Four daytrips with bicycle (2014)
When I visited Puerto Ayora in 2014 I made four daytrips with bicycle. One day I cycled to Rancho Chato 2 and another day to both Cerro Mesa and El Garrapatero. I also went to El Manzanillo with bicycle and to Los Gemelos.
For three of the bicycle tours I rented a bike at Comercial Pinguino next to Hotel Darwin on Av Baltra. The bikes there were very good. You will get a lock for the bike and a helmet if you want to wear one. Once I even got a small kit with tools. The price in July/August 2014 was $10 for half a day and $15 for a full day.
To Rancho Chato 2
I didn’t go until the afternoon, too late. To Santa Rosa it took 1h 15min and from there, there is still quiet some distance to go. The small dirt road leading to Rancho Chato 2 is beautiful and it was much greener along the road than the previous year. Also this time I saw tortoises along that road.
I didn’t leave Rancho Chato 2 until 17.15 to go back to Puerto Ayora and that was absolutely too late. There is a lot of uphill along the dirt road, but from Santa Rosa it is mainly downhill along the main road. After Bellavista I changed for the bicycle road they are still constructing because it started to be dark and there were no lamps on the bicycle. On the unfinished bicycle road there were rocks in the way and I also got blinded by the light of the meeting cars. The very last bit before Puerto Ayora (and the lights) I had to walk because it was too dark. That is definitely something that I don’t want to do again. Be sure to be back in town before dark!
To Cerro Mesa and El Garrapatero
There was a lot of uphill to Cerro Mesa. From Bellavista the road was not paved and I only saw one or two cars. It was very quiet and nice. Just as I arrived to Cerro Mesa a man arrived in a car. He told me how to go to the crater and he said he would tell me how to go to El Garrapatero when I returned from the crater and view point of Cerro Mesa. I was gone for an hour so he had left when I returned, but luckily he had put a paper with a simple map on my bike. It is not necessary to go all the way back to Bellavista, but there is a narrow dirt road between El Chamote and El Cascajo. When leaving Cerro Mesa it is not the first road to the left. There an entrance to a driveway was constructed and it said private (I have later found out that that is where the new super luxury Pikara Lodge is situated). The second road to the left is the right one (there is no sign). From the village El Cascajo it is another 7km to El Garrapatero, mostly downhill along a paved road.
To El Manzanillo
Rancho El Manzanillo is one of the farms where you can see tortoises. It has not been open more than a couple of years and I hadn’t visited before, so I decided to go here with bicycle one day. Somewhere between El Carmen and Santa Rosa there is a sign for El Manzanillo. From the main road a dirt road is leading down to the tortoise ranch. It was a very nice road and I saw several tortoises along the road. I took my time visiting and I also ate lunch here (they had lunch for one person because there was a group there which had just had lunch). When I came back to Puerto Ayora I had been away for 6h.
To Los Gemelos
Los Gemelos is situated almost in the middle of the islands and there is a long bicycle ride to go there. You cycle along the main road and it is mostly uphill. I cycled the whole way and it did not feel hard, but that was because I recently had spent a lot of time on high altitude. Unfortunately the weather was not good, it was grey and rainy. On the way back to Puerto Ayora I stopped at Rancho Fortiz. I had seen the sign along the main road I wanted to check it out. I was lucky because there was a tour group there having lunch, which meant I could buy some lunch too. This is not a tortoise ranch where you can walk around on paths to see tortoises. I also made a stop by the lava tunnels just outside Puerto Ayora.
- National/State Park
- Budget Travel
Three more daytrips to other islands
When I visited Galapagos Islands in July/August 2014 I made three daytrips to other islands from Puerto Ayora. Here is some information about those tours:
Snorkelling tour to Isla Santa Fe and a visit to Playa Escondida (Isla Santa Cruz)
I did not know there were daytrips to Isla Santa Fe which included a walk on the island, so I booked the Santa Fe snorkeling tour, which includes two snorkeling stops by Isla Santa Fe and a visit to Playa Escondida on Isla Santa Cruz. I booked the tour through Academy Bay Dive Centre on Av Charles Darwin. The tour was $85 (August 2014) and to rent a wetsuit was $5 for a shortie and $10 for one with long sleeves and legs.
