Top Places to Visit in Galapagos – Isabela

March 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Galapagos Penguins

Our #1 selection for top places to visit in the Galapagos Islands is Isabela.  The largest of the Galapagos Islands, Isabela is also the most spectacular.  Located to the far west of the archipelago, Isabela is home to 6 volcanoes, 5 of which are still active.

Isabela is home to some of the best wildlife in Galapagos – 95% of the Galapagos Penguin population lives on Isabela or neighboring Fernandina. Isabela has an abundance of wildlife. The Bolivar Canal is the best place in the Galapagos to see whales and dolphins.  Isabela is the best place in the Galapagos to see migratory birds.  If it’s unique wildlife you seek Isabela is home to numerous rare endemic animals like the flightless cormorant, marine iguanas, and the extremely rare mangrove finch.

Isabela is the only island that is home to more than one subspecies of Galapagos Tortoise. For years scientist believed that each volcano on Isabela had its own separate subspecies of tortoise.  However recent DNA research has concluded that there two distinct different species of tortoises the populations of the southern volcanoes are vicina and those of the remote Wolf volcno are becki.

Of the many natural wonders found in Galapagos – you can find the majority on Isabela.  It is here on Isabela you can climb the Sierra Negra Volcano home to the 2nd largest caldera in the world.  There is excellent diving at Punta Moreno, Roca Redonda and Punta Vicente Roca where you can dive with giant mantas.

There are the spectacular mangrove lagoons teeming with wildlife like Elizabeth Bay where you can see Galapagos Hawks, sea turtles, rays,  penguins, iguanas and so much more.  There are geological treasures like those at Urbina Bay where the uplifting cause the coastline to be driven 3/4 of a mile further out to sea, exposing giant coral heads and stranding marine organisms on what was now on shore. There is the fresh water lake and at the favorite anchorage for pirates at Tagus Cove.

Isabela is also home to Puerto Villamil our #8 pick for best places to visit in Galapagos, with it’s stunning beach and interesting day tours. It’s the most Staying on Isabela in Puerto Villamil is the most captivating town in Galapagos

Isabela is an incredible Island with much to offer – when deciding between Galapagos Cruises if you select one with several days in Isabela you will discover the many treasures the island has in store and find out for yourself why Isabela is our top place to visit in the Galapagos.

Top Places to Visit in Galapagos – Puerto Villamil

February 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

Located on the southeast coast on the island of Isabela is the most alluring town in the Galapagos our #8 pick – Puerto Villamil.  A sleepy fishing village located on a white sand beach fringed with palm trees, Puerto Villamil has much to offer.  It’s no doubt why this is the favorite destination for sailboats making the Pacific crossing, the main beach could easily be a vacation spot on its own.

Puerto Villamil has much more to offer, as you arrive in to town near the main dock you will see Galapagos Penguins, Brown Pelicans,  sea lions, and both Nazca and blue footed boobies lined up as if they are waiting to meet you.  A water taxi can take you over to the neighboring Tintorares for a short walk to view thousands of marine iguanas and sleeping white tip reef sharks.

On the edge of town you will find several brackish lagoons the ideal place to spot Galapagos Flamingos and pintail ducks. There is the lovely boardwalk trail to the tortoise breeding center where you can witness first-hand how tortoises from the different volcanoes on Isabela evolved differently based on their environment.  Towards the end of town are the mangroves of Los Humidales an excellent spot to snorkel or bird watch.

Traveling up the island is the Sierra Negra Volcano a fascinating visit to discover the volcanic origins of the Galapagos Islands and to explore the 2nd largest caldera in the world.  To the southern end of the island is the surreal snorkeling spot in the Galapagos the fabulous Los Tuneles.

Puerto Villamil can be visited as a day trip from Santa Cruz, from a Galapagos Cruise or you can relax and enjoy and explore the environment from a local hotel.

