The Galápagos Islands. Where to Find Accommodation and What to See on Santa Cruz

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The Galápagos Islands are part of the South American continent and belong to the state of Ecuador. Only 4 of the 18 islands from the archipelago are inhabited. Some of the uninhabited islands are completely closed to tourists, as they comprise a recreational zone, while others can be visited only as part of an excursion group. We decided to stay on the island of Santa Cruz. It’s the biggest and most densely populated island that can offer attractions even if you don’t buy a tour.

Accommodation on the Galápagos Islands

Accommodation wasn’t a problem, as there is a variety of options for any budget: from expensive eco-hotels to cost-friendly variants. The only important requirement for us was breakfast because we didn’t want to go to a café early in the morning. As usual, we used to choose the place to stay. You can contact the owner after booking to take care of any details or questions. Payment can be done in advance or on arrival with cash or a credit/debit card. We chose a mid-range variant and were quite happy with it.

What can be seen on the island for free?

The are many places and sights that you can check out without paying a penny. Entertainment on the Galápagos Islands is always just around corner, as long as you know where to look for it.

The Puerto Ayora Fish Market

This fish market is legendary and can be often seen on pictures from the Galápagos Islands. It’s a tiny row of, literally, 5 or 6 people selling fresh fish. But it’s neither the sellers nor their customers that draw the most attention, but the animals that come here to ask for food. You can find sea lions sitting like trained dogs, anxious pelicans that usually don’t get anything, and marine iguanas leisurely lying under the sun. Iguanas are the vegetarians of the animal kingdom, so they couldn’t care less for the pieces of fish. They probably just like to be part of the action. Frigatebirds assault the traders from above. They are often called “pirates” for their ability to masterfully steal fish from other birds. The market is open every day from 7 am. Come there as early as possible to enjoy the sight while other tourists are still sleeping. These animals are more fun to watch than any circus or zoo. We visited the market three times in a row, and each time we saw something different in their behaviour. But don’t forget that the animals on the Galápagos Islands can’t be touched. The signs hanging around will inform you of this.

The Charles Darwin Research Station

People often associate the Galápagos Islands with giant tortoises. These are, after all, the islands’ main symbol. Various kinds of these terrestrial giants can be seen in the Charles Darwin Research Station. Admission is completely free. Tortoises from all over the archipelago are gathered at the station, and they vary strongly by shell shape, size, etc. You can see the mummy of the famous Lonesome George – the last tortoise of its kind that died in 2012 at the age of around 120 years. There are actual incubators where special conditions are created for the tortoise eggs so that most of the progeny can survive. Also, the station is home to yellow terrestrial iguanas that can be encountered only on specific islands. And to huge cacti that look more like trees than anything else.

La Tortuga Beach

The longest and most beautiful beach on the island. It has white sand and is home to many marine iguanas. Swimming is allowed as long as there are no prohibiting red flags that signify strong waves. Then you have a chance to do some surfing – you won’t find a better place for this sport. If you come during the season when marine turtles lay eggs, be careful not to disturb the animals. To get to the beach, you’ll have to go through a park with an undergrowth, which will give you some idea about the plants growing on the Galápagos Islands.

The Puerto Ayora Port

The main port of Puerto Ayora will be the starting point for many of your excursions. But that’s during the day. At night, the water around the port is illuminated, and you can see fish swimming in search of dinner right from the pier.  We saw whole groups of rays, small sharks, as well as other kinds of fish jumping out of the water. Pelicans watch all this clutter from above, and any fish that’s not careful enough immediately gets caught. You can come and watch this aggregation of animal life every evening.

The Puerto Ayora Fruit and Vegetable Market

For me, this is a great opportunity to have a taste of the most exotic fruits of the region, as well as to speak to the locals. The market offers many products for agreeable prices. If you have a chat with the seller, there’s a good chance you’ll get a discount or more fruits as a bonus. This happened when we bought pineapples: we got four of them instead of three. The pineapples on the island are delicious, by the way. Apart from fruits and vegetables, you can also try local food that costs little to nothing. You can get fish or shrimp pastries, fried platans, cooked corn, etc. The boldest of you can try some grilled cow guts, a dish favoured by the locals. Just make sure you have enough medicine against food poisoning before you try it. You know, just in case… And, naturally, carefully wash all the fruits and vegetables before eating them.

If you have some time to spare on the island of Santa Cruz, make the most of it. Get outside as much as you can, watch the many animals living there, and make sure to take pictures to have something to remember this place by for the rest of your life.

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