There is more information on my Isla Santa Fe page:
Isla Santa Fe
Daphne Major, Isla Pinzón and Bahía Borrero (Isla Santa Cruz)
This tour was new, only one week old, so I was very happy to find it. For the tour I paid $120 (August 2014) and I booked it through Española Tours on Av Charles Darwin. I was picked up at my hotel at 7.50 in the morning. We drove to the canal to take a boat from there.
First we circled around Daphne Major and then we went to Pinzón where we snorkeled at two places. At the first snorkeling stop it was very strong currents, but the second stop (Bahía Pengüinos) was wonderful with white tipped reef sharks, penguins and marine iguanas in the water. In the end of the tour we visited the lovely beach at Bahía Borrero for a while. We were back in Puerto Ayora around 18.00. There is more info about this tour on these pages: Isla Daphne Major and Isla Pinzon
Islas Plazas (South Plaza) with snorkeling at Punta Carrión (off Isla Santa Cruz)
I wanted to visit Plaza Sur during my last day in Galapagos Islands and went around to several agencies. They told me it was sold out, but at one agency (on Tomas de Berlanga) I found an agency selling more expensive tours. Instead of $120 it was $160 because the boat was bigger and more comfortable. Plaza Sur was beautiful with the red sesuvium and the Opuntia cacti. We even saw a hybrid iguana climbing in a cactus, something I hadn’t seen three years previous when I visited Plaza Sur while on a cruise. There is more information on my South Plaza page:
- National/State Park
Ceramic Garden – Mosaics
One day walking around in Puerto Ayora I came across a lovely little mosaic garden. It was the mosaic arch that caught my attention and then I saw a small sign next to it saying there was a Ceramic Garden inside. I love mosaics, so of course I had to have a look. The Ceramic Garden is situated outside the walls of a house, between Av Charles Darwin and Academy Bay, not so far from Red Mangrove Inn.
The motifs are of animals of the islands, volcanoes other things or just beautiful colourful patterns.
It is situated on the way to Charles Darwin Research Station so make a stop here on the way there or when coming back.
- Arts and Culture
The path to Tortuga Bay
I think it is worth taking your time when walking the trail to Tortuga Bay as there are a lot to see along the way. It is common to see Ground Finches, Cactus Finches, Mockingbirds, Galapagos Flycatchers and Lava Lizards. I have also seen a Galapagos Dove here. Last time I visited Galapagos there were also some butterflies. The wasps can be annoying though at some parts of the trail. When I visited Galapagos Islands in 2013 there were several yellow poison traps along the trail to Tortuga Bay, all with dead Yellow Paper Wasps inside, an invasive species that causes a lot of nuisance in the islands. In 2014 I didn’t see any poison traps and a few times when I wanted to stop and take a photo I couldn’t because the wasps came to me.
I have visited Puerto Ayora in 2011, 2013 and 2014 and have walked the trail to Tortuga Bay many times, and I have also been running here several mornings. I have always visited in June/July or July/August and I have noticed that some years are greener than others. 2013 must have been a quite dry year because the vegetation was not as green around the trail as it was the other years I visited. It is of course more beautiful when it is green. The Opuntia Cacti are always interesting to see though.
The 2.5 km long trail to Tortuga Bay is paved and easy to walk. In the morning it is a nice place for jogging. Before starting your walk to Tortuga Bay you must register with your passport number (hotel name is also fine) at the small office in the beginning of the trail. The office is open 6 – 18.
- Hiking and Walking
The path to Las Grietas
The trail to Las Grietas from Angermeyer Point is 662 metres long. The first part is easy to walk, but after you have passed Finch Bay Hotel it becomes rockier, and here it is good to wear good shoes, not flip-flops. However, I have heard that since 2014 the trail to Las Grietas is closed for 4-5 months. And I guess it is because they are doing the trail easier to walk.
Along the way to Las Grietas you will pass several shallow lagoons where you might see some birds, like the Great Blue Heron or the Great Egret.
Around the pier after dark
Also after dark it is nice to walk around by the pier. Looking down in the water you can often see small white tipped reef sharks, sea lions and schools of small fish. On the railing of the piers you can see sea birds like pelicans and striated herons.
