If I had to pick my favorite island in Galapagos, it would be Isabela. Why I hear you say? Because it’s the wildest, less inhabited island. It’s also where we saw the most wildlife, and given its size, Isabela island has a lot to offer (including a lot of free activities!). From what to do to, to how to get there, and where to stay, here’s a complete guide to visiting Isabela Island!
About Isabela Island
Shaped like a sea horse, Isabela is the largest island in the archipelago and one of the youngest. It was formed by the joining of 6 volcanos (Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra, and Wolf), 5 of which are still active. Although Isabela island is less populated than Santa Cruz and San Cristobal, it has an interesting human history as it served as a refuge for buccaneers and whalers, and later on, as a prison. Note that there are no ATMs on Isabela so you’ll want to bring enough cash to last you for your whole stay on the island.
How to get there
You have two options to get to Isabela island: by air or sea. You can fly in from Santa Cruz or San Cristobal but ferries going to Isabela only leave from Santa Cruz. A one-way ticket costs $30 and boats leave twice a day. In the morning at 7:00 am and in the afternoon at 2:00 pm. The boat ride only takes about 2 hours and is, of course, the more affordable option. However if budget isn’t a concern, Galapagos’ airline connects Isabela to Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. No doubts the view’s amazing!
Best Things to Do on Isabela Island
Whatever you do on Isabela, you are bound to encounter wildlife. When we first got to the island in the morning, we were immediately greeted at the dock by sea lions and marine iguanas. Little did we know that such encounters would happen on a recurring basis on this seahorse-shaped island. Here are the best things to do in Isabela, including free activities.
Snorkel at Concha de Perla
Despite the island’s size, you don’t have to go far to reach the best snorkeling spots. Located near the dock, Concha de Perla is a sheltered shallow lagoon with transparent water. Go early enough and you might get the chance to swim with sea lions, marine iguanas (a rare sight!), and Galapagos penguins. This activity is completely free but do bring your own snorkeling gear and set your alarm early because Concha de Perla is a very popular site among locals.
Bike to the Wall of Tears
Rent a bike at one of the bike shops in town and ride away along the sandy trail past Puerto Villamil’s beaches towards the Wetlands and Wall of Tears national park. On this fun, low-cost afternoon activity, you will bike past volcanic landscapes, lava tunnels, a mangrove forest, and their inhabitants. Stop at the spots I marked on the map to have a peek at some of the island’s incredible wildlife!
Kayak to Las Tintoreras
Just offshore Puerto Villamil, Las Tintoreras are a group of islets home to some of the Galapagos’ most famous species such as Galapagos penguins, marine iguanas, and blue-footed boobies, between others. There are two tours a day to Las Tintoreras, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. You can book a regular snorkeling trip in town or rent kayaks and hire a guide to cross over the channel.
Take the Los Túneles Day Tour
If you had to pick one tour to do in Isabela, Los Túneles would be it. Situated between mangroves and the open sea, Los Túneles are lava formations that provide shelter to marine life, making it an outstanding snorkeling spot. Golden rays, sea horses, blue-footed boobies, whitetip reef sharks, Galapagos sharks… Snorkeling in Los Túneles’ crystal clear water is like swimming in an aquarium!
Hike Sierra Negra
Sierra Negra is one of the six volcanoes that form Isabela and happens to boast the world’s second-largest volcanic crater. Take a day tour to hike up to the shield volcano’s crater rim to get impressive views over its over 9km wide caldera. Adventure seekers, hiking enthusiasts, and bird lovers, this one is for you!
Take a Walk around Flamingo Lake
There’s one species I didn’t expect to see in Galapagos. Flamingos! Yet, Isabela island has the largest concentration of flamingos in the archipelago. Flamingo lake is located a few meters from the beach, following the path starting right next to the Iguana Crossing hotel. You can combine this activity with the bike ride to the wall of tears, and visit the Tortoise breeding center at the same time, located at the end of said path.
Visit the Tortoise Center
If you’ve read my other blog posts, you know by now that there are 15 species of Giant Tortoises in Galapagos, native to each of the big islands but also to the 5 main volcanoes on Isabela island. The Arnaldo Tupiza Tortoise Center was created as a response to their habitat destruction to rebuild the population of threatened species such as the tortoises from Cerro Azul and Sierra Negra. The entrance is free.
Where to Stay on Isabela Island
Puerto Villamil is the biggest town in Isabela and the prettiest village in Galapagos. Its white-sand beaches, high palm trees, and dirt roads make it one of the most picturesque, and it truly feels like the islanders live at their own pace. There are no hotels located near Isabela’s dock. Instead, most of them border the waterfront, where all the restaurants and bars are situated as well. Here are a few hotel options:
- Iguana Crossing Boutique Hotel – Amazing view!
- Hotel Albemarle – Great location
- Hostal La Isla del Descanso – Where I stayed
- Hotel La Jungla – Another budget option
I hope you enjoyed this Isabela Island guide! Let me know if you have any questions regarding your trip and I’ll gladly answer. Make sure to check my other island guides if you’re going to visit Santa Cruz and San Cristobal as well!
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