Guide to the Galapagos Islands, Part 2
It’s Saturday morning. You’re in the Galapagos Islands on Isla Santa Cruz. It’s 8:00AM, and already a balmy eighty degrees out. You’ve got a bathing suit on underneath your tank and shorts, and you’re about to meet your guide for breakfast at Galapagos Planet.
On the agenda today: exploring Isla Santa Cruz’s world-famous watering hole, Las Grietas, checking out the turtle situation at El Chato Tortoise Reserve, and finally, capping off the day with some Ecuadorian nightlife. Our base for the day is Isla Santa Cruz’s main town: Puerto Ayora.
But first things first – let’s meet our guide! If you haven’t read Guide to the Galapagos, Part 1 yet – let me introduce you. Our guide’s name is Adicho – he’s an avid fisherman, tour guide, surfer, and overall expert on the Galapagos Islands. He’s proud of his heritage as a native Ecuadorian, and is eager to share his knowledge of the Islands he calls home with you!
So let’s go to breakfast! At Galapagos Planet, you’re going to get a nice,hearty American-style breakfast (with coffee!) for around $5. And since you’re on the main drag of Ave. Charles Darwin – you’re going to be in for some great people watching. Galapagos Planet is also across the street from the main dock in Puerto Ayora, where we’ll catch our boat to Las Grietas. Here’s a shot of breakfast – good thing it’s hearty, because we’ve got a long day of exploring ahead…time to fuel up!
Before we grab a boat from the main dock to get to Las Grietas, we’re going to make a quick stop across the street from Galapagos Planet. Underneath a shaded pergola is a spot where the sea lions like to hang out. Not many people (tourists) know about this spot, so it’s a great opportunity to get a little closer to the sea lions without a big crowd (just don’t get too close – stay 5-6 feet away).
Next up: on to the main dock. When you come out of Galapagos Planet, make a right turn, and in a few hundred yards the main dock will be on your left. There are always people coming and going, at all times of day – because most tours enter and exit from this dock. We’re heading to the last dock on the right, to catch a five-minute water-taxi ride that will drop us off at the start of our walk for Las Grietas.
GWTW Tip: Instead of heading straight for Las Grietas – just before you get to the stairs leading you down to the grotto, make sure you take a detour to the left. You’ll find yourself walking along the entire length of Las Grietas, and you can look down upon the grotto from various lookout points, culminating in a spot at the end of the path that gives you a huge view of the entire island itself.
Now for the grotto itself – Las Grietas! You head down a set of wooden stairs and hear sounds of laughter, splashes, and you see plenty of other people coming up and down the steps. This is a popular spot – even for locals!
Make sure you brought your swim suit, a towel, and possibly a snorkel or underwater camera – so that you can fully enjoy your time here at Las Grietas! Leave your stuff on the rocks nearby, and jump in the water! How much time should you budget for your Las Grietas adventure? Approximately 2-3 hours minimum to properly explore and enjoy the refreshing waters in the grotto, particularly if it’s a hot day!
Once you’ve had enough swim time, jump out of the water and towel off, then enjoy a leisurely stroll back the same way you came. Stop and enjoy the beach or any other places you want to explore, then when you’re ready – head back to town via water-taxi. If you need a rest or want to stop for lunch – now’s the time to do it! El Chato Tortoise Reserve offers some refreshments (i.e. coffee and water), but doesn’t have much in the way of food, so eat now or bring along some snacks if you’re hungry.
Time to hail a taxi to take you up to El Chato, about a 10-15 minute ride. The island changes the further you get from town – it will start to look more island-y, with lots of lush, green trees and broader vistas (you’re going to climb in altitude a bit). Once you get to the Reserve, grab a delicious cup of coffee to get a little afternoon pick-me-up, take a photo between the tortoise shells on display, then get ready to head out for a little tour.
In this Reserve, you’re able to witness the tortoises in their natural habitat. As such, it’s a very peaceful place, with gentle, meandering paths to amble along. It’s different than the Charles Darwin Research Station in that you can walk right up next to the tortoises, versus at Charles Darwin, where you watch them from a distance, outside their enclosures. The Reserve is a more interactive experience. You can choose to wander on your own or take a tour with a guide for greater explanation. Time to budget for El Chato = 2-3 hours, including the drive there. Just make sure you leave time for the volcanic craters nearby…
After enjoying your time at the Reserve, have your taxi driver make a quick stop up the street so you can check out two, huge craters that remain from volcanic activity. The views are excellent and worth a stop before heading back to town. If you have more time, stay awhile and hike around the craters.
Now it’s time to head back to town! Maybe you want to stop by OMG Coffee and grab a frozen yogurt or an iced coffee before heading back to the hotel and getting ready for the evening. Or, if you have time, maybe you want to head to the beach for an afternoon snorkel. Enjoy your time and spend it how you please – that is the true beauty of the Galapagos.
It’s about 8PM now, and we’re definitely ready for dinner after a full day of activity and adventure. Head to any of the many dinner spots along Ave. Charles Darwin – check out all the menus and see which one appeals to you most. My vote is always the ceviche! The best ceviche I’ve eaten is in South America, and some of the best of that is definitely in the Galapagos.
After dinner, head to Limon y Café for an after-dinner drink. It’s on the second-level of a building on the corner of Ave. Charles Darwin and 12 de Febrero, and is a great spot to start the evening. It’s also a popularmeeting place for locals, with a good, mixed crowd of all ages. If you’re lucky, a band will be playing and you can get your dancing shoes primed for your next stop: the Bongo Bar. When you come out of Limon, turn left on Ave. Charles Darwin and Bongo Bar will be about a block down the street, next to La Garrapata. Bongo is a two-story bar with a dance floorupstairs, pool tables, and a mix of Top 40 U.S. hits plus popular Latino music. If you’re looking for a party: this is the place. It will be mainly twenty-something locals vigorously dancing and imbibing – but don’t let that stop you from getting in the mix if you’re over 30…you’ll be missing out on some great nights of (sweaty) dancing. Recommended, if you can get past the noise.
Sooo…that about covers our Day 2 in the Galapagos! Have you visited Las Grietas? What was your experience like? How about El Chato? Tell me about it in the comment section below, and stay tuned for Guide to the Galapagos, Part 3 – next time, we’ll get off the island and onto a boat for some true Galapagos adventures…like swimming with sea lions! Stay tuned…