The Galápagos has long been one of the most popular destinations to visit in South America – an archipelago of incredibly diverse and unique islands. This place was made famous by the research and writings of Charles Darwin, who highlighted many of the islands’ endemic species in his literally life-changing publication, The Origin of Species.
The Galápagos are made up almost entirely of protected land and marine reserves, which is why I was so particularly amazed by the size and bustling atmosphere of the main port of call, Puerto Ayora, on the island of Santa Cruz. What I thought to be a quiet and sleepy town turned out to have a plentiful array of activities to offer the traveller, not to mention some of the nicest beaches I saw in all the Galápagos. And so, here’s a quick guide to five easy-to-access activities in Puerto Ayora, because there is truly more than meets the eye.
I didn’t think I’d be doing any surfing in the Galápagos, however, there was a stunning white-sand beach ten minutes from the town centre – and it had waves! This place was suitable for anyone from beginners to those more advanced. If you’re inclined to try it out, ask around town about board-rental shops and surf lessons. I’ve a feeling you’ll find what you’re looking for quite easily. Surf’s up in the Galápagos, dude!
There was a stunning white-sand beach ten minutes from the town centre.
2. The Darwin Research Center (DRC)
Established in 1959, the DRC’s primary focus is to work closely with government institutions, providing scientific knowledge and assistance to help ensure the conservation of the islands. Today it is open to the public to share evolutionary science. The DRC also runs a world-class rehabilitation program for giant tortoises and is considered the best source of research and information about this amazing creature. Well worth the visit if only for a half-day.
Find out more about the giant tortoise at the Darwin Research Center. Photo courtesy Les W.
3. Tracking wild giant tortoises up in the hills
One of the coolest things I got to do in Puerto Ayora was go searching for giant tortoises in the hills behind town. They were harder to find than I had thought, but with a local guide and our good four-wheel drive we spotted a half-dozen in just over an hour. It was amazing to get so close to such a passive and beautiful creature.
Tracking the giant tortoise in the hills outside Puerto Ayora.
4. Diving with hammerhead sharks at Gordon Rocks
Only a one-hour speed-boat trip from Puerto Ayora, two giant natural spires rise from the ocean. This is Gordon Rocks, the world-renowned dive site. Here, the current swells around and between them, surging with a heavy drawl. It’s not easy diving and from what I remember, they’ll only take advanced and certified enthusiasts, however if you have this certificate, it is fully worth the trip. Hammerhead sharks school here daily. Of course you can never guarantee wildlife sightings, but this is definitely one of the best places in the world to see these creatures in their natural environment, and in schools too. As if hammerheads aren’t enough, Gordon Rocks is also full of life from sea lions and sea turtles, to manta rays. Amazing!
Diving at Gordon Rocks takes advanced certification but it is well worth it. Photo courtesy P Torrodellas.
5. Hiking and walking the hills around town
Some of the best views and trail-walking I found in the Galápagos were also here. I know there are most likely hiking-specific trips to the trails on some of the bigger islands, however, I found the easily accessible trails around Puerto Ayora offered a good half-day outing and a chance to get some stunning views of the surrounding landscapes. On a sunny day, this is a great option to get out and stretch the legs, especially if you’ve been on a boat for seven days.
Easily accessible trails from Puerto Ayora make a day hike simple to plan for.
I’d expected to spend only one night in the town of Puerto Ayora, but I wanted to dive at Gordon Rocks, so decided to extend my stay for three extra days. With loads of stuff to do there, that may have been my best decision during that trip to Ecuador. Amazing, the stuff you learn on the road. Have an awesome trip!
G Adventures runs a number of departures to the Galápagos Islands encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.