Galapagos Travel Guide: Isabela Island by ChokoTrip
In this travel guide, you’ll find information about what to do, how to get there and where to stay for 3 days without depending on a tour.
Isabela Island is one of the four inhabited islands of the famous Galapagos and the biggest of them all. The comments that I always hear from travelers about this island is that it’s the most beautiful; I agree, because, for me, it’s also my favourite for the following reasons: proximity to beaches for swimming, ease of getting to the viewpoints, the tortoise reserves, naturally occurring pools, etc.
With little urban development, this island maintains a small-town feel with a wild touch making it stand out from Santa Cruz or San Cristobal Island, considered to be more like small cities.
3 days and 2 nights on Isabela Island
If you’re thinking of going to the Galapagos, I recommend you spend 3 days of your itinerary to enjoy Isabela Island.
07h00 – Baggage check at Puerto Ayora pier in Santa Cruz
Baggage check at Santa Cruz pier. Be sure that the tour operator that sells you the ferry ticket gives you a receipt with the name of the boat on it. When you’re approaching the pier, you’ll see people holding signs with the name of the boat. Give them your name to then go to get your baggage checked. It costs $30 and the motorboat taxi $0.50.
09h00 – Arrival to Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island.
You need to pay USD $1 for the motorboat taxi and USD $5 entrance fee for Ecuadorians and USD $10 for foreign tourists.
09h30 – Check-in at the lodging
I give to you a list of accommodation that I recommend, based on the data of travelers who we’ve helped to book the tours. Each time you book some of these accommodations through our blog, booking gives us a commission and helps us to keep the information updated for future travelers.
More hotels in Isabela Island: here
11h00 – Cabo Rosa Tunnels Tours
You’ll be picked up from your hotel and taken to the tour operator to try on snorkeling gear. After that, you’ll go to the harbour where you’ll take a 45-minute motorboat taxi first to a rock called ‘La Union’ for bird watching, then you’ll enter through ‘El Finado’ or ‘Los Tuneles’ which both take you to Cabo Rosa. From June to November, there are complications with sea currents to go via the entrance to the tunnels. However, the best part is at the entrance of ‘El Finado’ where you can go snorkeling.
17h00 – Return to Puerto Villamil.
On the way back, close to the habour by a few metres, is a walk that you can take to a natural pool called Concha Perla. Here you can swim with lots of fish and with luck, a sea lion . On the way to Concha Perla, you can often find sea lions sleeping and obstructing the path. Don’t be scared. Go past slowly and try not to bother them.
You can make the most of the rest of the day by going out to eat and buying snacks or fruit for the following day.
08h00 – Breakfast
Most hotels/hostels provide breakfast.
09h00 – Rent bicycles
Cycle at your own pace to ‘El Muro de las lagrimas’ (The walls of Tears).
It will cost you between USD $15 – $20 to rent a bicycle for the whole day. The ride is a bit tough. Take a lot of water and try not to go too fast because you may slip and hurt yourself while riding over the volcanic rock.
On the way back from the Muro de Las Lagrimas, you can take a few (signposted) rest stops, to take photos, cool off, take a break and eat fruit and snacks.
When you have passed a beach with a lighthouse, look out for a pathway next to a hotel which takes you to a Giant Tortoise reserve and flamingo pond. On the path you may well encounter one of these pink, long-legged birds. If you’ve still got energy to keep cycling, go back to the Concha Perla for for a refreshing quick dip.
06h30 – Breakfast
Ask you hotel if they can provide an early breakfast for you.
07h00 – Sierra Negra Volcano Tour
Prepare yourself for trekking with incredible scenery. There will be stops in which to take photos or eat something.You can’t eat while you walk so wait for the designated stop points put in place by Galapagos National Park to do so. The tour should get you to the small volcano. Be sure to follow the directions of the guide closely.
This tour costs $40 and includes a packed lunch, transport, and a travel guide. You’ll be picked up from where you’re staying and taken to where the trek starts. Tell the guide that you have a ferry at 2.30pm so that they can adjust their time accordingly.
No matter the time of year you go, the sun is always going there trying to tire you out at the higher points of the trek. Take lots of water, comfortable walking shoes, a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses.
14h00 – Return to Puerto Villamil
Take this time to get your bags checked at the harbour.
14h30 – Return to Santa Cruz Island
Travel time: 2 hours
The best daily tours on Isabela Island:
I can help you looking for availability in the following daily tours that leave from Isabela Island:
What else can you do in Isabela Island?
The ‘El Faro’ beach is ideal for learning how to surf.
Camping in ‘Las Minas de Azufre’ (Sulpher Mines)
You should find a guide in which to help you get the permission from the park as well as camping gear you’ll need.
Tour of the ‘Tintoreras’ (Mackerel Sharks)
This tour is a motorboat trip and trail walk which lasts about 3 hours. On the walk, you’ll see Galapagos Sharks and iguanas and finish up with some snorkeling at the bay.
COST: $50 USD
LEAVING TIMES: 08h30 and 10h30
INCLUDES: Snorkeling gear.
Scuba Diving at Islas Tortuga
Islas Tortugas are a group of small islands found 30 minutes from Isabela island and it’s a good spot for intermediate to advanced divers. Share some rare moments with incredible sea creatures such as manta rays, Galápagos sharks, and occasionally hammerhead and Mackerel sharks. Sea turtles, marble fish and other varieties of open-water fish also inhabit this area.
COST: $160 USD
INCLUDES: All equipment and 2 dives.
How to get to and around Isabela Island?
To get to Isabela Island, you can take private planes with Fly Galapagos which leave from Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. You can also take the fast, motorboat ferries.
From Isabela to San Cristobal island, you can often find last-minute flights for $140 (which I think is a good deal). If you want to go from San Cristóbal to Isabela, you’ll have to take a ferry first to Santa Cruz and then another one to Isabela. This will cost US$70.
Motorboat Ferries between Santa Cruz and Isabela Islands
Cost: $35 USD
Travel time: 2 hours.
Recommendations: Buy tickets a day in advance for the motorboats ferries. Take seasickness medication one hour before traveling. The further forward you sit on the boat, the stronger you’ll feel the bumps of the ride so try to sit towards the back. If you’re traveling with kids, ask to sit up top with the captain.
What should I bring according to the weather on Isabela?
In the months between June and November, it’s very sunny. Between February and May it’s the rainy season. July to October are the cool, drizzly months and the sea temperature gets very cold.
What you should definitely take, regardless of the season: a waterproof jacket, closed-toe shoes, seasickness medication (Anutin), refillable water bottle, sunglasses, hat, pen drive – most of the tour operators take photos and videos with their cameras on the daily tours so you’ll need a pen drive to transfer them. Don’t count on them sending them to you via email or google drive because the Internet connection is terrible on all three islands.