We arrived in Puerto Ayora on a bus full of tourists, most of whom already either had hotel reservations or cruises to catch. Nevertheless, after wandering the length of Charles Darwin Ave., we hadn’t found any vacancy at any hostels that charged less than $25 a night per person. The ocean and abundant wildlife were taunting us and we considered abandoning our budget (we heard from numerous travelers that we could find rooms for $15 per person), but we resolved to explore a few more blocks further from the ocean. After discovering where the local hyperbaric chamber was situated, we came upon a four story building that appeared to be an apartment complex, yet we decided to poke around hoping for the possibility of lodging. After waking the owners up from a siesta nap, we negotiated an affordable price for the entire third floor of Hotel Tintoreras, and settled in to our spacious quarters.
We left the comfort of our new home—a private, top floor apartment with wifi, a full kitchen, dining room table, refrigerator, bedroom with four beds, full bathroom, and a balcony—to explore Puerto Ayora for the afternoon. We walked the length of the malecón and discovered the port as well as a large grocery store (which was closed for the first two days of our stay), before happening upon a peaceful, pristine lagoon with a dock, and encircled by a boardwalk. A few locals were swimming and snorkeling as we explored the extent of the boardwalk and the nature it gave us access to. We decided to head home, eager to make dinner, and get to sleep, so we could wake early and explore the attractions Santa Cruz offered.
The following morning started off a bit cloudy, but by the time we made our way along Charles Darwin Ave. to the similarly named research station, the sky was completely clear and the sun beamed brightly. We wandered the relatively large park–stopping at various exhibits to learn how animals made their way to these islands, and which species were considered native–before heading to the tortoise reserve. We arrived at the enclosure of a few massive land turtles just as feeding time began. The tortoises all lethargically came to life, and ambled their way over each others’ shells towards the massive mix of green stocks the workers carried over their shoulders. They hadn’t made much progress as the greens were slammed to the ground and stacked in large piles throughout the enclosure.
When we had our fill of tortoise watching, we made our way across town to the entrance of Tortuga Bay. We hiked about 30 minutes on a winding stone path and arrived at an enchanting white sand beach. Immediately, a marine iguana winded its way across our path, before resting atop some black volcanic rock. We walked the length of the beach and settled near the end at another rock formation that was home to some sea turtles.
We hopped off the water taxi and started our hike passed German Beach, over lava rock formations, around enormous cacti, and through colorful salt lagoons towards a swimming hole we read about. Las Grietas, which translates literally to mean “the cracks”, is a series of deep volcanic fissures unique to volcanic islands. The deep canal formed between the steep lava rock cliffs on either side and collects a mixture of filtered fresh water from the highlands and tidal seepage from the sea. We took the opportunity to float blissfully in the cool water, before climbing the rock ledges and leaping into the crystalline water below. When Ryan had his fill of adrenaline, we followed some locals who set off to explore the canal towards the ocean. The adventure required us to climb over sharp volcanic rock and dive under other rocks to swim to the next section. Invigorated by our explorations, we swam the length of the chasm, dried off, and hiked back to the dock to take a water taxi back to town.