In mid Sept I will fly in Santa Cruz Island and have 1.5 days before I board a week long cruise boat for Santa Cruz (Charles Darwin Stn and Turtle Bay), N. Seymour/Bartholome/Santa Fe/Espanola/San Cristobal.
A few questions:
1. Which island would you recommend me to visit during my 1.5 days free time, that will be not too similar and redundant of my upcoming cruise tour? I am more interested in seeing different wildlife and snorkeling than historical sites.
2. Do I have to join a day-tour instead of finding a ferry and go on my own for more freedom? Do you think I can easily find a tour or ferry upon arrival at airport or go into town center? Or do I need to book one beforehand through some agency? I can't find any ferry schedules online. I am debating between Isabela and Floreana....
3. The budget lodging in Puerto Ayora - I heard about "Espana" but unable to find any website or contact info to book it. Any other recommendations on budget lodging? Will it be fairly easy to find one upon arrival without reservation?
Thank you very much in advance.
In the interest of helping future travellers, hopefully you can report back on how you made out. I'll try to fill in some holes though:
- the Ferry / speed boat transfer between islands generally take 1.5-2.5 hours. They're privately run for the most part, so schedules are more or less when the boat owner wants to go. But generally the last inter-island ferries depart in early afternoon. If you arrive in town after 1pm, there is a strong possibility all boats will be gone or sold out for the day. Transfers to Floreana are much less frequent as well, I honestly wouldn't count on that as fewer than 200 people live on that island. It's usually only scheduled day tours that visit Floreana, and return to Snata Cruz during the day.
On my first ferry from Santa Cruz to Isabela I was lucky and caught the last boat ride in the early afternoon after taking a longer-than-expected time to transfer by bus-boat-taxi from Baltra to Puerto Ayora.
You'll have to get yourself to the waterfront downtown to hop on a ferry, so expect that to take 2 hours from the time you land. You'll be waiting a lot.
- waiting to get your bags from the plane
- waiting for the bus to leave the airport (when its full) to take you to the Baltra-Santa Cruz ferry
- waiting for the ferry to do the 5 minute channel crossing to Santa Cruz
- taking a taxi/bus overland to town, which is a lengthy drive
So the very best case scenario if you're flying in to Baltra that day is that you get to Puerto Ayora town before lunch, get a ticket for a speed boat transfer, maybe pick up a snack or something to eat on the boat ride. Get to Isabela in mid-afternoon (Siesta time). Get to your hotel and then have a few hours to explore on your own - maybe go to the Tortoise Breeding Center and Wall of Tears.
Then you can organize a 1/2 day tour for the next morning to Los Tintoreras or snorkelling around the bay near town, before you have to board a speed boat back to Santa Cruz that day.
Without having 2 days and 2 nights on Isabela you won't have enough time to visit the more exciting sites like the Tunnels or Sierra Negra volcano. I would not recommend such a short trip to Isabela, and would say it's pretty much impractical to expect this to work for Floreana.
Now if you have the 'full day' free after your arrival in Santa Cruz the best bet would be to join an organized day tour to Isabela Island for the following day. Such tours leave Puerto Ayora around 7-7:30am and return around 5-5:30pm. This is with a dedicated boat, so you have more free time than what would get if you had to rely on the ferry schedules.
Puerto Ayora has a lot of budget lodging available for $50 or less per night. You wouldn't have trouble finding somewhere to stay. If you head up from the main street, Avenue Baltra, past Hernan's and turn right onto Thomas de Berlanga you'll come across a number of simple, decently priced hotels after a block or two of walking.
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