Isabela Island got it all: active volcanoes some with gigantic crater, giant tortoises, impressive wildlife, lava tunnels, great snorkeling, long beautiful beach….It also the largest island of the archipelago, but with a very small population of 2.000 inhabitants who mainly live in Puerto Villamil. This island consists of a chain of five volcanoes, from which Volcano Wolf is the highest. Volcano Sierra Negra, located at the southern end of Isabela, is one of the best and most impressive as its crater is the second largest in the world. You will also find much wildlife such as flightless cormorants and pelicans nesting along the coast of Isabela during their nesting seasons, marine iguanas found at the beach and sea turtles and rays swimming in the bay.
Once you’ll arrive to Isabela Island you will have to go from your boat with a small taxi boat to the dock (small fee of $1 has to be paid in cash, not included). At the dock you have to pay the Isabela municipality tourism fee, which is currently $10.00 for international visitors.
It is impossible to get lost in Isabela; the village of Puerto Villamil is very small, there is one main park with a church and two roads that come together. You can easily walk to the beach and the several tourist attractions.
There are great places to visit during your time on Isabela Island. All tours mentioned below can be booked or can be done by yourself in your spare time.
Sierra Negra and Volcano Chico
This tour takes about 6 to 7 hours and a small box lunch is included. It´s important to bring sun protection, a rain jacket, comfortable hiking shoes, camera, water and, if desired, some snacks.
In the morning, you will be picked up for a transfer by car or chiva (open wooden bus) to the foot of Volcano Sierra Negra. From here you start to hike up the volcano to see the 2nd largest caldera in the world, almost 10km diameter. Here you will see the alien landscape of lava fields and fumaroles. Then you continue the hike for another 1- 1.5 hours to the spectacular sights of Volcano Chico who had its last eruptions 1979 and 2005. This hike will take you about 6 hours. Although it is possible to see animal life, the focus of this hike is on the interesting geology. The lava eruptions have created a beautiful landscape. The hike is a hard one as you will walk up the hill and partially on rocky lava stones.
This tour takes half a day and it´s important to bring sun protection, a bathing suit, a towel and a camera. The snorkeling equipment and a snack are included.
The islet Las Tintoreras is located south of Puerto Villamil which you will visit in a small boat and with a naturalist guide. During your boat ride you will most likely be able to observe Galapagos penguins, blue footed boobies, sea lions and more. But the big star here is the white-tip shark which gave his Spanish name, Tintorera, to the place.
The bay of Tintoreras is connected to a crevice of crystal clear water, that’s shallow and when the tide is low, the entrance closes. In this crevice, you can see how white-tip sharks rest and swim. After half an hour you will set foot to the islands. Most of the trail is lava AA, except for a white sand beach and a black stone beach. At the first beach, tou will encounter colonies of sea lions or the nesting site for marine iguanas, during the nesting season.
Throughout the trail you can see many marine iguanas in the rocks or under the mangroves. Las Tintoreras is one of the few places where the iguanas breed successfully because of the absence of non-native animals that could kill the youth. After the walk, it is time for some nice snorkeling in the bay.
Snorkeling Tour Los Tuneles
This tour takes about 5 to 6 hours. It´s important you’ll bring sun protection, a bathing suit and towel, camera and comfortable walking shoes. Snorkeling equipment and a box lunch are included.
This marine sanctuary is characterized by its unique geologic formations. A series of lava flows have produced a number of arches and tunnels both under and above water, where you find a number of animal species that have taken up residence in these magnificent formations. Together with your bilingual guide you will walk through this incredible landscape and there will be time make photos of the blue footed boobies, sea lions, penguins and the landscape. Then we will head to El Finado, just 10 minutes from Los Tuneles. Here is an inlet that for many years has been used by local fishermen to rest from their journeys in the ocean. El Finado is one of the most spectacular places for snorkeling in Isabela as the water is shallow, clear and calm, giving us chance to see sea horses, parrot fish, hog fish, wrasses in a mysterious habitat. You will snorkel between lava rocks or formed caves, a preferred spot for stingrays, white tipped sharks, sea turtles and colorful tropical fish. In the early afternoon we will return to Puerto Villamil. Snorkeling equipment and a box lunch are included.
Wetlands and Wall of Tears
This biking tour will start at our partner agency, where they will give you your bike. The tour takes about 3,5 hours and it is important to bring sun protection, comfortable walking shoes and a camera.
By bike you will leave to the first stop right out of town, which is the flamingo lagoon called Pozo de las Diablas. Many flamingos spend their time here most of the year. Then you will continue biking towards the Wall of Tears, which is about an hour (8 km) cycling away. The Wall of Tears is the most important historical sight of Isabela. About 300 prisoners worked on the wall in the most horrible conditions. The name Wall of Tears comes from the guards who would use to say: ‘Here, the strong will cry and the weak will die’.
There are signs along the way that tell you some more about the history in English. In the surroundings areas, it is possible to see giant tortoises in the wild. Close to the Wall of Tears there is a newly built observation tower. If the weather allows it, you can walk up here for an amazing view over the volcanic landscape of Isabela Island and its shore.
Then it is time to return back by bike. On the way back, your guide will take you to the Playita del Amor and El Estero, a small beach where you can see 3 types of mangroves, penguins and blue footed boobies if you are lucky! Depending the time left your guide might even take you to some lesser-known walking paths in the Wetlands to look for more incredible wildlife. The tour will end at the Breeding Center ‘Arnaldo Tupiza Chamaidan’, where you can see giant tortoises of all sizes.
- A great snorkeling location situated right next to the pier is La Concha Perla. You can visit this place whenever you want; walk over the wooden walkway and get into the water to see rays and turtles in the surroundings of the mangroves. Be careful before sitting a wooden bench, you you often find sea lions resting.
- Visit the Breeding Center ‘Arnaldo Tupiza Chamaidan’, where you can see giant tortoises of all sizes. The center is open from 06.00h till 18.00h and situated just outside of town, you can easily walk until there. Watch out for iguanas laying around on the wooden walkway! Indication and explanation about the breeding process is very clear in the center and the guides are very helpful.
- If you like diving, you can book a dive tour with Isabela Dive Center. Address Escalecia y Avenida Antonio Gil. More info: isabeladivecenter.com.
- At Caleta Iguana Hotel, also known as Casa Rosada, you can rent surf boards and arrange surf classes to ride the waves like a pro around Isabela. More info iguanacove.com.
- Visit the Chapin area where you can find the sweet water flamingo pools. They say the flamingos have such a bright pink color because of the food full of minerals they find in the pools!.
- Ask a taxi driver to bring you to Cueva Sucre. This is a cave formed by a lava stream, where you can see minerals that look like gold, because of the constant filtration of rainwater. Bring a flashlight as there is no light in the cave!.
- Best bikes in town can be rent at Tropical Adventure. Avenida Antonio Gil, 20 meters from the main square towards Casa Rosada