Best Things to Do in Puerto Ayora in the Galapagos!
It’s 8:00AM. We’re on Isla Santa Cruz, the most populated island in the Galapagos ~ in its main town: Puerto Ayora. It’s a balmy eighty degrees, & you’re about to meet your guide for a day filled with adventures in this tropical paradise. So what are the best things to do in Puerto Ayora, you ask?! Well, nobody knows better than a local where to go on this gorgeous island, so I’ve called in reinforcements to help write this post! Meet my friend, Adicho….an avid fisherman, tour guide, surfer, & expert on all things Galapagos. He took me to the best spots on the island, & we’ll tour them here…
Best Things to Do in Puerto Ayora in Galapagos!
On the agenda: 1) Exploring Puerto Ayora’s world-famous watering hole, Las Grietas; 2) Meeting native turtles at El Chato Tortoise Reserve; 3) Taking a boat tour for up-close animal encounters; & 4) Exploring Ecuadorian nightlife.
What You Need in the Galapagos
The #1 most IMPORTANT thing you need as you enjoy the best things to do in Puerto Ayora is….SUNSCREEN!!! Make it the strongest you can find!!! I can’t emphasize this enough. The Galapagos Islands sit directly on the equator. The sun is SO powerful here: I got a horrendous third-degree burn after just 20 minutes in the sun!!! And of course, a waterproof camera here is essential.
Read Next: Best Mineral Sunscreens for Travel!
Best Things to Do in Puerto Ayora!
First things first: let’s grab breakfast before heading to Las Grietas. My pick: Galapagos Planet. You can get an American-style breakfast with coffee for around $5, & it’s across the street from Puerto Ayora’s main dock, where we’ll catch a boat to Las Grietas.
GWTW Tip: Across the street from Galapagos Planet is a shaded pergola where sea lions LOVE to hang out! Not many tourists know about this spot, so it’s a great opportunity to get close to sea lions ~ minus the crowds (stay 5-6 feet away).
Now, let’s head to Las Grietas. Walk to the main dock, just a few hundred yards from Galapagos Planet. Many tours leave from here; so the dock is busy all day. Walk to the last dock on the right, to catch a 5-minute water-taxi across the bay: to our starting point for the walk to Las Grietas. Make sure to look for lazy sea lions lounging on benches…
1) Las Grietas Swimming Grotto!
When your water taxi drops you off at the dock across the bay, follow signs towards “Las Grietas.” You’ll pass a beach on the left, after which you’ll cross a long, wooden boardwalk with pretty views on both sides.
GWTW Tip: Instead of heading straight for Las Grietas – just before you get to the stairs leading down to the grotto, take a detour to the left. You’ll find yourself walking along the entire length of Las Grietas, & you can look down into the grotto from various lookouts, culminating in a spot at the end of the path that gives you a huge view of the entire island.
To get to the “Grotto,” simply head down a set of wooden stairs (shown below). You’ll likely hear sounds of laughter, splashes, & if it’s a warm day, you’ll encounter plenty of people coming up & down. This is a popular spot ~ even for locals!
Bring your swim suit, a towel, snorkel gear, & a waterproof camera. When you venture into the water, leave your belongings on the rocks nearby (you should be able to view them the whole time, in case you’re worried about safety). Budget approximately 3 hours minimum for a venture out to Las Grietas from Puerto Ayora ~ & more time if you take the detour.
2) El Chato Tortoise Reserve in Puerto Ayora
Next up: hail a taxi for a ride to El Chato Tortoise Reserve, about 15-minutes from Puerto Ayora. The island changes the further you get from town: it will start to look more tropical & green, with lush foliage & broader vistas (you’ll climb in altitude a bit). When you get to the Reserve, grab a delicious cup of coffee at their main visitor’s center, take a photo between the tortoise shells on display, then head out for a tour of the grounds.