Galapagos Islands: Staying on Isabela

June 22, 2010 § 1 Comment

Isabela is a wonderful out of the way destination where you can relax on the beach, view wildlife and enjoy outdoor adventures. Planning your trip to spend between 2 and 4 nights allows you time to see what the area has to offer and enjoy some of the best local tours in the Galapagos Islands.

Thanks to Google Maps you can check out our highlights of Staying on Isabela

Puerto Villamil is home to a number of accommodations for visitors ranging in various levels.  Ranging from very basic accommodations with shared bathrooms and cold showers a walk to the beach to more luxurious accommodations with air conditioning, hot and cold water, plasma televisions and ocean front access.

Many of the hotels in town offer a dining option for breakfast, those hotels geared more to international travelers will offer breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as offering an onsite bar.  There are several restaurants near the main plaza offering local cuisine, fruit juices, beers and some sodas.  There are several ice cream shops and a bakery where you can pick up freshly baked breads.

Getting to Isabela can be done either by plane from Baltra or from San Cristobal or by speed boat from Puerto Ayora.

Next in our Galapagos Island Based Series is San Cristobal

Isla Isabela: Los Humedales – Wall of Tears and Los Tuneles

June 17, 2010 § 3 Comments

Los Humedales

Los Humedales

If you follow the main road in Puerto Villamil to the south all the way to the end you’ll reach an area called Los Humedales and The Wall of Tears.  Los Humedales is one of the hidden gems of Isabela.  Taking a bicycle and a picnic lunch is an excellent way to spend the day.  “Humedales” translates to Wet Lands and this area is characterized by sandy beaches, rocky shores, and mangroves.

The area has a number of trails where you can see all four species of mangroves found in Galapagos.  Mangroves are an extremely important role in the Galapagos.  They are one of the first plants that take hold on any of the islands and provide a nursery for young marine animals as well as a nesting site for birds.

Following the various paths you will discover secluded beaches, natural pools, lava tunnels, and the cemetery for the island’s first inhabitants. A fabulous destination for bird lovers it is the mating area for pink flamingos and the best area in Galapagos to view migratory birds including whimbrel, short-billed dowitcher, wilson’s phalarope, common tern, blue-winged teal, osprey, black-bellied and semipalmated plovers, greater and lesser yellowlegs to name a few.  In recent years the national park has released young giant tortoises from the Isabela Breeding Center in this area and by following the trail it’s possible to encounter small 5 year old and 25 year old giant tortoises in the wild.

At the end of the road you will find the Wall of Tears a sad reminder of the history of Isabela.  The wall was constructed between 1946 and 1959 while Isabela was a penal colony.  As punishment the prisoners were forced to build the wall from huge blocks of lava.  The wall is named for the many convicts that died while building the wall.

In contrast to the peaceful setting of Los Humedales a visit to Los Tuneles begins with more of an adrenaline rush. Traveling by boat approximately 30 – 45 minutes south of Villamil you’ll reach an area where rolling waves seem to be the norm.  In a masterful feat of seaman ship the boat captain skirts past white capped waves.  If you can brave the entrance to the area you will be delighted by the best snorkeling in the Galapagos.  Los Tuneles is a unique site where the hot lava froze into a number of odd shapes creating bridges and tunnels.  Snorkeling here you will find schools of fish, lobsters, sea lions, sea turtles, penguins and so much more.

Read our blog Los Tuneles Snorkeling at its best to learn more about this wonderful area.

Isla Isabela : Concha de Perla and Tintorares

June 11, 2010 § 2 Comments

Tintorares

Tintorares

At the northern end of the main road in Puerto Villamil about ¾ mile from the middle of town is the main dock.  Completely rebuilt to accommodate the many fishing and speed boats that visit the island in 2008 – the dock is modern and provides easy access to the speed boats that take the majority of visitors to the island.

Just before you reach the dock is another wooden pathway leading to an area called Concha de Perla.  A short walk through the mangroves takes you to a shallow bay perfect for swimming and snorkeling.  Snorkeling through the bay it’s common to see schools of fish, playful sea lions and the occasional Galapagos Penguin.  Coming here on a hot day is the perfect way to cool off.

