Galapagos Islands: Isabella

This is part of a three part series.

We’d heard a lot of great things about Isabella being the best island to chill on as an independent traveler – with lots of beautiful beaches and lots to see for free, so we put aside a good 6 days to see it all.

After receiving the usual response about camping (this time the only campsite was halfway up a volcano!) we found another cheap hostel – our favourite on the islands, Posada Caminante. It had a hammock area, free oranges, free water, a kitchen, and free laundry in exchange for a ‘like’ on Facebook. How cool is that? We also had fridges in our rooms, pretty pimpin! And all for $25 a night (post negotiations)

So the hostel was a pretty cool place to chill and chat to fellow travellers, and after our head-spinning travel day of 2 nausea-inducing boats in one day, we took a day off to relax and re-set. Enjoying the novelty of having a kitchen again, we cooked noodles and pasta and eggs (the cheapest things given the hefty Galapagos tax on store-bought goods!) and walked around town, finding the cheapest lunch places and checking out the beaches and lagoons. 

Isabella has a kind of dusty dirt-road beachy vibe about it, and feels more relaxed, and more like a regular town, than the other islands. There are sports fields, bingo halls, old guys sitting on their porches drinking, and kids cycling round on their bikes. We felt like we’d taken a break from our frenetic pace of activities.. Snorkelling, boats, tour, boats..!

After a day of chilling we decided to see most of the island’s in-land attractions, which are easily done on foot (you really don’t need to get taxis or tours everywhere!) We walked first to Isabella’s Giant Tortoise Reserve, via red lagoons with neon pink flamingos and paths strewn with marine iguanas…

The reserve was really cool, as we arrived at breakfast time and got to watch all the tortoises, from babies to oldies, munching away on leaves and stems, and working together to tear and chew the tough plants in slow motion with their gummy mouths! 

We also learnt in a little museum that the species that settlers brought with them, from rats to cats to goats, were the main contributor to totally fucking up the Giant Tortoises’ breeding, as they destroy eggs and any turtles that haven’t developed their hard shells yet. They’ve still got a long way to go to reverse all this damage!

We then took a long, hot walk to the infamous ‘Wall of Tears’ which was built by prisoners as a mode of torture, hauling heavy volcanic lava rocks from the highlands to build a tragically impressive wall. Hundreds died from exhaustion or being shot for not building fast enough. The prison was here as late as 1959 which beggars belief, as the islands were just opening up as a tourist hot spot at this time! Pretty sobering stuff.

Our walk was really scenic and took us past beaches, a pretty cemetery, through patches of woodland where we found giant tortoises roaming wild and free, an estuary where you can walk through mangroves, and a mirador from which you can see some of the island’s four volcanoes, and a dramatic view from the highlands to the sea. Our only advise for this walk would be to take plenty of water, because at a 5-hour round trip, in the baking heat, our 1 litre Nalgene was woefully inefficient and we were crazy parched by the end!

After a delicious 2-course lunch of soup, grilled fish, rice and salad at our favourite restaurant Cesar’s, we watched the sunset on a pretty patch of beach, and were lucky enough to see a HUGE feeding frenzy taking place in the sea! 

There were hundreds of boobies and pelicans flying in swarms and dive-bombing into the water in hoards, creating an entrancing visual effect as they repeated the process: fly, swoop, dive, feed, fly.. Round and round. Tons of tourists from nearby bars and hotels ran out onto the beach and started filming on their phones. It was pretty special! 

The next day, feeling ready for the water again after a couple of days’ respite, we headed to the port for snorkelling at Concha de Perla Bay, where, after clambering over a load of sunbathing sealions and marine iguanas on the jetty, we swam with yet more tropical fish, our first ray, and even a Galápagos penguin! 

The current is super strong in places at the bay, and after a while swimming round and through the mangroves we found ourselves swept out on a fierce cold current, the upside of which being we saw a couple of penguins swimming in the current alongside us underwater (while we clung onto rocks for dear life to avoid getting swept into the rudders of nearby boats!)

That afternoon, we checked out Isabella’s own ‘Playa del Amor’ which was little more than a tiny cove of rocks with a local family sunbathing, but it was a pretty cool spot to chill and take too many photos (again!) of the nesting marine iguanas and flock of blue-footed boobies on the rocks.

Now, for the TRUE HIGHLIGHT of Isabella (any maybe even the Galapagos!) – our tour to Los Tunneles. If you only do one trip on the islands, I urge you to make it this one.

So Los Tunneles are a group of volcanic rock ‘tunnels’ and arches that have formed in the water, and in and around the tunnels lurk a crazy amount of wildlife. The snorkelling there is out of this world. 

After a very choppy 45 minute speedboat trip we arrived at our first stop where we walked on the rocks and observed white tip sharks swimming in the water below us, and our guide told us all about the mating rituals of blue-footed boobies and giant sea turtles whilst we watched them on rocks and underwater. 

Then 10 minutes later we were at our first snorkelling spot where we swam in warm clear water with huge fish, an eagle ray, and chased a white tipped shark to his home under a rock. 

Our guides were fantastic and helped us swim through the rock tunnels (which didn’t come naturally to me, as I bumped my head pretty hard on the first effort!) and they held us deep under water so we could watch the families of sharks under the rocks and peer into nests of seahorses in the mangroves, one at a time so as not to disturb them. They could spot the tiniest creatures from miles away and were always pointing something new out to us!

Exhilarated by our first snorkel through the stunning water, we then stopped at a second spot which was so fantastic it had me and Sam gibbering on about it for days to anyone who would listen. It was here that we swam with yet more of what was now becoming crazily normal (sea lions, huge fish, chasing sharks, observing seahorses) but also saw a couple of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen…

The first was a pack (shoal?) of 20+ golden rays swimming in formation through the water, gliding in a huge pyramid, showing their white bellies and their spindly tails. We followed them in awe until our guides steered us off to give them some space… 

Then moments later we saw a beautiful spotted eagle ray swimming below us, and moments after that, two giant female sea turtles that were about 5ft long! 

It was insane watching such a huge creature swimming through the sea, and we were lucky that our guide (armed with his proper underwater camera!) managed to capture a snap of Sam swimming with one of the beautiful, majestic creatures. Truly breathtaking!

We also had some laughs with a couple of Galápagos penguins (the northernmost penguin in the world!) – one of which loved posing for pictures, so I got behind the guy for a quick selfie (obvs!) 

When we got back to shore we saw a load of the guys swimming around at the port too – super cute! They’re endemic to Isabella only so we were super happy we got to see them upclose!

And another great thing about this tour (as well as the wildlife and the brilliant guiding from our two park rangers) was that it was only $85 (vs the $110 we paid for disappointing Kicker Rock) and in terms of what we saw, was so much better value. Everyone on Isabella told us it was the most comprehensive tour, and it really was!

That evening, giddy from post-tour high (and literally giddy for me with post-boat motion sickness!) we took to the roof of our hostel for our first night of drinking in nearly 2 weeks, and we managed almost a whole bottle of local firewater aguardiente (sugar cane brandy) whilst listening to a LOUD local game of bingo that was played to the whole island over loudspeaker! This confident return to drinking meant that the next day was pretty much a write-off and not worth writing about…Suffice to say, we lazed, I ate ceviche, and it was goooood.

Then for our last few days we headed back to Santa Cruz for our aforementioned final failed attempt at camping, as documented in the other post….!

This is part of a three part series.