Tips for a cheap trip to Isla Isabela
Isla Isabela is the largest island of the Galapagos archipelago and one of the fewer populated ones. It is 120 kilometres long and greater in size than all of the other islands combined. The island has been formed 1 million years ago by six volcanoes: Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra, and Wolf. Five of them are still active.
There are different great snorkeling spots and also a tour up to Sierra Negra is a highlight.
Round about 1,800 people live on Isabela. The majority of Isabela’s residents live in the port town of Villamil. Compared to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal Puerto Villamil is still very relaxed and authentic. The roads are unpaved and not too many restaurants and hotels/hostels have been opened yet.
Just a few steps from the main plaza a white sanded beach invites for swimming and relaxing. On the volcanic rocks at the water you can find hundreds of marine iguanas lying in the sun and enjoying the heat. The beach is many kilometres long and a great place for a long walk. Surfers are attracted by the waves but there are so few people that you sometimes have the feeling you are the only one there.
HOW TO GET TO ISLA ISABELA
A public ferry, which is a speed boat, connects the three main islands. From Isla Santa Cruz a boat leaves every morning at 7am and every afternoon at 2pm, going to Isla Isabela. At 8am and 3pm the boat is going from Isla Isabela to Isla Santa Cruz. The ride takes 2.5 hours and costs 30 dollars. You can buy the ticket in almost every agency in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz or in Puerto Villamil on Isabela. The price is fixed, negotiating is not possible.
The ride can become quite bumpy when sitting in the front of the boat. When you are more sensitive then it is recommendable to choose one of the seats in the back. The ride itself is not that interesting as you only pass two other small islands/rocks. Take your own music with you and the time will pass much quicker!
On Isla Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela the ferry cannot berth at the dock. A water taxi brings you to the boat or dock. This transfer is not included in the ferry ticket and you pay 0.50 or 1 dollar. When you arrive on Isla Isabela you are charged 5 dollars for entering the island. Although the town of Puerto Villamil is just 1.5 kilometres from the harbour, we recommend to take a taxi for 1 dollar per person. Especially when you are carrying a lot of stuff and it is very sunny (what it usually is) it can become a long way.
THINGS TO DO ON ISLA ISABELA
That is the best on the Galapagos Islands… there are so many things you can do and see FOR FREE!
Concha de Perla
Concha de Perla is located near the dock where you arrive with the ferry. A wooden boardwalk through mangroves brings you to a shallow bay. Via a ladder you get into the water where different schools of fish, turtles, and sea lions await you. And when you are lucky, you will even find a penguin.
When you want to see lazy sea lions lying around then you should go to the small landing stage that is located between the entrance of Concha de Perla and the entrance to the harbour. It is so funny to see them enjoying their sunny life.
At the end of Villamil (western side of the town), just behind the Iguana Crossing Hotel, you find a wooden boardwalk along ponts, galapagos cotton, and through mangroves.
When you reach the end you see the Centro de Crianza de Tortugas (Giant Tortoise Breeding Center).
From here you can follow the bigger dirt road that guides you to the Villamil Lagoon. Here you can see flamingos and many other birds.
Complejo de Humedales y Muro de las Lágrimas
When you follow the main road further into the west, passing the Iguana Crossing Hotel, you walk along a wide natural beach. After 4 kilometres you reach the entrance of the national park, Complejo de Humedales y Muro de las Lágrimas, with its wetlands and The Wall of Tears.
After you have put your names into a visitors list at the entrance of the park, a trail brings you to beaches like the Playa del Amor, to natural pools, an area where you can see turtles (we were not lucky and did not find any), and a view point from where you can see the beautiful surroundings. At the end of the trail you reach The Wall of Tears (Muro de las Lágrimas). This is a 100 metres long wall of lava rocks built by convicts under harsh and abusive conditions. Since 1959 the colony is closed but the wall still stands as a monument. If you do not want to walk the whole way, you can take a taxi from town for 5 dollars.
Volcán Sierra Negra
You are interested in the volcanic world of the Galapagos Islands? Then a tour to Sierra Negra should be on your list. The volcano is 1,490 metres high and last erupted in late 2005. You are picked up in the morning at your hostel by a converted truck that brings you to the entrance of the national park. From there you make a 3 kilomteres long walk to the rim of the caldera of Sierra Negra. From here you have a great view of the 10 kilometres wide caldera.
After taking some pictures the tour continues with a 5 kilometres walk to Volcano Chico. Hundreds of years old cactuses grow here and you can see the difference between older lava rocks and the newer ones from the eruption in 2005. You also get to see the difference between the two lava types that exist, pahoehoe and aa.
When the weather conditions are good, you have a great view of almost whole Isla Isabela. On the way our guide even discovered a land iguana which is quite rare. After this 8 kilometres long walk you go back to the beginning of the trail. At around 2pm you will be back in Villamil. It is a great trip through nature with amazing views. Try to get an early tour as the the clouds are usually coming around midday.
Recommendation: Tour Operador Martourgal, 35 dollars per person including transportation, guide, lunch box
After we we came back from our trip to Sierra Negra, we joined a tour to Las Tintoreras. It is a great combination… in the morning you explore the volcanic world and in the afternoon the underwater world of Isla Isabela.
