Tanya Helmig who has been a Galapagos guide since 1992 and knows pretty much all there is to know about the Galapagos Islands. Tanya has written this guide to her top 5 things to do if you are staying in the town of Puerto Villamil, on Isabela Island before or after your Galapagos cruise.
Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island
Puerto Villamil is the main town on the sea horse shaped island of Isabela, set along a beautiful long soft, white sandy beach. It is said that the locals love their beach so much, that when the city decided to pave the streets, the locals protested and as a result the mayor left the main street unpaved and sandy! The largest island in Galapagos, Isabela only has a population of around 2,200 and has a very laid back feel to it. Here are Tanya’s top five places to visit in and around Puerto Villamil if you have some free time before or after your Galapagos cruise.
1. Sierra Negra and Volcan Chico
This 16km round trip hike leads you up the flanks of the Volcano Sierra Negra to the second largest caldera (volcano crater) in the world. It is 10km in diameter but only about 110m deep. From here you can see the lava flow of the most recent of its eruptions in 2005. The trail follows the rim for a few kilometres and then down the north side of the flanks to a beautifully shaded rest stop.
You will continue on to Volcan Chico, a side vent that erupted in 1979 until you reach the craters and see the beautiful panoramic view of the other four volcanoes of Isabela Island and the western most island of Galapagos, Fernandina. This visit is in a restricted area and can only be made in the company of a licensed guide. Trips run every day and can be booked in the town centre – alternatively let us know you’d like to do the trip and we can organise it in advance for you.
2. Los Humedales and Wall of Tears
This is a large area of wetlands that actually starts right inside the town of Puerto Villamil. The best way to visit this area is by bike, which you can hire in various places in the town. It is an 8km gently sloping trail with many stopping off places that are signed all along the trail. Here you can see lagoons with wading birds like stilts and flamingos, lava tunnels, young giant tortoises on the roadside, a view point reached by a wooden staircase, and at the very end the road, the Wall of Tears. This 6m high, 100m long wall was built by prisoners between 1944 to 1959 just to keep them busy. Take a swim suit along as there is an idyllic coastal lagoon en route which you can swim in. Schedule a half day for this visit and remember to bring along plenty of water.
3. Las Tintoreras
Las Tintoreras is a group of small islets which you reach by dingy, just in front of Puerto Villamil. As it is a restricted area, you can only go with a licensed guide. Bookings to join a tour can be made at various agencies in the town, or you can book this in advance with us. This tour takes you to an island where you can walk amongst the Marine Iguanas on a lava field, and past a narrow channel where white tip reef sharks often rest. One time I counted 26 sharks in this channel! You will also be taken around the coast line in to see a small penguin breeding colony, and also for some wonderful snorkelling in the calm turquoise waters of the bay. This tour is a must for seeing some amazing wildlife.
4. Los Tuneles snorkelling trip
Los Tuneles is a wonderful snorkelling trip in a unique geological setting with fantastic scenery. The volcanic lava here has formed tunnels and arches in the inter tidal zone and the snorkelling is outstanding with lots of sea turtles, seahorses, lobsters, rays, sharks as well as colourful tropical fish. It takes about an hour and a half to get to Los Tuneles but en route you pass a small islet with a breeding colony of seabirds, and manta rays are commonly spotted along the way too. You get to snorkel at two different locations as well as take a short walk. Tours can be booked at various agencies in the town or you can organise it in advance with us as part of your trip.
5. Conch de Perla
A short walk from the town (10 minutes), near the municipal dock, is a board walk through the red mangroves where sea lions often rest. It leads to a shallow protected bay where there is a pier with a ladder so you can step into the lagoon and go snorkelling. Turtles are often seen here along with sealions, rays, moray eels and colourful fish.
If you want any advice on things to do in the Galapagos Islands, please don’t hesitate to contact us.