If you visit Santa Cruz Island as part of your Galapagos tour, then chances are you will have some free time to kill in Puerto Ayora town. The good news is that there is plenty to keep you busy in and around town on a free day or afternoon.
Read on for our top tips & picks of Puerto Ayora activities, restaurants, shopping & more!
Tortuga Bay has topped many a list as one of the best beaches in the world. Picture perfect swathes of white sand overlooking turquoise water make it a great spot to relax and enjoy the Galapagos Islands. 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.
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 walled pools are 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, and the third pool reached by a short traverse or an underwater tunnel is less crowded and the best place for snorkeling.
The fish market in Puerto Ayora 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, frigatebirds, and sea lions!
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. CDW and the Galapagos National Park raise the gentle giants in captivity until they are old enough to fend for themselves.
Anker is a sister restaurant to URKO in Quito. 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, squid, octopus, and shrimp.
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-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 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 flavors to choose from.
Puerto Ayora has a select group of galleries featuring the work of local artists, and wonderful boutiques selling unique artifacts.
The Angelique Art Gallery
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 jewelry 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 the aches and pains of life on the move.
Famai Thai Massage
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.