One great thing about Puerto Ayora is just walking around town. It's not only a scenic little touristy seaside town, it is teaming with wildlife. You'll see crabs and marine iguanas scurrying all over the rocks down by the water and if you head down by the fishing boats, you can see the local bird lining up for a free meal too.
Don't worry about taking any kind of cash to the Galapagos other than US dollars. That's the official currency. Bring enough to pay your park fee, offer tips to your guide and the boat crew, buy souvenirs, snacks to take aboard the boat, etc.
You can use credit cards in a few places in the Galapagos, but don't count on it. It's best just to have cash. If you do find youself making a large enough purchase that you exhaust your stock of greenbacks and need to pay with plastic, keep in mind that American Express just won't cut it here.
There is an ATM machine in Puerto Ayora that works--or should I say is *supposed* to work--with the Cirrus system. (One boatmate of mine tried to get some cash, but she was unsuccessful; I doubt she was the only one.)
(And no, that's not all my money.... this is a stock photo from somewhere, LOL.)
As soon as you arrive in the Galapagos, you will wait in a long, long line to have your passport stamped (yes, even if it was stamped in Quito or wherever you entered the country). You will also need to pay the park fee.
IMPORTANT: You MUST pay your park fee in cash, and in US dollars. The fee is $100.
Here's a sketch of passengers waiting in line at Galapagos arrivals.
With all the good sized crabs running around Puerto Ayora, we thought it odd that no restaurants offered them to eat. We asked one of our guides and he said that while it's not offically allowed that locals did eat them. Of course, this was all off the record. They certainly didn't seem endangered but I guess if people eat them when they aren't allowed that it could become a problem is it was!
At any rate, it's fun watching the scurry around the lava rocks with the greatest of ease.
Well, the manners of some of the inhabitants may be a bit shocking to some .... not only do they not use any handkerchiefs ... but if you stand exactly in front of them you can get showered by some sticky stuff because the sea lions sneeze often. So do a favour to yourself and be a bit careful, especially if your reflexes aren't too good :-)
The Blue Footed Boobies were by far my favourite animals from the Galapagos. We came across hundreds of them, most at very close range. We were only allowed to walk on very narrow pathways on the islands and often, the boobies would nest right in the middle of our path, so we would literally have to step over them to get by.
They are very skilled hunters and extremely entertaining to watch. You will see them soaring a hundred feet in the air and they will suddenly dive from that distance nose first into the water, resembling a kamikaze pilot. After a few moments you will see them pop up from the water like a piece of toast from the toaster, usually with a fish in their beak. It was always fun to watch them from the deck of the boat.
They also really do have these intensely blue webbed feet, like the colour of sky. You can also see a trace of blue on their upper beak.
And, lastly, if you are lucky, you will be able to witness the male's comical mating dance. He will show off his lovely blue feet to his girl by picking them up one at a time and then he will usually pick up a stick in his mouth and wave it around for her to see. Where else on earth can you be so close to see such an interesting act of nature?
There are 4 species of Marine Turtles that have been spotted on the Galapagos Islands. I only observed one while snorkelling one day, but one morning we came across these turtle tracks in the sand. The females come up from the water at night and dig a deep hole into which they lay hundreds of eggs and leave them there to incubate in the hot sun.
There are 2 species of land iguanas on the Galapagos, they can reach up to 1m in length.
The marine iguanas are very unique in that they are they only aquatic iguana in the world. They have evolved to eat green algae that grows underwater. They can swim to a depth of 20m and stay underwater for an hour at a time. They are also able to expunge excess absorbed salt out of their noses.
And, as you may guess, the hybrid Iguana is what you get when a male marine iguana mates with a female land iguana. They are very rare to spot and are identified by thier unusual stripes. Our group was lucky to see one on Isla South Plaza.
Considered to be the rarest bird of the Galapagos Islands is also the largest. The Waved Albatross has a wing span of 2.5m, making it an expert flyer but less than graceful while on land. These birds spend most of their time flying to different locales in the South Pacific, but return exclusively to Isla Espanola every year from April to December to hatch and rear their young. This mating pair did not leave their nest while we were visiting, but apparantly, their take offs and landings are quite hilarious to watch.
The Great Frigate birds can be found in colonies on Isla Seymour Norte. They are not the friendliest birds in the animal kingdom in that they rely on other birds, like boobies and gulls to catch fish and then the Frigates steal their fish away. Another interesting fact about the frigate birds is that the males have these floppy red pouches beneath their beaks that they can inflate to incredible proportions to attract a female.
Whatever you do, come prepared to tip, tip, tip anyone who is providing any level of service. This is generally no big deal as people survive on tips, however, if you have booked an expensive boat trip - be warned that some Naturalists will expect some big tipping. DON'T feel trapped by this. You have paid a large amount already and they get a good wage from the tour companies. Tip if you feel the service is good and tip appropriately - by this I mean be mindful of all the people on the boat who have provided you with a good service and share the booty around. If you tip what the Naturalist expects you to provide, then you are setting up a difficult situation for future travellers. Tipping can be a difficult subject to talk about for everyone - so tip those who deserve it.
We were greeted by a very local greeting committee when we arrived at the pier on Baltra. They actually paid no attention to us or the dingies picking us up. They were comfortably asleep in the shade and perfectly happy.
If you are in Puerto Ayora over the weekend you should visit a church. There are several! Each Sunday of course the largest church in town-Catholic, there is also a Mormon church which usually has a couple of U.S. missionaries there, as well as a pentacostal church. I met many people from these churches and they would love to have guests! Specifically, I would recomend the Seventh-day Adventist Church just up the main road from the bank, where I spent my year. They are very friendly people, and have a nice, small homey church. Main services are on Saturday mornings, and evenings, but they also have Sunday and Wednesday night studies. It is a good way to practice spanish too!
You can see flamingos on Isla Rabida and Isla Sante Fe. The characteristic pink colouration of the Galapagos Flamingo is maintained by their diet of bright pink shrimp larvae and other pink marine insects.
Remember this is a Nature Reserve and the animals and marine life come first. It's very simple and you hear it often, but the rule 'take only photographs and leave only footprints' is very appropriate. This is an amazing place and there are a lot of people who would like to visit after you.
Puerto Villamil, Isabela Galapagos Islands, , Ecuador
Good for: Solo
Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands, Puerto Ayora, Ecuador
Good for: Business
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Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Solo