On Av Charles Darwin opposite the pier there are two trains for children going on short rides around in town.
Las Grietas is a long fissure in the lava rock. Here freshwater filtered down from the highlands meet salty water entering from the sea, making the water in the ravine brackish. It is a very nice place for swimming and snorkelling. The water is very clear, but can be a bit cold. Some people dive or make somersaults from the high cliffs. When you swim you can continue longer than you think, but you will have to walk over a few rooks and then you can continue the swim around the corner. I think it is a very beautiful place!
In the afternoon, I have heard, tour groups come here, so if you want tranquillity you should come early. It is easy to go here on your own from Puerto Ayora. Just take a water taxi ($0.60) from the pier over to Angemeyer Point and than follow the trail. After passing Finch Bay Hotel the trail becomes more rocky, so good shoes can be good to wear. Along the path there are several small lagoons were you might see migratory and coastal birds (for example I saw a Great Blue Heron here).
The first time I visited Las Grietas I hadn’t brought swimwear or snorkel equipment with me, so I came back the next day. I rented the snorkel equipment at Cabo Mar, near the harbour. It was $5 (July 2011) for the whole day and the equipment was good.
I have visited in Las Grietas in 2013 and 2014 too. It is not only in the afternoon there are many people, but once when I came here before lunch I met several big groups leaving.
- National/State Park
- Diving and Snorkeling
La Laguna de las Ninfas
La Laguna de las Ninfas is a small lagoon with clear emerald-green water, surrounded by mangrove vegetation. When I visited Puerto Ayora in 2011 there was only a small jetty here, at the end of the road. When I came back in 2013 they had made a wooden boardwalk around part of the lagoon. It is an interpretation trail with some signs along the trail with information about mangrove vegetation and the life in the mangroves. The trail is 300 metres long and nice to walk.
Las Nimfas is situated close to Hotel Crossman where I stayed both in 2013 and 2014, so I have been here a few times now. It is a nice and relaxing walk.
- National/State Park
Three daytrips with bicycle (2013)
When I visited Puerto Ayora in 2013 I rented a bike three times and made daytrips out of Puerto Ayora. One day I cycled to Media Luna and walked to Puntodo, another day I cycled to Los Gemelos andRancho Primicias, and another day I cycled to El Garrapatero. I will make tips about those places on my Isla Santa Cruz page.
I rented the bikes from two different agencies on the street Islas Plazas. The good thing is that they open already at 7am so you can leave early if you want to. In June/July 2013 the cost to rent a bike was $10 for half a day and $15 for a full day.
The bike I rented the first day had very worn tires which were not good when going uphill on the dirt roads, as the back wheel spun. The break for the back wheel was not good either. The next two days I rented from another agency and the man there brought more bikes to his agency for me to try. Those bikes were much better.
A bicycle road was being constructed along the main road across the island, but it was far from completed when I visited.
To Media Luna and Puntudo
Follow the road from Puerto Ayora, uphill towards Bellavista. You can take this road all the way up to Bellavista and turn right there, but it is nicer to turn right onto a dirt road, about 20 minutes from Puerto Ayora. This dirt road will also take you to Bellavista. In Bellavista you shall continue straight when coming from the dirt road (with the school on your right side). Continue uphill until Media Luna. Park the bicycle there and continue to Puntudo by foot.
To Los Gemelos and Rancho Pimicias
This is a long bicycle ride. It took me around 1h and 50min to reach Los Gemelos. The road was going uphill almost all the way, but I only walked for a short while. After visiting Los Gemelos I cycled down to the village Santa Rosa where I bought some snacks in a store. I continued to Rancho Primicias, but because the signs were not very clear I came to Rancho Chato 2 instead. A man was just on his way to walk to Pimicias and I could walk with him along a path. It was very close that way, but if I had gone back along the road it would have been another 4km. After leaving Rancho Primicias I passed a lava tunnel where I stopped to visit.
