Puerto Ayora is the most densely populated island in the Galapagos, with around 18,000 inhabitants. It is the major port for cruise and tour ships as well as the main point of departure for most land-based tours these days. The dock is busy and crowded with anchored ships and boats, water taxis zooming around them all like bees around flowers, picking up and dropping off travelers.
At each port in the Galapagos, if you use water taxis, the ride each way will cost you either 50 cents or 1 dollar, payable once you’ve left the boat but before you reach the dock. I really wanted to see what happened if you couldn’t pay while sitting stationary in the middle of the harbor – I secretly hoped they’d just toss someone over the side, luggage following and slowly sinking to the bottom. (Not me, of course, just some faceless passenger in my imagination.)
The city faces the harbor, with brightly painted hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and tour agencies in all directions. There’s a huge building just to the left of the dock with “Cafeteria” on the front. This place proved invaluable to us, once we realized what it really was. First of all, on the sidewalk in front of that building were three functioning ATMs (Something we discovered was rare on Santa Cruz, by process of elimination and frustration.).
We couldn’t resist ordering a nice big batido to cool off. Yum!
Best of all – They sold food we could eat and transport between islands! (Important to note here: They inspect your bags each time you travel between islands in an attempt to stop invasive species and smuggling. We always showed the inspectors our bag of snacks and got the all clear.)
So, here’s the good and the bad about Santa Cruz:
The good: It’s pretty, with tropical flowering trees everywhere, exotic birds and sea lions just hanging out in every direction you look. There are often musicians performing in a dockside park as visitors come on shore. The shops are open and inviting and the landscape just beyond the city is beautiful.
The bad: It has a perpetual stench held in the city streets by the heat, humidity and all the vehicles and scooters constantly driving around the close streets of this tightly-packed city, and because of the large sea lion colony spread out along the whole of the harbor waterfront. They are amazing to watch, but I am not kidding when I say that it is vile anywhere along the front street when the wind changes and blows past a group of them in your direction. I used to think wet dogs were bad, but they’ve got nothing on sea lions.
All in all, the city of Puerto Ayora was interesting but my least favorite place in the Galapagos.
It’s very difficult to find a street map of any island or town in the Galapagos. Luckily, taxis are ubiquitous and all charge only $1 to take you anywhere within a town. Even so, every town is fairly small and would only take you 30 minutes or less to walk the entire length, if only you knew exactly where your destination was…
It also pays to explore a bit on foot, as you never know what hidden gem lies around an unassuming corner.