Isabela Island is of note because it is the largest of all the Galapagos Islands. It covers an area of 1,790 square miles (4,640 square kilometers) and it is 62 miles (approximately 100 kilometers) in length. The island sits on the equatorial line and it is one of the western isles of the Islands. Isabela Island is one of the youngest islands of the Galapagos Islands and it is very volcanically active. The island was formed as the result of a merger of six volcanoes and all of these bar one are still active, meaning that eruptions happen with some regularity. Wolf volcano, one of the six shield volcanoes that comprises Isabela Island represents the highest point in the whole of the Galapagos Islands at its summit. Its elevation stands at 1,707 meters. Isabela Island weather does not differ significantly from weather at other places in the Galapagos Islands, and the temperature is usually very pleasant.
Isabela Island is one of the few in the archipelago that has human settlements. The biggest town on the island is Puerto Villamil, and this settlement is located at the south east of the island. It is the third biggest town in the Galapagos Islands. Population estimates for Isabela Island vary, though most are around 2,000 people.
There are various options available for getting to Isabela Island. Getting to Isabela Island is most likely to be achieved through taking a Galapagos Islands cruise. Beware that not all of the Galapagos Islands cruises visit the western islands, so if you have a particular interest in visiting Isabela Island you will want to ensure that your cruise definitely goes there, some of the cruises we highly recommend and that do cover Isabela in their itineraries are the Natural Paradise Galapagos cruise and the Infinity Galapagos yacht among others. However, there is a small airport on Isabela Island and this services inter-island flights. It is possible to take a short Galapagos inter-island flight from Isabela to San Cristobal, or vice versa, and from Isabela to Baltra, or vice versa. Some ferry options are also available to transport people between Isabela Island and Santa Cruz Island. However, there are no ferries between Isabela Island and San Cristobal Island.
Isabela Island highlights are plentiful. Isabela Island wildlife is considered exceptional even compared with the other islands, and this is a fabulous place to spot wild tortoises. Arguably, one of the best Galapagos visitor sites on Isabela Island is the Sierra Negra volcano. This has the largest basaltic caldera in the islands. On reaching the site there are superb views of the scenery around. While taking in the spectacular views it is also possible to see a great variety of finches. Sierra Negra caldera visits require a drive followed by either a hike or a horseback riding trip.
Another of Isabela Island’s highlights is Elizabeth Bay. This situated on the east coast, and snorkeling here is a real treat. With its lovely clear sea water, it is possible to view the marine life below, which may include sea lions, sharks, pretty fish and sometimes whales. Penguins can sometimes also be spotted diving for food, and blue footed boobies are often to be seen on the rocks around. Other wildlife highlights here include sea turtles, herons and rays.
Isabela Island wildlife is diverse and interesting. The ecosystem is affected by the new lava fields and this means the vegetation is different than in the other islands. There is a great variety of wildlife on Isabela Island including birdlife such as penguins, cormorants, herons, boobies, pelicans, finches, Galapagos doves and Galapagos hawks. Other creatures that may be seen on the islands include marine iguanas, land iguanas and giant tortoises as well as sea turtles and varieties of rays. Interestingly, sub-species of the giant tortoise have evolved on Isabela Island since there were obstacles for tortoises preventing them from moving so freely. These barriers include the lava fields there.
Isabela Island activities include its many visitor sites, with plenty of opportunities to observe and enjoy the wonderful wildlife. Other than the Galapagos visitor sites already mentioned, Urbina Bay is an excellent spot to visit. This visitor site includes a walk along a trail that goes beyond the beach, heading to a drier area. Here, tourists can get to observe giant tortoises and land iguanas. Back in the coastal area of this visitor site, flightless cormorants can often be seen.
For birdwatchers, Tagus Cove Galapagos visitor site offers some interesting observation opportunities. The site is a good place for spotting a range of birds that are land dwelling, and these include finches of many varieties, yellow warblers, hawks and fly catchers among others. It is also often possible to see land iguanas and giant tortoises here.
For those looking for a bit of Galapagos human history, an Isabela Island highlight is the Wall of Tears. However, the story here is a sad one. On Isabela Island between 1945 to 1959 there was a penal colony, and prisoners living here were required to work on the construction of this large stone wall. The wall is 65 feet (25 meters) high and many people died during the time when it was being built. It is possible to walk to this Galapagos visitor site from Puerto Villamil, and the walk is 4 miles (six kilometers) long.
Other than those visitor sites already mentioned, Galapagos visitor sites on Isabela Island include:
Tourism is a surprisingly new development on Isabela Island, and in the past most of the population were involved in fishing and agricultural activities. Tourism began developing at a pace in the 1990s and this means that today there are numerous Isabela Island hotels to stay at. '
Most Isabela Island hotels are located in and around Puerto Villamil. The development of Isabela Island restaurants has kept up with other tourism development and this means there are both Ecuadorian and international restaurants offering a range of cuisines to visitors to this island. Because Isabela Island is further flung than either San Cristobal or Santa Cruz, the feeling on Isabela is considerably more laid back and also because of its beautiful beaches, this can make for a very pleasant stay.
At Ecuador and Galapagos Insiders we recommend visiting Isabela island and we would be happy to put together a Galapagos custom made itinerary including the best of this island for your Galapagos cruise or Galapagos hotel based trip. Get in touch!