Things to do on Isabela Island, Galapagos*

After 5 lovely days on Santa Cruz Island, it was time to pack up and head to Isabela.  We were really looking forward to Isabela, as we had read that it was the most beautiful island and the least touristy island.


A bird on Isabela Island.  I think it might be a lava heron.

But, first we had to get there.  You can fly on an itsy bitsy teeny tiny plane, but we had too much luggage to make that a viable option.  So, it was the “ferry” for us.  The ferry isn’t a ferry at all – it is a group of speedboats that make the trip everyday at 7 am and 3 pm.  Prices are $25 or $30 dollars, depending on where you buy your tickets.  The speed boats are largely enclosed and there are zero luxuries at all (good news though, they do keep a stash of barf bags).  And, from what we’ve read, you shouldn’t listen to anyone who says you will be on a particular boat – I’m pretty sure they just fill up boats as people check in each day.  Moreover, don’t believe the photos of the boats.  When we arrived for our 6:30 a.m. check-in, we were told which boat we would be on and the photo most certainly did not match the reality.  Anyway, we checked in and got a lanyard with the name of our assigned boat.  Then, we stood around with everyone else waiting to go to Isabela.  Eventually, some random dude started calling out boat names.  We followed the random dude and got in another line.  It turned out that we had to have our luggage checked for contraband.  Once again, they were looking for fruit and seeds and they also asked if I had hiking boots.  I nearly laughed out loud at that question.  Me?  Carry hiking boots?  Yeah…right… The next step was to get on the water taxi.  It cost 50 cents, but don’t expect change if you can’t pay the exact amount.  And, don’t expect change if you pay the wrong amount like we did (we thought it was 80 cents and the boat captain happily pocketed the extra).  The water taxi took us out to our assigned boat.  Don’t worry, the boat guys dealt with the heavy luggage.  The ferry ride took about two hours and was bumpy even though we were supposedly visiting in the season of calm waters.  I spent the trip repeating “I will not puke, I will not puke” and popping mints one after another.   (Robert, on the other hand, spent his trip happily reading stuff on his tiny little phone screen without a care in the world.)  Eventually — without any puking involved — we reached Isabela, hopped on another water taxi (this one cost $1 each), and arrived at the pier.


One of the many lizards on Isabela Island.

So, not fun, but you know what is waiting for you on the pier?  Sea lions!  Lots and lots of sea lions.  When we went, there were even babies.  And, if you are lucky, a turtle might be swimming in the water.

So, once you make it to Isabela, what should you do?


A heron on Isabela Island.

Well, my favorite activity was snorkeling at Concha Perla.  This is a small bay that you reach by a boardwalk that is right before the main pier.  We snorkeled there multiple times and, each time, there were marine iguanas on the boardwalk.  There were also generally sea lions on the boardwalk too (one day we had to step right over them to get back to our hotel).  The snorkeling area is a good-sized snorkeling area with mangroves on one side and rocks on another.  And, the sea life is fantastic.  We saw tons of colorful fish.  Most impressively, we saw a spotted eagle ray one day and three of them another day (it looked like an adult and two juveniles).  We even got to see one of the rays eating.  We saw a huge turtle and a small turtle.  We saw marine iguanas swimming (one came right up to Robert).  And, we got to swim with playful sea lions.  Who knew sea lions liked to jump in the air and do somersaults?  And, who knew that when we were struggling against a strong current, one of the sea lions would come right up into my face as if to ask “why are you such a bad swimmer”?  It was amazing.  Snorkeling at Concha Perla is completely free.

sea lion playing

A friendly sea lion.  No, this is not zoomed.  It really was that close.  Which is why it is out of focus.  But still a fun shot.

