • Il Giardino: Tucked away in a charming courtyard, Il Giardino transports diners to Italy with its authentic Italian cuisine and warm ambiance. From freshly made pasta to wood-fired pizzas, each dish is crafted with care using the finest ingredients. Prices range from moderate to high.
  • Natsumi: A hidden gem for sushi lovers, Natsumi offers a delightful dining experience with its expertly crafted rolls and fresh seafood. With a focus on sustainability and innovation, the restaurant showcases the best of Japanese cuisine in the heart of Puerto Ayora. Prices are moderate, making it an ideal choice for a special night out or a casual meal with friends.
  • Los Kioskos: Los Kioskos – the best little secret in Galapagos restaurants – is a cluster of open-air budget priced restaurants with authentic cuisine located at Ave Baltra and Charles Binford. According to locals, K.F. William serves up the most savory dishes. From ceviche to empanadas, visitors can sample a wide variety of Ecuadorian flavors in a vibrant and energetic atmosphere. Prices are affordable, making it a favorite spot among locals and tourists alike.
  • Isla Grill: Overlooking the picturesque Angermeyer Waterfront Inn, Isla Grill specializes in tantalizing seafood and meat dishes infused with flavors from the grill. Offering a touch of Midori Pub ambiance, it’s a perfect spot for a romantic waterfront dining experience. Prices fall into the mid to high range.
  • Galapagos Deli: A casual and inviting spot, Galapagos Deli caters to diverse tastes with its cafeteria-style offerings, including pizzas, sandwiches, and salads. With vegan and veggie options available, it’s a great choice for those seeking a relaxed meal with a moderate price range.
  • Almar: Set against a serene waterfront backdrop, Almar presents a varied menu of fresh and delicious dishes suitable for any occasion. The tranquil ambiance, often accompanied by sightings of sea lions and birds, enhances the dining experience. Prices range from moderate to high.
  • The Rock Galapagos: Offering affordable Asian cuisine suitable for families, The Rock Galapagos boasts a clean and welcoming atmosphere. With a wide range of options, it’s a popular choice for those seeking flavorful dishes in a friendly environment. Prices are moderate, making it accessible to all.
  • Midori: Known for its top-quality sushi crafted from sustainable, locally sourced ingredients, Midori promises impeccable food and outstanding service. Set in a cozy atmosphere, it’s a favorite among sushi enthusiasts seeking a refined dining experience with a moderate price range.
  • Restaurante El Descanso del Guía – Muelle: With a prime location overlooking the main avenue, El descanso del Guía offers authentic Ecuadorian dishes, including fish ceviche and chicken breast skewers. Popular among locals and visitors alike, it’s known for its good food and great service at moderate prices.
  • El Muelle de Darwin: For a high-end Ecuadorian dining experience, El Muelle de Darwin delivers with a diverse menu featuring delicacies like grilled octopus and pancakes. With outdoor seating and beautiful surroundings, it’s an ideal spot for a memorable meal with prices reflecting its upscale offerings.
  • Bahía Mar: Situated for a scenic waterfront dining experience, Bahía Mar specializes in Ecuadorian and seafood specialties. With stunning views and top-notch seafood, it’s a dining destination worth the higher price range for those seeking an unforgettable culinary experience.
  • Kiosko de Renato: A beloved local eatery, Kiosko de Renato serves up inexpensive seafood and Latin cuisine in a bustling atmosphere. Perfect for a casual dining experience, it’s popular among both locals and tourists seeking authentic flavors at moderate prices.

Puerto Ayora Hotels

Being an international port, Puerto Ayora has an excellent selection of hotels. Backpackers on a shoestring can find a basic room across the street from the sea for as little as $25 (single) in the low season and those without budgetary constraints can check into an oceanfront hotel from around USD 100 single/USD 150 double per night, or more for a suite in an iconic Puerto Ayora hotel like the Red Mangrove. For a complete listing of recommended hotels in Puerto Ayora, please refer to our Galapagos hotels page.

Updated and improved by Jason Halberstadt, March 6, 2024.

Explore the most popular things to do in Puerto Ayora – Santa Cruz Island

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