advertisement

Mountain Biking & Horseback Riding -- The largely uninhabited wild terrain of Santa Cruz Island is well suited for both mountain-bike and horseback exploration, and a variety of rides are possible. Several shops along Avenida Charles Darwin rent mountain bikes, although I think you're best off signing up for a tour. For those in less than competitive shape, I recommend one of the tours that take the gear and participants first by van to the highlands, so that most of the biking is downhill. Rates run from $10 to $20 (£6.65-£13) per day. Quality varies widely, so check out a few possibilities first. Red Mangrove Adventure Inn offers both full-day mountain biking and full-day horseback riding tours around Santa Cruz Island.

Boat Tours to Other Islands -- Water taxis can be hired at the main dock, at the southern end of Avenida Charles Darwin. Rates run from around 80¢ (55p) for a short ride across Academy Bay, to around $10 or $15 (£6.65-£10) per hour for longer excursions. If you want to visit a specific island to do some wildlife-viewing or snorkeling, you're best off signing on for an organized tour with a reputable operator.

Glass-Bottom Boat -- To see the underwater world of the Galápagos, check out Aqua View Glass Bottom Boat (tel. 05/2527-303; www.galapagosaquatours.com), which has daily excursions at 9am and 2pm. The trips last 4 hours and include a stop or two to snorkel, as well as a snack. The ride passes around Punta Estrada and takes in Las Grietas (The Grottos). The cost is $30 (£20) per person.

Paddling Around -- The bays and mangroves around Santa Cruz are great spots for kayaking. Most of the tour agencies in town offer guided sea-kayak excursions. If you just want to rent one on your own, head to the Lonesome George Tour Agency (tel. 05/2526-241), which is on Avenida Baltra, just off Avenida Darwin; they have a small fleet of kayaks available for around $10 (£6.65) per hour, and they also offer full-day guided kayak tours.

Snorkeling & Scuba Diving -- The snorkeling and scuba diving around the Galápagos Islands is some of the best in the world. In addition to the vibrant fish life, you can often count on a close underwater encounter with a sea lion or sea turtle. Really lucky divers and snorkelers will catch glimpses of an underwater marine iguana or Galápagos penguin. For scuba divers the ante gets upped, and prized sightings include schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks, manta rays, and the occasional whale shark. Almost all the tour agencies and hotel tour desks in town can arrange for a snorkel or dive trip.

There's good snorkeling all around Santa Cruz. One of the most popular spots is called La Lobería (The Sea Lion Colony), a small island located about a 15-minute boat ride from Puerto Ayora. You are almost guaranteed a close in-water encounter with a playful sea lion here. Equipment rental runs around $8 to $12 (£5.35-£8) per day for fins, mask, and snorkel. A guided tour or boat excursion to snorkel will run you $20 to $45 (£13-£30), depending upon the length of the outing and the distance traveled to the snorkel spot.

For scuba diving, I recommend you use either SCUBA Iguana (tel. 05/2526-497; www.scubaiguana.com), located on Avenida Charles Darwin, right below the Darwin Research Station; or Sub-Aqua (tel. 05/2526-633; www.galapagos-sub-aqua.com), on Avenida Charles Darwin and Avenida 12 de Febrero. Both operations are very professional and have excellent gear and dive masters. A two-tank dive outing, including all gear, should run you $90 to $150 (£60-£100), including lunch. My favorite dive sites easily accessible from Puerto Ayora include Gordon Rocks, Mosquera Islet, and North Seymour Island.

Surfing -- The Galápagos Islands are not only one of the world's most exotic surf destinations; they are also blessed with numerous point, reef, and beach breaks. With the isolation of the archipelago, and the fact that most people come here to interact with wildlife or to scuba dive, these breaks are almost always uncrowded. While San Cristóbal is the islands' most popular surf destination, there are several good surf spots around Santa Cruz -- and depending upon the swell direction, one or more is almost always working. Just beyond the Charles Darwin Research Station lie the spots of La Ratonera and Bazán. You'll almost always find locals surfing here, because they're so close to town. Farther afield, but still within walking distance, you can surf the break at Tortuga Bay. A short boat ride will bring you to prized surf spots such as Ola Escondida (Hidden Wave) and Punta Barba Negra (Black Beard Point). You can easily hire a water taxi to take you to any of the more remote surf spots. Surfers should definitely check in with the Santa Cruz Surf Shop (tel. 09/8456-103), which is located right on the water, about midway along Avenida Charles Darwin. You can rent boards at the aforementioned shop, or at the Lonesome George Tour Agency (tel. 05/2526-241).

A Little Pampering -- If you want a massage, facial, or pedicure, head to the Asian-themed Chi Spa (tel. 09/5139-784), located toward the end of Avenida Charles Darwin.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.