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Isabela Island – Galapagos

Isabela Island – Galapagos

Measuring over 1800 square miles, and accounting for over half the land surface area in Galapagos, at about 80 miles in length, the seahorse shaped Isabela Island is the largest in the Galapagos. Isabela is formed from six separate volcanoes (Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra and Wolf). Being the largest island, it has many visitor sites, covering a large diversity of ecosystems, from barren lava flows to evergreen lush forests. Close to Fernandina, it is also on the ‘hotspot’ and is a very young and geologically very alive.

As the largest island, it is also home to the largest number of visitor sites:

Tagus Cove

The walk will take you up the slopes of the Darwin Volcano, along the edge of a salt water lagoon to a small hill from which you will see spectacular views of the northern lava fields of Isabela. Most of the fauna will be observed during a dinghy ride along the coast, with dramatic colours and beautiful tuff formations, Blue-footed Boobies, penguins, Marine Iguanas, pelicans and shorebirds.

Activities: Long uphill hike (1.1mi /1.8km), Snorkelling, dinghy ride, Kayaking.

Difficulty: Moderate

Type of Landing: Dry landing

Highlights & Animals: Darwin Finches, lowland native vegetation, beautiful landscapes, penguins, Flightless Cormorants, Blue-footed Boobies, Darwin Volcano & Lake

Urbina Bay

In 1954, almost 4 miles of coastal seabed dramatically uplifted about 15 ft exposing the sea floor and killing thousands of fish and turtles. Since then, vegetation has largely colonized the area but many signs of the uplift can still be observed. This area is now a nesting site for Land Iguanas and occasionally, giant tortoises coming from the moist uplands. This is a good trail to see Darwin finches and it is not rare to see Galapagos Hawks.

Activities: Snorkelling, dinghy ride & hike, 2 trails: short (0.6 mi / 1 km), long (1.9 mi / 3km)

Difficulty: Easy (short trail) / Difficult (long trail)

Type of Landing: Wet landing

Highlights & Animals: Land iguanas (the biggest in Galapagos), hawks, uplifted coral reef, Giant Tortoises. Snorkelling: turtles, rays, tropical fish

Elizabeth Bay

Located on the west coast of the Isabela, no landings are permitted here, but it makes for a beautiful dinghy ride. This is one of the best areas to see Galapagos Penguins as they prefer the cooler waters found on western Isabela. Flightless Cormorants and Marine Iguanas are common and often seen basking in the sun on rocks along the shore. As you then enter a narrow cove lined with large Red Mangrove trees, you will see marine turtles, rays and shore birds.

Activities: Two-hour dinghy ride

Difficulty: Easy

Type of Landing: No landing

Highlights & Animals: Mangrove forest, sea turtles, penguins, rays, herons, sea lions

Vicente Roca Point

Beautiful volcanic scenery, amazing lava intrusions and huge sea cliffs make this place one of the most scenic in the Galapagos. Nazca and Blue-footed Boobies sit along the cliffs whilst Flightless Cormorants stay along the shoreline and if you are lucky you will see penguins in the water. The upwelling of cold water currents has created an abundance of marine life here, making for great snorkelling.

Activities: Dinghy ride, snorkel

Difficulty: Easy

Type of Landing: No landing

Highlights & Animals: Spectacular landscapes, sea turtles, Blue-footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies, penguins, Flightless Cormorants. Snorkel: sea turtles, penguins, gorgonians and other invertebrates.

Sierra Negra Volcano

This volcano on Isabela Island has one of the largest caldera’s in the world measuring over 6 miles across. After a 30 min drive from the town, you will hike for 1 hour to get to the rim of the caldera, from where you can see the lava flow from the most recent eruption in 2005. Along the way you will usually see Vermillion Flycatchers, Galapagos Martins, and Galapagos Hawk. All along the way you will be rewarded with incredible panoramic views of Sierra Negra.

Activities: Hiking

Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult

Type of Landing: Dry landing

Highlights & Animals: Large caldera, stunning views, Darwin finches, Galapagos Hawks.

