Continuing our look at exploring the Galápagos economically, this post will take a look at a destination just outside of Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz that makes for a wonderful excursion, and can even be an all-day adventure if you are up for it.
This is an area that has several attractions; a nice hike, a pristine protected beach, plenty of wildlife, and a protected lagoon for swimming and snorkeling. All of this is found along a coastal area known collectively as Tortuga Bay.
It is possible to get a 20-minute water taxi from the main dock in Puerto Ayora for around $10 each way, but it only takes about an hour to walk there from the same starting point. Access to the trail is only about 4-5 blocks away, at the end of the street “Charles Binford”.
Regardless of how you get there, you should prepare in advance. Like I said, this is a wonderful self-guided adventure with plenty to see and a terrific place to swim, snorkel, or rent a kayak – but remember it is also a pristine location. In this case, “pristine” means no running water, bathrooms, snack bars, or refreshments of any kind. You must bring everything you need in with you, and take all of your trash out.
For this reason, it is not uncommon to see locals pulling a wagon along behind them with a cooler and all of their various beach supplies. At a minimum, make sure you bring plenty of water.
Prepared for your planned activities, you set off down Charles Binford. Look for a pretty modest sign pointing the way to the trailhead.
After you pass a very modern-looking building for a renewable energy concern, you start up the stone steps to the Visitor Welcome booth. This is your last chance for a bathroom, and you can also get a beverage or even ice cream here. You need to sign in, but there is no access fee.
The trail is paved with brick and lined with stone for most of its 1.55 mile length. There are some hills along the way, but all in all it is a pretty easy hike. It’s a very interesting hike as well, as you go through a couple of different habitats. Watch for the variety of finches, warblers, and mockingbirds as the terrain and plant life changes. Careful not to step on the occasional lava lizard darting across the rocks.
Strolling along at a comfortable pace, you should be within site of the entrance to the beach area in about 30-40 minutes. This first section is Tortuga Bay itself, named for its popularity as a nesting ground for sea turtles.
Although there is a wide and beautiful white-sand beach here, swimming and all other water activities are not allowed in this section. This is partly so as not to disturb the sea turtles near their nesting grounds, but also in your best interests of safety, as the surf is strong and there are powerful riptides.
Continuing down the sand, you come to an area where there are small pools protected by mangroves. There are some places to wade around a bit to cool off, and this is a good spot to see pelicans, flamingos, and sometimes blue-footed boobies.
The other wildlife all over this section is the marine iguana. This beach, and particularly around the corner on the Playa Peninsula, there were hundreds of them. They seemed totally unconcerned with the humans, and used to the paparazzi treatment.
The mangroves and the peninsula combine to create a protected lagoon called, naturally enough, Tortuga Laguna. This is a placid and peaceful beach where you can swim, snorkel or rent a kayak, and many people choose to spend a large part of the day here.
If you are into snorkeling, there is an abundance of sea life in the lagoon, and you may even spot some sea turtles. Be advised though that groups of white-tipped reef sharks and tiger sharks also frequent this area. I’ve been told “if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you”, but I prefer the much safer “if my fat ass isn’t in the water, it won’t get a bite taken out of it.”
In summary, a visit to Tortuga Bay is a wonderful way to spend a day enjoying some outdoor exercise, sun, fun, and wildlife-watching without spending money on a guided tour. It is really one of the “must-see” spots on the island of Santa Cruz.