Las Tintoreras is a small volcanic island that is only a 5-minute boat ride away from the landing stage. The tour starts with a walk through lava rocks where we learned a lot about marine iguanas and mangroves. Afterwards our boat brought us to a place on the water where we put on our gear and went snorkeling. Unfortunately the water was a bit rough and the view was not that clear. But together with our guide we discovered turtles, reef sharks, a lot of different types of fish, and eagle rays.
Recommendation: Martourgal, 40 dollars per person including guide, snorkel gear, transportation
A great snorkeling tour is to Los Túnneles. It is a 30 to 40 minutes boat ride from Villamil along the southern coast of Isla Isabela. Among a nice view of the shore of Isabela you see giant manta rays and turtles on the water surface. We got almost afraid that we might run over one. Los Túnneles are covoluted lava formations that became a habitat for many animals and plants under and above the water surface.
Our guide knew exactly where the best spots are. We dived through lava tunnels and we saw really giant turtles that are very relaxed and can be easily admired. We discovered white-tipped sharks and sea lions, and at the end of our snorkeling tour we even found a sea horse. Of course, you are always surrounded by colorful schools of fish.
On the way back the boat brought us to another beautiful area of the lava formations where we could walk on the lava tunnels and see blue-footed boobies doing their funny courtship dance. It was an interesting picture to see cactuses growing near the water, right at the shore.
Recommendation: $?? Including transfer to the harbour, boat ride, guided tour, snorkeling gear (if needed)
ACCOMMODATION ON ISLA ISABELA
Puerto Villamil offers some hotels and hostels, from cheap to expensive. Most of them do not have any website. During the main season from June to August (“summer holidays” for Europe and the USA), and December to mid January (Christmas vacations) you should book in advance. In the Lonely Planet guide book you can find the contact details of some hostels. We can highly recommend the following accommodations.
La Posada del Caminante
We stayed at the hostel La Posada del Caminante where we had a big room with private bathroom for ourselves. The rooms are clean and equipped with TV, fridge, and hot shower. The hostel consists of two buildings that are 100 metres away from each other. Only one of them has WIFI and a very small kitchen but to be honest, it was great to spend some days ‘offline’. And it does not make sense to cook on Isla Isabela as it is much cheaper to got to the local restaurants (see Food on Isla Isabela). Dorm rooms and private rooms cost 15 dollars per person.
Caleta Iguana Hotel
Another really nice hostel/hotel is the Caleta Iguana Hotel. It is directly located at the beach at the western end of the main street that goes to the national park of The Wall of Tears. They offer a small twin/single room with two single beds with shared bathroom with hot water. They have a nice terrace with a Grill and BBQ area with hammocks in the mangrove trees and the ocean view is included. It costs 35 dollars per night (+tax) and includes breakfast from 7am to 9am. Because of the higher price this hotel only gets three of five BoBs.
FOOD ON ISLA ISABELA
So many travellers told us that food and drinks are very expensive on Galapagos. But that is NOT true! Of course, you can eat a lobster for 25 dollars but is that really necessary? In Villamil it was very easy to find cheap places with good and a lot of food. They usually offer menus for lunch and dinner.
When we planned our trip we thought we will have to cook water and drink tea as the water is so expensive. But also this is not correct. In every supermarket you get a 5 litre bottle for 2.75 to 3 dollars which lasts for more than one day.
El Encanto de la Pepa
This cozy restaurant is located at the main plaza in Villamil and offers lunch and dinner for $5. We had soup with meat, grilled calamari or loin with rice, fries, and salat and a juice.
Red Lobster Restaurant
For $5 dollars you get an awesome dinner at the “Red Lobster Restaurant”. You find it at the entrance of Villamil coming from the harbour. We enjoyed a creme soup with vegetables, fish with rice, grilled banana, and a juice. We were so surprised about the quality of the food and it was honestly one of the best dishes we have had so far during our travel!
Panaderia y Pasteleria Fragatas
Almost every evening we went to this bakery to buy some bread rolls or other pastries for a few dollars. The snacks were a perfect start in the morning before going on a trip. You find the shop on the main road at the main square in Villamil.
Restaurante El Tropical
This local restaurant, which is located vis-à-vis the hostel La Gran Tortuga, does not look very inviting from the outside but it is almost always packed with local guests. For us this was a good sign and we had to try the place. It was no surprise that the food was delicious. We had a soup with noodels and a main dish with chicken leg, rice, and a small salat. And, of course, a juice. The price was 4 dollars.
Caleta Iguana Hotel
The Caleta Iguana Hotel is a famous place in Puerto Villamil as it is the only beach front bar with hammocks, bonfires, live music, volleyball field, and a slack line. With the sea view this is one of the nicest places in Villamil. The prices of the drinks are slightly higher than in the local restaurants.
We liked Isla Isabela a lot as it is much more relaxed and less populated than Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. The unpaved roads are a bit dusty but give Puerto Villamil a special atmosphere.
When you are interested in volcanos then Isla Isabela should be one of your destinations. If you have limited time and a a limited budget and are more looking for animals and plants, you should go to Santa Cruz and San Cristobal instead.
We hope you like our tips about ‘Galapagos: Isla Isabela on a budget’ and that they will help you to plan a trip to these beautiful islands. Don’t forget to check out the other Galapagos blog posts for:
Galapagos on a budget
Galapagos: Isla Santa Cruz on a budget
Galapagos: Isla San Cristobal on a budget
Safe travels and thanks for reading
BoB, Liane and Lars