Isla Isabela is the largest island in the Galapagos, occupying a territory that’s greater in size than all of the other islands combined. Isabela island was formed approximately 1 million years ago by the merger of 6 volcanoes – Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra, and Wolf, the majority of them (except Ecuador) are still active.This makes the island of Isabela one of the most volcanically active places on earth.
Despite being the largest island by area, Isla Isabela is home to only 2,200 residents, but that’s what makes it the ultimate Galapagos paradise, where nature and wildlife dominate the landscape!
Due to its location, Isla Isabela is not always visited on Galapagos cruises or included in Galapagos tour itineraries, which is an absolute shame! Isabela was our favourite island in the Galapagos and it’s a destination you just can’t miss while in the Galapagos! Here is why…
7 Reasons You Can’t Miss Isabela Island While in The Galapagos
Isabela’s main town, Puerto Villamil is a small port village, with sandy streets, a few locally run restaurants, and hotels. It’s significantly less touristy than Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island and thus Isla Isabela retains a laid-back vibe.
We loved exploring the island if Isabela during the day and in the evening chilling out at one of the beach bars watching the sun go down with a cocktail in hand. There were hammocks and palm trees and everything you need to really relax and take in the beautiful surroundings.
Isla Isabela is home to a number of great beaches. The biggest one stretches for over 3 km (1.86 Miles) along Antonio Gill street with many perfect spots for a game of volleyball or an afternoon nap in the shade (just watch for those coconuts and the blazing hot sun)!
While we didn’t spend too much time soaking up the sun on the beaches of Isabela (our trip was all about adventure), the beautiful palm covered beach outside our hotel’s window gave our stay on Isabela island some Caribbean flair.
Las Tintoreras Islet and Its Wildlife
Las Tintoreras is an islet located just off the coast of Isabela Island to the south of the bay of Puerto Villamil. It’s a part of the Galapagos National Park (which means that a guide is required to accompany you on your visit) and is an area teeming with wildlife.
On a boat ride around the islet, we spotted the adorable Galapagos penguins, blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, sea lions, blue herons, and lots of sally lightfoot crabs.
We then jumped in the water and got a chance to snorkel with sea turtles, white tip sharks, and a slew of other fish! One of the most amazing spots on Isla Isabela!
Los Tuneles (the Tunnels)
When we arrived at Los Tuneles on one of our excursions on Isabela Island, we felt like we landed on another planet. Los Tuneles is a geological formation with crystal clear canals flowing through lava rock archways covered in cacti. The canals are home to a variety of marine life, ranging from sea turtles to sharks.
We arrived at Los Tunnels by boat and explored on foot, often finding ourselves peeking into the waters and just standing still admiring the incredible landscape around us.
Sierra (Cerro) Negra Volcano
Sierra Negra (or Cerro Negro) is the only accessible volcano on Isabela Island. It has the largest caldera of all the volcanoes in the Galapagos and is one of the most active volcanoes in the region.
The trail to the caldera is about 16km (9.9 miles) return leading to the dry moon-like landscape at the top. These days you can’t visit without a guide, but in our opinion, you wouldn’t even want to. There is lots to learn about the geology and natural habitat in the area to help you further understand the formation and evolution of the Galapagos Islands. And this is the place to do it!
We were lucky to hear the first account story of its last eruption from our Galakiwi guide, Pablo, who was living on Isabela Island at the time of the incident. Hearing the story while looking out onto the black caldera made the experience so much more surreal and impactful!
Wall of Tears
This unique historical site, known as El Muro de las Lágrimas in Spanish, is a stark reminder of Isabela’s darker times when a penal colony existed on the island between 1944 and 1959. The wall, constructed out of big rocks by prisoners in the penal colony, is about 25 m (65 ft) tall and is located about 5km (3 miles) outside of Puerto Villamil town.
It is said that there was no real reason for the construction of the wall and that it was built purely as a way to punish the prisoners and break them physically and spiritually. Some locals in town believe that a wall is a haunted place, and many claim that at night they can still hear cries of those that died at the wall during its construction.
We reached the Wall of Tears by bike, but it is also possible to get there on foot via a 2-3 hour return hike that offers a different perspective on the history of Isabela Island.
Tortoise Breeding Centre
While there are lots of opportunities to see Giant Tortoises in the wild, a visit to Isabela’s Tortoise Breeding Centre gives an opportunity to find out so much more about these beautiful creatures.
Roaming around the center, you can see Tortoises throughout all the stages of life and from various parts of the Galapagos. An interactive display inside provides further info on their life journey.
If you are visiting with a guide, like we did during our tour with Galakiwi, they’ll be able to share more information about the breeding practices at the center and even show you the various stages of tortoise development inside the egg. So cool!
Take the boardwalk back to town for a chance to spot flamingos in the wetlands on Isla Isabela.
We were so grateful to be able to spend 4 days on Isabela Island during our tour with Galakiwi. It was the perfect amount of time to explore all of Isla Isabela’s nooks and crannies and to enjoy the laid back setting on this beautiful island.
Check out our latest video highlights from Isabela Island!
Where to Stay on Isla Isabela
Being one of the few Galapagos islands with any human inhabitants the hotel offerings are rather limited, but there is enough choice to suit every type of traveler on sites such as booking.com.
One of the top rated accommodation options on Isla Isabela is Chavez Family House. This holiday home is located in the Puerto Villamil region of Isabela Island and includes all the mod-cons with a little garden oasis.
If you fancy waking up in the morning and having breakfast on the beach, then check out the Isabela Beach House. It combines garden, terrace and beach all in one, and is just a short walk from the center of Puerto Villamil, the town square, many restaurants and the port.
For travelers conscious of their impact on their destination, then Chez Manany Galapagos Ecolodge is a great way to support sustainable practices on Isabela Island. This family-run eco-lodge was built from natural materials by local craftsmen and is completely self-sufficient for power and water. It’s also 400m from the Concha y Perla, one of the best dive and snorkel spots on Isla Isabela.
BEFORE YOU GO: DON’T FORGET TRAVEL INSURANCE
We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance, especially in a country like Ecuador. Whether you just plan to explore the cities, do a little bit of hiking, or something more extreme, being protected on your travels is an irreplaceable peace of mind. We learned about the importance of travel insurance the hard way and now we never travel without coverage.
Disclaimer: We traveled to Isabela Island as a part of our 11-Day hosted tour with Galakiwi. But, as always all opinions expressed in this article are our own.