Isabela Island is the largest of all the islands in the Galapagos archipelago. Formed by the merger of six shield volcanoes, five of which are still active, the island is one of the most volcanically active places on Earth. And that, you might think, would make it a barren landscape. Far from it, however, as Isabela possesses a fascinating mix of geological features, varied natural environments and abundant wildlife.
Main Visitor Sites
Puerto Villamil – Puerto Vallamil is the main town on Isabela and home to most of the island’s 2,000 or so inhabitants. It’s also one of the prettiest towns in the Galapagos, fringed by long white-sand beaches and lagoons where you can see pink flamingos, common stilts, white-cheeked pintails and gallinules. The town has a few hotels, bars and restaurants, but retains a laid-back vibe. A wooden walkway runs from the town to Concha de Perla, where you can swim and snorkel among tropical fish, sea lions, penguins and turtles.
El Muro de las Lágrimas (Wall of Tears) – The Wall of Tears is a 65-foot-tall wall built by inmates of a penal colony that once existed on Isabela. The prisoners were forced to build the wall seemingly as a punishment, and many died during its construction, which lasted from 1945 to 1959. It’s easy to reach on foot from Puerto Villamil.
The Wetlands – A wooden boardwalk leads from Puerto Villamil to the wetlands, an area of lagoons, swamps and mangroves where you can see various bird species including flamingos, common stilts, whimbrels, gallinules and white-cheeked pintails.
Tortoise Center – Located just outside Puerto Villamil, the Tortoise Center is home to two of the five sub-species of giant tortoise. You can see them at all stages of development, from eggs to hatchlings to breeding adults.
Elizabeth Bay – On the west coast of Isabela sits Elizabeth Bay, one of the most popular visitor sites of all the western islands of the Galapagos. Trips to this area are by boat only and going ashore is prohibited, but you’ll be able to explore the bay, its various islets, and nearby red and black mangroves from your dinghy. Sea turtles, rays, flightless cormorants, pelicans, penguins, lava herons and various other species call this area home.
Moreno Point – Not too far down the coast from Elizabeth Bay is Moreno Point. Approaching the area by boat, you could easily think that nothing could live among the point’s seemingly barren black lava flows. But go ashore and follow the trails through the lava rock and you’ll come across numerous tide pools and lagoons teeming with life. Keep an eye out for green sea turtles and white-tip sharks in the pools, and flamingos, blue herons, common gallinules, paint-billed crakes and white-cheeked pintails flitting about around them.
Urbina Bay – To the north of Elizabeth Bay is Urbina Bay, notable for its strange geological formation. In 1956, a major uplift caused an almost four-mile stretch of coast to rise up 16 feet into the air, leaving coral reefs exposed above the surface. It’s a good spot to see land iguanas, giant tortoises and flightless cormorants.
Tagus Cove – It’s not often you’ll see graffiti in the Galapagos, but the cliffs near Tagus Cove (just north of Urbina) bear the writing of numerous pirates and whalers who wrote their names on the rocks back in the mid-1800s. The cove itself, meanwhile, is a sheltered spot with great bird watching, including ground and tree finches, yellow warblers, hawks, large-billed flycatchers and sometimes a few woodpecker finches.
Sierra Negra Volcano and Chico Volcano – This incredible volcano has one of the largest calderas in the world, measuring more than six-miles across. On the northeast corner of Sierra Negra sits Chico Volcano, a more accessible and popular visitor site where you can walk on fairly recent lava flows. Various trails are found on and around the caldera, offering spectacular views across Isabela and the nearby Fernandina Island.
Vicente Roca Point – Jutting out to the west from the northern extremes of Isabela is Vicente Roca Point. This is primarily a marine visitor site, accessible by dinghy. It’s also a popular SCUBA diving spot. The coastline here is home to various birds, some nesting, including blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, storm petrels and brown noddy terns. The cold waters around Vicente Roca Point are also excellent for spotting marine species. Keep an eye out for whales, dolphins and sea lions, which sometimes engage in feeding frenzies in these rich waters.
Albemarle Point – Up at the northern tip of the island is Albemarle Point. Here you can walk to the ruins of an old U.S. radar base built during World War II. It doesn’t receive many visitors, meaning you can see the ruins and the nearby marine iguanas in relative isolation.
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