In the Reserve, you’re able to witness tortoises in their natural habitat. It’s very peaceful, with gentle, meandering paths to amble along. It’s different than the Charles Darwin Research Station (also on Isla Santa Cruz) in that you can walk right up next to the turtles, out in the wild. At Charles Darwin, they’re inside enclosures ~ & you obviously can’t enter them. The Reserve is a more interactive experience. Wander on your own, or tour with a guide for greater explanation. Budget at least 2-3 hours for El Chato, including the drive there. And leave time for the volcanic craters nearby…
Best Things to Do in Puerto Ayora!
After enjoying your time at El Chato, have your driver make a quick stop up the street ~ so that you can check out one or both of two, huge craters remaining from the island’s volcanic activity. Views are great, & it’s worth a stop before heading back to town. If you have more time, stay awhile & hike around the craters. Adicho & I literally encountered NO other tourists here, making this a slightly more off-the-beaten-path Puerto Ayora adventure.
3) Take a Boat Tour!
In our list of the best things to do in Puerto Ayora, we can’t leave out what’s likely the #1 thing you came here to do ~ to swim with the seemingly endless array of animals that inhabit the Galapagos Islands! The best way to do this is by taking a guided boat tour: & there are COUNTLESS options available from Puerto Ayora/Isla Santa Cruz! Depending how many people are in your tour, rates run from $50-120+, & you can book at any tour operator along Ave. Charles Darwin. Tours generally start at 7AM, & return around sunset.
Best Things to Do in Puerto Ayora ~ Boat Tours!
I’ll discuss two tours in particular here (I went on both):
1) The first visited three small islands in one day: North Seymour (known for blue-footed boobies), Daphne Mayor, & Pinzon. All are located near Isla Santa Cruz, & due to their north-western locations ~ this tour left from the northern-most dock on the island (en route to Baltra Airport). We also stopped at a beautiful beach for lunch (fresh ceviche made on-board), swam with turtles & sea lions, & viewed countless iguanas, birds, & fish indigenous to the Galapagos.
2) The second tour was to Isla Santa Fe (southeast of Santa Cruz), known for SEA LIONS!! We stayed in the water for at least an hour here, snorkeling with the most playful bunch of sea lions I’ve ever met ~ one even snagged the fin off my foot! This was probably one of the best days I’ve ever had in the water. On our way back, we stopped at a jaw-droppingly GORGEOUS beach on Isla Santa Cruz, where we swam with (baby) sharks, & took an on-land tour, encountering MORE sea lions up close, as well as tons of marine iguanas!
4) Dinner & Dancing!
For dinner options in Puerto Ayora: you’ve got plenty. Simply walk along Ave. Charles Darwin & check out all the menus ~ see which appeals to you most. My vote is always for ceviche! Try: La Cevicheria.
For an after-dinner drink with live music: head to Limon y Café. It’s a great place to start the evening, & popular with locals of all ages. For great dancing & LOUD music: head to the Bongo Bar, right in the heart of downtown, next to La Garrapata. Bongo is a two-story bar with a dance floor upstairs, pool tables, & a mix of Top 40 U.S. hits with popular Latino music. If you’re looking for a party: this is the place.
Where I Stayed in Puerto Ayora ~
- Under $50/night: If you’re on a budget, I highly recommend the Gloria Galapagos Hotel, located in downtown Puerto Ayora, walk-able to the water, restaurants, & main dock. With its sunny yellow rooms & cheap price ($35/night), this hotel is a little gem.
- For a more complete list of Galapagos Island hotels, click here.
Best Things to Do in Puerto Ayora in Galapagos!
Thanks for reading about the best things to do in Puerto Ayora. There are still a TON of things left to do here ~ if I wrote about ALL of them, this post would simply be too long! So for more ideas, click on the post below: which covers other Isla Santa Cruz highlights such as Tortuga Bay, the Charles Darwin Research Station, & secret beaches!
Read Next: Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos!