Although much of Isla Santa Cruz is farmland or protected wilderness, there are many things to see and do there that do not involve a large investment. Some are right in the town of Puerto Ayora or a short walk away, and others you can get back and forth via either cab or with a rented bicycle without paying for a tour.
For example, one morning we took a short walk out of town to explore a lava tube. We were mainly looking for a good five mile hike, and the tube was a handy destination to choose. It turned out to be very much in its natural and dangerous state. If you’ve ever been through the lava tubes in Hawaii, with the nice, graded floors, hand rails, and lights, don’t expect the same here.
Still the wildness made it more fun and interesting, and where else are you going to meet a wild giant tortoise walking down a bicycle path? Or answer a deep, philosophical question on the walk home?
If you are not up for a walk, just a few blocks from the center of town is a very unique display of, for lack of a better term, art. In this case, mosaics and freestanding pieces made from colorful ceramics, tile, and glass.
If you have a room with kitchen, or are staying at one of several B&B’s that offer kitchen privileges, a trip to the daily fish market downtown is a great idea.
There are also plenty of places to shop for souvenirs, jewelry, art, household decor, and more. There are restaurants of every type and for every budget too – you really could eat at a different place for every meal, and never get the same dish twice. Some of the restaurants are beautifully decorated, and of course several overlook the water.
Our last meal at the Solymar was a treat in a special way. While we were sipping our mojitos and waiting for our food, we heard a crash come from the water’s edge. We looked over, and saw a seal had knocked down a wooden gate, and was proceeding to waddle over to the swimming pool for a quick dip.
The staff told us this particular seal does this often, and they call her “Wendy”. Just another example of how you do not have to work very hard in the Galápagos to see the wildlife.
There are many more things that you can see or do on Santa Cruz, without paying for a boat ride or guided tour. Some of these may involve a $5 cab ride to and from, or you can usually get a cab to drive you around and wait for you if you offer $8-10/hour. Here are just a few examples.
Las Grietas – Just south of Puerto Ayora is Las Grietas, a natural crevasse that fills with ocean water. It is a short hike, and a nice place to swim and cool off.
Cerro Chato Tortoise Reserve – If you didn’t get your tortoise fix satisfied at the Darwin Research Center, or just want to see these amazing creatures in their natural habitat, you can rent a bike or hire a cab to go out to the Cerro Chato Tortoise Reserve. It is about a 30-minute drive outside of Puerto Ayora. This is a stop on some guided tours, but again, a guide s not required. The entrance fee is just $3. As a bonus, there are some nearby lava tubes to explore.
Los Gelemos – Just off the main highway about halfway to the canal are “The Twins”, two enormous craters in the cloud forests of the highlands. There are easily accesible trails from the highway, and several loop trails for hiking. They are incredibly lush with plant life, and an excellent spot for bird watchers. The vermillion flycatcher is the big star here.
After four wonderful days on Santa Cruz, we were ready to move on to our next island, Isla de San Cristôbal. We were able to see a lot of beautiful places, we checked off all of our “must-see” wildlife, enjoyed delicious meals, and discovered many delightful surprises. Best of all, we did it without spending any money on guides or tours.
But there is no avoiding one expense in our plan – the cost of getting from this island to San Cristôbal, where we planned on spending four more days before flying back to the Ecuador mainland from the airport located there. Here we broke our pattern, and opted for the most expensive way to hop islands.
The details and the story of why we made this choice – and are very happy we did – will have to wait for the next post, “Galápagos Islands: Travel Between Islands“.