Isabela is the largest of the islands that conform the Galapagos Archipelago and it is the second with the most volcanic activity! This island is inhabited by fishermen and early colonists that arrived from the continent, attracted by the wonders not yet visited by tourists, as the regular cruise ships do not cover southern Isabela.
This island is inhabited by approximately 2.200 people, most of which live in the capital: Puerto Villamil. From the port you can see the many private yachts that sail from here to the Marquesa Islands.
What to visit
One of the charms of Puerto Villamil is that everyone knows everyone in town and a day in advance is sufficient to organize any visit.You can ask your hotel for an english-speaking driver and guide.
The best place for snorkeling! Lava formations in the middle of the ocean are surrounded by mangroves, manta rays, eagle rays, sea lions, white-tipped sharks, turtles and seahorses. You can hire a tour in Puerto Villamil, and arrive at this spot after a half an hour boat ride.
The tour lasts about five hours and the charge is $75 approx.
Concha de Perla: Birdwatching and Snorkeling
Take a walk down the wooden path that leads to the Concha de Perla bay. This path, surrounded by mangroves, was built by the National Park! It leads to a small pier from which you can jump into the turquoise and calm water, perfect for snorkelling or just a good swim.
In the bay you can encounter sea lions, marine iguanas, penguins, frigate birds, flamingos, and several species of migratory birds. Sometimes you can even spot dolphins!
*You don’t need a guide to visit Concha de Perla.
“Las Tintoreras:” Be prepared to witness unbelievable lava formations!
You can arrange for a boat to take you only 10 minutes away from the pier (el muelle) to the lava formations. You will be escorted by sea lions, penguins, blue footed boobies, and a variety of birds before you arrive to the place where the tintoreras (sharks) swim in a natural lava canal.
It is amazing to observe the sharks roaming about, they do so freely, and they are not aggressive. There is a great observation point from which you can admire them, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can also rent a kayak and observe them closer by!
*Visits costs between US $5 – $10 per person depending on the number of tourists that take the boat.
The entire tour will take about an hour depending on how long you want to watch the sharks swim in this unique natural environment.
“Sierra Negra” and “Volcan Chico” Volcanoes:
In your hotel you can arrange for a guide to take you on this incredible tour! A pick-up takes you up to the farmlands as you watch the vegetation change. You will see beautiful trees and rich farmlands, and then you will get to a farm where horses await you. Don’t worry, these are very tame animals anyone can ride. Ride by the awesome crater of the Sierra Negra volcano which is 12 kilometers in diameter, the second largest crater in the world!
Then you can trek on Volcán Chico where you will experience walking on a surface of lava, in what seems like a lunar landscape. We recommend you take snacks for a picnic and drinking water to remain hydrated and energized.
Your hotel can also arrange this for you.
If you’re not really into horseback riding, there are many options of walking/trekking tours.
This tour usually has a cost of USD$25.00 per person, but it also depends in the number of people in the group. It will take all morning and you will return after lunch.
Its is a good idea to wear jeans or comfortable clothes and walking shoes. Take a jacket as it might get cold in the highland.
The Path to the “El Muro de las Lágrimas”: Visit the famous “Wall of Tears”
Did you know that back in 1946 Isabela used to be a penal colony? The Wall of Tears is a very big wall that was built stone by stone, by the prisoners. Placing sharp lava rocks to form an enclosement was a way to keep them busy.
Now, there is a long path that was put into good conditions by the National Park, it is a beautiful recreational area.
Here you will find a wooden staircase that leads to an observation tower with a breathtaking view! If you continue on the path, you will find pristine beaches such as La Playa del Amor (the Beach of Love) and the Estero. Follow the <Estero> sign and walk among giant mangrove trees, following a stream on its journey to meet with the ocean. It is paradise! If you keep following the path you can get to Flamingo Lagoon where you can admire these elegant and rare birds in a peaceful environment.
A taxi will take you to the “Muro de las Lágrimas” (Wall of Tears), in a ride 15 minute ride.
You can also hire the taxi to take you back to town, visiting interesting spots. However, many choose to walk back and take their time, have a picnic and stop for a swim at the beach. The path is well marked with signs, so there is no chance to get lost.
You can order food in your hotel but there are some excellent options in town. In the last few years, the gastronomic experience at Isabela has been continually improving. Casa Marita, La Choza and Costa Azul are some of our favorite spots in town!
How to get to Isabela
After taking a flight from Quito or Guayaquil to Baltra in the Galapagos Islands you must cross the canal of Itabaca and take a taxi to Puerto Ayora, the capital of Santa Cruz Island.
The taxi will charge $5 for the 30 minute drive, or you can take a bus for a lower cost.
When you arrive at the pier, inquire when the next “fibra” (this is a fibre boat) is taking off for Isabela (the capital of Isabela is Puerto Villamil).
Arrange a seat for the boat: the cost will be from $25 to S30 depending on the number of passengers. The trip takes approximately two hours from Santa Cruz to Isabela.
A bigger ship called “Estrella de Mar” also goes to Isabela every Monday and Thursday for $12. This ship is slower, but it is favored by tourists during high tide season, who feel it is more secure.
There is also a company that will transport you on light aircraft from Baltra to Isabela, however, their flights are not regular. The name of the company is EMETEBE and you may contact them in Guayaquil (phone: 593 4 2292494) or at the Baltra airport next to the TAME Counter. The ticket costs around US$100 and the aircraft carries 8 passengers. This is a 35 minute flight.
Remember to make arrangements for lodging prior to your arrival to Puerto Villamil; either from Quito, Guayaquil or Puerto Ayora, or even before you get to Ecuador when you are planning your trip.
Interesting Fact: The last volcanic eruption of Isabela’s “Sierra Negra” Volcano occurred recently in 2018! It started after two earthquakes opened fissures in the volcano, just 11 days after the “Cumbre” Volcano (the most active on the archipelago) erupted in Fernandina Island.