To El Garrapatero
I took the same road to Bellavista (the dirt road) as I had done when cycling to Media Luna, but instead of continuing straight in Bellavista I now tuned right at the school and followed the road to El Garrapatero. To Bellavista it is mostly uphill, from Bellavista it is a lot of uphill and downhill, and in the end a lot of downhill. It took around 1h 50minutes to cycle to El Garrapatero. I arrived early and there was no one else at the beach, not even the park ranger had arrived to his office. On the way back I stopped to visit a long lava tunnel in Bellavista.
- National/State Park
- Budget Travel
Playa Mansa (Tortuga Bay)
The long white sandy beach at Tortuga Bay is not a good place for swimming as the currents can be very strong. If you want to swim you should continue to Playa Mansa. To get there you walk to the end of the beach at Playa Tortuga and take the path to the right. At Playa Mansa the water is calm and it is a good place for sunbathing and swimming. If you have your snorkel equipment you can snorkel along the mangroves, or just over the sandy bottom where you occasionally can see a ray.
Bring water and snacks, as there is nowhere to buy these things and it is a long walk back to town.
Daytrip to Floreana
When I was in Puerto Ayora in 2013 I decided to take a day tour to Floreana. I had visited Florean two years previous, but then the visitor sites Cormorant Point and Post Office Bay while on a cruise. The day trips are not allowed to go there but go to Puerto Velasco Ibarra and the highlands, and some time for snorkeling is also included.
In Puerto Ayora different operators had different prices for the day trip to Floreana, ranging between $60 - $90 (June 2013). I asked at the agency where the tour was $90 why their tour was more expensive and they told me it was a difference in service and boat. At Galapagos Mockingbird Tours where the price was $75 they told me they use the same boat as the agency where it was $90. I’m not sure the agencies offering the tour for $60 go to La Lobería for snorkeling. Anyway I had got good information at Galapagos Mockingbird Tours and booked with them. Included in the price was transport, guide, lunch and snorkel equipment.
The next morning we left Puerto Ayora at 8.15. We were back at 16.00. The boat trip took 1.5 each way.
On Floreana we took a chiva from Puerto Velasco Ibarra to Asilo de la Paz in the highlands. There we visited a large corral with Giant Tortoises and the caves where early settlers once had lived. Back in Puerto Velasco Ibarra we ate lunch and visited Playa Negra. Before we returned to Puerto Ayora we snorkeled at La Loberia.
There are no daily speedboats between Puerto Ayora (Isla Santa Cruz) and Puerto Velasco Ibarra (Floreana). If you want to visit on your own and stay the night you can travel with the day tour boats, but of course only if there is space and if there are boats going that day.
For photos and tips about Floreana (Isla Santa Maria) see may travel page here.
In Puerto Ayora you can also buy daytrips to other islands; North Seymour, Isla Plaza Sur, Isla Bartolomé and Isla Isabela. I have visited all these islands while on a cruise, and Isla Isabela independently for a few days as well. There are also daytrips to Santa Cruz highlands. There I have also been while on a cruise, and independently when renting a bicycle.
Charles Darwin Research Centre: Giant Tortoise bre
The Charles Darwin Research Centre is run by the Charles Darwin Foundation, an international not-for-profit organization set up under the auspices of UNESCO in 1960, following the centenary of the publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of the Species” (published in 1859). The aim was to contribute to the conservation of the Galápagos Islands. A visit here is included in just about every cruise, I understand, and is also easy to do if staying in Puerto Ayora, as the centre is only about a mile outside town. For us, it was the first place we visited on Santa Cruz, and we transferred directly to the centre’s own jetty in the pangas straight after breakfast.
The centre was set up in 1960 in order to promote research, conservation, and education in the archipelago. Fabian gave us a tour of the different pens used for the successful Giant tortoise breeding programme for which the centre is best known. We saw a group of male tortoises in one, females in another, and elsewhere met “Super Diego”, considered to be the centre’s most sexually active male (and therefore very useful to the breeding programme!) The latter is a Saddleback Tortoise, and Fabian pointed out how his shell shape differs from that of his cousins – a feature that demonstrates admirably Darwin’s theory of evolution. On the larger islands, such as here on Santa Cruz, the Giant Tortoises thrive in the highlands where there is plentiful ground vegetation. Here the domed shell is the norm. But on some of the smaller islands, where most vegetation is above ground and harder to reach, the tortoises have evolved to have this cut-away area of their shell, behind their heads, which enables them to stretch upwards to reach food. Fabian also told us that Stephen Spielberg had been inspired by seeing the tortoises on a visit to the centre to come up with the image of ET – look, you can see him, can’t you?