Punta Albemarle

This site at the remote northern tip of Isabela has the remains of a US World War II radar base. The main attraction here is a nesting site for Flightless Cormorants and a colony of the largest Marine Iguanas in Galapagos.

Activities: Snorkelling, dinghy ride & hike (0.5 mi / 0.8km)

Difficulty: Easy

Type of Landing: Dry landing

Highlights & Animals: Sea turtles, Marine Iguanas, Flightless Cormorants. Volcanic scenery. Snorkel: Tropical fish, cormorants, penguins.

Punta Moreno

With dramatic seascapes and one of the best sunrise areas in the Galapagos, the visit to this site begins with a dinghy ride along the beautiful rocky shores where shore birds, penguins, cormorants and herons can be spotted. The barren lava fields host a surprising amount of wildlife due to the presence of many sinkholes which are home to flamingos, stilts and pintail ducks.

Activities: Hike (1.3 mi / 2.1 km) Snorkelling, dinghy ride

Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult

Type of Landing: Dry landing

Highlights & Animals: Flamingos, gallinules, pintail ducks, sea turtles, reef sharks, penguins.

Puerto Villamil

A small town on the southeast coast of Isabela. Various sites can be visited from here (detailed below) and next to the town are a number of lagoons where flamingos, stilts and migratory shore birds are usually seen. The town enjoys one of the most beautiful coral-sand beaches in the islands.

Las Tintoreras or Shark Reef Canal

Located on the other side of a small bay with completely calm turquoise waters, Las Tintoreras is a great place to see sea lions, sea turtles and Marine Iguanas as well as other Galapagos wildlife. This site gets its name thanks to a large lava crevice where, at low tide, White-tipped Reef Sharks are found resting or swimming. Most of the trail is lava, except for a white sand beach which is home to a small colony of sea lions and a nesting site for Marine Iguanas.

Activities: Hike (1 mi / 1.6 km) Snorkel, Dinghy ride

Difficulty: Easy

Type of Landing: Dry Landing

Highlights & Animals: Reef sharks, penguins, Marine Iguanas, sea lions, herons.

Isabela – (Villamil) – Tortoise Breeding Centre

The Galapagos has 11 different species of Giant Tortoise of which five species are endemic to Isabela. A new breeding facility, built just outside of town by the Galapagos National Park Service is helping to increase the populations of these iconic endangered reptiles. Thanks to this breeding centre and the one located at the Charles Darwin Station in Santa Cruz, the populations of tortoises, which were on a severe decline until the 80´s, is now recovering and has reached over 30.000 throughout the islands.

Activities: Hike (1 mi / 1.6 km)

Difficulty: Easy

Type of Landing: Dry Landing

Highlights & Animals: Wetlands, salt and brackish lagoons on the way to the Breeding centre. Flamingos, stilts, adult and baby giant tortoises.

The Wetlands & The Wall of Tears

The wetlands of Isabela Island are located just outside of Puerto Villamil. The Wetlands consist of lagoons, swamps and mangroves and are home to a variety of unique bird species such as Black-necked Stilts, Whimbrels, White-cheeked Pintail Ducks, gallinules and other shore birds. The Wetlands can easily be reached on foot or bicycle via beautiful trails that wind through the swamps.
Ecuador established a penal colony in Isabela between 1945 and 1959. During this period, prisoners shipped from the mainland were treated brutally and forced to build a wall, stone by stone, in isolation, only to be asked to tear it down again and start over. This now historical site standing at 20 feet (6m) took the lives of hundreds during its construction and remains as a vivid reminder of a dark past.

Activities: Hike (5 mi / 7 km) Biking

Difficulty: Moderate

Type of Landing: Dry Landing

Highlights & Animals: Reef sharks, flamingos, herons, coves, large mangrove trees, coastal lagoons, Marine Iguanas, giant tortoises.

  • Eagle-Ray-Isabela-Galapagos
  • Flamingo-Isabela-Galapagos
  • Flightless Cormorant Isabela Island Galapagos
  • Galapagos Giant Tortoise
  • Galapagos Sea Lion Isabela Island
  • Isabela Island Cerro Azul