Puerto Ayora in the Galapagos Islands has during recent years become an increasingly popular holiday destination. It is the rich biodiversity and the unique species on the islands that attract people from all over the world. Besides being a tourist magnet due to the abundant wildlife, the Galapagos main island also features a charming small community with lovely local people. An ideal base for your Galapagos holidays.
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 24 JAN 2020
The ferry ride from Baltra to Santa Cruz is short, and a few moments after disembarking, we find ourselves following the crowd and jumping on an express bus to the capital, Puerto Ayora.
The road through scalesia forest is spectacular. It is like a straight line which we realise when glancing back from one of the highest viewpoints in the landscape. The route across the island goes through several biomes, and as we approach Puerto Ayora, we are thrilled to spot a few stunning highland tortoises by the roadside. Completely taken aback by this coincidental meeting with some of the gigantic reptiles, we have for a long time dreamt of seeing for ourselves, we feel the excitement of having arrived on the unique islands. It was on these specific islands Charles Darwin did essential field work and research for his book On the Origin of Species.
Hotel White House Galapagos
We are dropped off at the so-called bus station in town – not that it really appears like an official bus station since it is just a stop on a street corner. Nevertheless, during the next couple of days, we realise that this is where people line up when waiting for the half-open buses or vans taking them to work.
- Puerto Ayora, Ecuador, is the capital of the Galapagos Islands.
- The population is more than 12,000 inhabitants.
- Around 250,000 tourists visit the Galapagos Islands every year for holidays, and the majority pass through Puerto Ayora and maybe spend a night or two in one of the Puerto Ayora hotels. It is an obvious base for Galapagos holidays.
- Puerto Ayora features the Charles Darwin Research Station with a tortoise breeding programme to conserve the biodiversity of the archipelago.
Puerto Ayora facts
We are not the only ones to look a little bit bewildered when the bus leaves us behind. The eyes of another couple flutter just as much as ours, searching for signs which point us in the right direction. Google Maps and a hardcopy of a Puerto Ayora map with a clear dot indicating the location of our accommodation, White House Galapagos, are our guidelines. We sneak through the local market with its plentiful stock of vegetables and fruits, all seemingly unknown to us, and then steer onto the right street leading to our destination.
Galapagos holidays in Puerto Ayora
We haven’t quite known what standards to expect in town. Most literature and descriptions, we have come across before travelling, have concentrated on the activities and sights on the islands, with a focus on the rare and unique animals to experience. Alert, we take in all first impressions. We have to recognise that the streets are a bit messy, houses often incomplete as well as the pavements random and uneven with an abundance of holes. Construction sites appear everywhere, and workers are welding buildings without shields right above our heads when we pass.
Only the visible fronts of the houses are painted, whereas the backs aren’t. We have to admit that what we see slightly differs from our vague ideas of what the town would be like. The picture, we now get, is not quite compatible with the one of orderly streets and houses we had drawn up in our minds, based on knowing that wealthy tourists contribute to the economy by spending a fortune during their holidays on cruising the Galapagos Islands.
Absorbing this, yet we fall in love with the atmosphere, the unknown flavours, the scent of exotic and delectable fruits, the open-air cooking, the ubiquitous animals, people’s joyfulness, the relaxed attitudes and the friendliness. People are outgoing, straightforward, sit and chat outside, and all contribute to the charm and charisma we experience. The town features a good mixture of local South American and Caribbean spirit with a touch of the luxury the tourists also require. It is really not difficult to picture Galapagos as a dream holiday destination.
” You can use Puerto Ayora as a base for your Galapagos holidays instead of going on an expensive cruise!”
Then again, we do wonder. A cat has apparently been run over in our street and lies, as dead as a cat can be, on the pavement. We pass around sunset and see two women discussing what to do with it. Assuming they feel responsible for removing it, maybe even taking it to the owner, we continue our course. When we some hours later return, we stop, petrified. We are just about to stumble over a heap of gravel in the middle of the pavement. The cat has been buried where it was found and the burial site forces people to walk around it, keeping a respectful distance.
During the next couple of days the gravel falls down and repeatedly reveals the cat until people cover it up yet another time. Apparently it seems to be the most natural and appropriate place people can think of for the cat to end its days… or they may simply be reluctant to remove it.
Meet the locals
Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the Galapagos Islands, is a vivid town. At the beginning of the day it may appear quiet and sleepy, seemingly only inhabited by ubiquitous roosters crowing at the break of dawn. This is actually how we are woken up every day.
Returning from the harbour on our morning walk by the waterfront, we have an unusual experience. What we see is a sea lion strutting towards us on the pavement. We are not really prepared for this meeting! However, there is no need to say hello, since the animal continues, completely unconcerned when passing us, leaving a noticeable, wet track behind itself!
The abundance of wildlife on the islands implies that some of the animals inevitably infiltrate into the civilisation in town. Sea lions and marine iguanas together with pelicans and frigate birds are exceptionally frequent visitors along the waterfront, around the harbour and at the fish market.
School children are on their way to school in their school uniforms. From the number of distinct uniforms, we come across in town, we deduce that there must be quite a few schools in Puerto Ayora.
The local market offers a whole range of fruits and vegetables, fruit drinks as well as slaughtered chicken. The women sit on chairs beside their food stalls, offering their products. Bananas and thick-skinned plantains dominate everywhere. They come in all sizes, shapes and shades of yellow and green and play an important role in nutrition here. For cooking, for eating uncooked as a tasty snack, as salted banana chips or with the meal. In the restaurant we go to at noon, a plate of bananas is brought to our table even before ordering, seemingly replacing the bread we are rather used to at home.
Everyday life in Puerto Ayora
In the late afternoon and in particular in the evening the town increasingly wakes up. The noise and the jumble of activities culminate at night where the town is seething with people to an extent that we are wondering where they were all during the quiet day. We cannot help getting the impression that everyone is now bustling about on the street. There is loud talking and noisy scooters passing.
People working on constructions along the streets among pedestrians and traffic, families with children as well as stray dogs can be seen more or less everywhere in the quarter around our accommodation. To complete the picture, cacti infiltrate the streets in many unexpected places and contribute to the charm of Puerto Ayora.
We pass an old-fashioned sewing room with six people sitting in the tiny room, sewing on each their outdated sewing machine and only having the most basic gear around. The door and the windows are wide-open, allowing us to observe how they are working.
Opposite White House Galapagos there is a hairdresser’s. We do not notice it until late afternoon, when it opens. The room has an equivalent room-wide opening to the street, so it is easy to follow their work with the clients. All hair cut off stays on the floor after the cuts and is only swept together later.
The town is multifaceted with its weird, unfinished constructions, laundry hanging on the flat roofs, roosters walking around in the streets, local habits, genuine atmosphere as well as kind and helpful people, and we love it! Just perfect for an offbeat Galapagos stay!
Banana culture in the Galapagos, Ecuador
Bananas and plantains dominate the market street behind our accommodation.
Plantains are the somewhat bigger banana-like fruits, that tend to be straighter in shape. They have a beautiful yellow-orange colour inside. Plantains are with their fine, sweet taste extremely popular as side dishes in the Ecuadorian cuisine.
A favorite snack is the chifles, the thinly sliced and deep-fried crisps. You very easily become addicted to them!
Ecuador is the largest exporter of bananas in the world. The country has an annual export of a value of 3 billion US$. This corresponds to 25% of total banana exports! It is therefore not strange that we spot bananas and plantains everywhere in Puerto Ayora: in the restaurants, on the market, barbecued in the streets…
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