As with all such places, the centre offers you a chance to get close to wildlife. However, after five days visiting the islands it was clear to us that, given how comfortable the animals and birds are around their human visitors, “getting close” is much less of a bonus here than elsewhere! But we did learn a lot about the Giant Tortoises, and I was also able to get a nice little video of one on the move.
After seeing the adult tortoises, and a few Land iguanas (although the breeding programme for these had now ceased, having achieved its aims), we went on to visit the rearing house, where hatchlings are cared for, and the adaptation centre, where young tortoises are gradually accustomed to the conditions they will find on release to their home islands, which happens at about four years of age. Nearly 2,000 young tortoises have been released so far!
Here our tour with Fabian ended and we all went our separate ways, free to explore more of the centre on our own, as my next tip describes.
- National/State Park
Charles Darwin Research Centre: other attractions
Following Fabian’s tour we were free for the rest of the morning. Chris and I walked back through the grounds, stopping to look at the various plants – the centre also maintains a native plant garden of species endemic to the Santa Cruz arid and coastal zones. We watched a Cactus Finch at close quarters in one of the Opuntias and then had a brief look inside the Van Straelen Exhibition Centre which has displays about the Galápagos Islands and the work of the Research Station. The centre also runs slide shows that describe the history of the islands and the current conservation efforts. We only spent a short time here as we were getting so much information from Fabian on all our island visits that we didn’t feel the need to read everything here in detail, and to be honest I felt that the presentation was a little dull and static compared with modern interpretation techniques employed elsewhere. Besides, we were more interested in spending time outside exploring for ourselves. But if you’ve just arrived in the Galápagos and would like an introduction to the ecology, geology and other aspects of this special part of the world, you could do worse than study these displays.
One inhabitant we did not meet at the Research Centre was Lonesome George, who had sadly died a few months before our visit. His spirit is still felt though, as my next tip describes.
- National/State Park
Puerto Ayora’s fish market is really little more than a few stone counters set by the side of the road in the middle of town, backed by the harbour. The fish can come directly from boat to counter to shopping bag. As a tourist you’re maybe unlikely to be shopping for fish, but just the same, this is a spot worth visiting. The activity here (gutting and preparing fish) is a magnet for local wildlife, such as pelicans and sea lions, and they are as comfortable around humans in this populated area as they are on the more remote islands. So this is a great place to get some rather different photos of the animals and to record their interactions with the locals.
After spending some time here we were ready for a coffee break.
Charles Darwin Research Station
Charles Darwin Research Station is situated in the outskirts of Puerto Ayora, at the east end of Avenida Charles Darwin. It was established in 1964 and it is the headquarters of the Charles Darwin Foundation. Here more than 100 scientists, students and volunteers are working with research and conservation projects to protect the Galapagos ecosystem and endangered species.
At Charles Darwin Research Station there is a museum and information centre where you can learn much about the wildlife and ecology of the Galapagos Islands. There is a breeding centre and a house where baby-tortoises are incubated. The young tortoises are taken care of until they are old enough to be taken to their home islands and natural habitat. In the Galapagos Islands there are 11 different subspecies of the Giant Tortoise, and at Charles Darwin Research Station you can see several of them. The most famous tortoise here is Lonesome George. He is the only surviving Tortoise of the subspecies from Isla Pinta. Many attempts have been made to mate him with closely related females, but without success.
There are several enclosures with adult Giant Tortoises and in one of them you can go down to come close to the tortoises. There are also enclosures with Land Iguanas.
I visited Charles Darwin Research Station on the first day of the Cruise with M/S Cachalote, so we got a very good guided walk around the area. However, it is easy to visit on your own. It is only a 15 minutes walk from central Puerto Ayora and around the Research Station there are several trails and information boards. It is free to visit.
Update June 2012: Lonesome George died on the 24th of June 2012. He was found dead in the morning by his caretaker and it is believed that he died because his heart stopped and because of old age. Lonesome George was between 90 -107 years.
- National/State Park