Robert’s favorite activity (and my nightmare) was biking to the Wall of Tears.  This is a wall built by prisoners years ago, and the rumor is that the wall was built just to keep the prisoners busy and kill them off.  We rented a bike at a random shop in town — it seemed like bike rentals went for either $15 or $20 per day depending on which shop you rented from (you could also rent by the hour).  The path is about 6 km each way.  It started out pretty sandy and, just when we were celebrating getting onto a more densely packed surface, it started going uphill.  When we first started the bike ride, I thought “12 km on a bike, piece of cake, I’ve got this.”  Well, with a real feel of 92 degrees Fahrenheit and 98% humidity (at 9 am, no less), I most definitely did not have it.  I gave up about two-thirds of the way there and sat on a bench in the shade and Robert continued on his own up to the wall.  He said the wall was not that impressive (most of it is gone) but the views were amazing (except for the big prickly pear that blocked the best views).


The view from the top.

Giving up on the uphill climb wasn’t the worst thing in the world.  While waiting for Robert, I got to watch a mama bird feed her baby bird.  The birds didn’t care at all that I was sitting about a foot away.  Baby bird was nearly as big as mama bird, but baby was loud when she/he/it wanted whatever tasty morsel mama had found.  By the time Robert got back from the Wall of Tears, mama bird was literally running away from baby bird.


Mama bird trying to ignore baby bird.

And, we saw wild tortoises in the middle of the road.  How many of you can say you have ever had to watch out for giant Galapagos tortoises while riding a bike?


A wild tortoise on the road to the Wall of Tears.

There were numerous places to stop on the bike ride.  Our recommendation?  Stop on the way back, not the way out.  Better to stop when you are tired (especially since I swear that somehow the route was uphill in both directions).  One of the best places to stop is El Estero.  This is a secluded bay surrounded by mangroves. Very peaceful.  We didn’t have our swimsuits, but it looked like a lovely place to stop for a swim.  Although the ride back to town in a wet swimsuit probably wouldn’t have been so fun . . . talk about a recipe for a chafing disaster . . .


El Estero on Isabela Island.

Another good stop is Tunel del Estero.  This is a lava tunnel leading to the ocean.  It is a good spot for spotting marine iguanas.  We even saw some sea lions, but the waves prevented us from getting very close to them.


Tunel del Estero on Isabela Island.

But, the best stop was probably Mirador Los Tunos.  Nope, there is nothing wrong with the camera.  That lake really is red.  No idea why.


Mirador Los Tunos on Isabela Island.

Another fun (and completely free) thing to do on Isabela is to visit the tortoise breeding center.  We liked this breeding center far better than the one on Santa Cruz.  (But the ranches on Santa Cruz are better than any breeding center.)


Someone might need to give this tortoise some lessons in breeding . . .

The tortoise breeding center is walking distance from town.  You can take the road there, but there is also a boardwalk through some wetlands that is a much nicer walk.  We saw ducks and sandpipers and herons and bright pink flamingos.


A pink flamingo on Isabela Island.

Isabela Island is a pain in the butt to get to, but it was our favorite island of those we visited in the Galapagos.  When international travel resumes, put it on your list.


A juvenile marine iguana hitching a ride on an adult.

* In light of the Covid-19 situation, we are no longer traveling.  This post reflects pre-pandemic travel.  We are sheltering in place and hope you are doing the same.  Stay safe.

About theschneiduks

Lisa has a degree in biology and another in law and has spent the last 20 years working as a patent litigator. She is a voracious reader of young adult dystopian fiction and watches far too much bad tv. She loves pretty much anything to do with zombies, and doesn’t think there is anything weird about setting an alarm at 6 am on a weekend to stumble to a pub to watch her beloved Chelsea boys. Robert has had many professions, including a chef, a salesman, an IT guy and most recently, a stay at home dog dad. He speaks Italian and hopes to learn Spanish on this trip. He loves nothing more than a day spent sailing, hopes to do more scuba diving, and rues the day he introduced Lisa to football (i.e., soccer).
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2 Responses to Things to do on Isabela Island, Galapagos*

  1. Frank says:

    Interesting place, that’s amazing getting that close to sea lions (don’t know the difference between seals and sea lions but have always liked both).
    We’ll probably never get to the Galapagos but I’m happy to see your posts covering it 🙂


    • The sea lions were so cool. They loved to play and they were fearless. I thought they looked like seals because they were so small, but was assured they are sea lions. Apparently, sea lions have ear flaps and “walk” on land using their flippers. Seals don’t have ear flaps and slide around on their bellies when on land.


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