Snorkeling with Sea Lions

Snorkeling with Sea Lions

Not far from Concha de Perla is a small islote.  One of the local water taxi’s or speedboats can take you over for the visit.  The lava like island has an other worldly appearance almost like being on the moon with the stark black and grey walk much of which is devoid of any plant life.  Tintorares is home to both Panahoe (the ropey type of lava) and aa lava the lose, broken and sharp type of lava.  Making it important to watch your step not to get cut on the rocks.

As you walk down the pathway you start to notice that the lava seems to be winking at you, only to discover that the lava is covered with thousands of marine iguanas their black and grey skin melds perfectly with the lava providing them with near perfect camouflage.

Tintorares

Tintoares White Tipped Sharks

The pathway continues to an overlook where a crack in the lava has created a small pool where white-tip reef sharks come to nap.  The park has set up an overlook making it easy to gaze down at the sharks as they spend their days napping near the sandy bottom.  Near the end of the path is a sandy beach where sea lions come to nap.

Getting back on the boat to cross back to the dock a once around the island lets you see blue-footed boobies, nazca boobies, brown pelicans and Galapagos penguins all perched on the rocky edge.   Golden rays, manta rays, sea turtles and a variety of fish can often be seen swimming nearby.

Concha de Perla and Tintorares are great excursions if you are visiting Isabela.

Come back tomorrow for Wall of Tears – The Humidales and Los Tuneles

Isla Isabela – Giant Tortoise Breeding Center and Lagoons

June 9, 2010 § 3 Comments

During your stay in Isabela you’ll most likely be staying in the town of Puerto Villamil and want to see some of the local sites.  Isabela has much to offer beyond a visit to the Sierra Negra Volcano.  Right in town and just outside of town their are a series of lagoons which are the home to Flamingos and other birds.  Puerto Villamil is the bet place to view migratory birds in the Galapagos Islands.

Marine Iguanas on the Boardwalk

marine iguanas on the board walk to the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center

One of my favorite excursions begins with a a stroll down the packed sand streets of Villamil, as you reach the end of town and the new hotel you’ll arrive at a wooden boardwalk wildlife trail marked by marine iguanas lying in the sun.

Following the pathway you’ll pass by a series of salt-water lagoons bordered by mangroves.   You’ll see where the seawater flowed into the area at high tide and mixed with fresh water flowing down the island from rainfall to create murky colored pools.  The walk offers a glimpse into small private world of the lagoon. Seeing a variety of animals like pink flamingos sweeping their heads back and forth motion with their bills in the water as they search for their favorite food – brine shrimp.  Ducks can be seen swimming along with the ducklings in tow.

The trail was created to fascinating nature walk while conserving the natural environment.  It was built completely by hand no heavy machinery entered the area.  A detailed study was conducted to make sure that no mangroves were killed in the construction rather only branches were trimmed when it was determined it would not impact the plant or the wildlife.

Isabela Flamingos

Isabela Flamingo Lagoon on the Way to the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center

As you near the end of the almost 1 mile trail the scenery will again change as you pass through a dry forest and finally reach the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center.  Isabela is the only island with several species of tortoises all on one island.  The distance between the volcanoes and the different environments allowed for five different species of tortoise to evolve.  Here at the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center you can see examples of the different tortoises up close.

The Cerro Azul tortoises have a dome shaped shell characteristic of those tortoises that lived in areas with lush vegetation close to the ground.  These are some of the largest of the Galapagos tortoises with the shortest limbs as their food supply was within easy reach.   Conversely the tortoises for Sierra Negra are an example of the extreme saddle back shell known they have a very flattened “table top” like shell and longer limbs and necks.  Traits developed to the dry environment of Sierra Negra and the need to reach the cactus pads of the opuntia cactus their primary food source.

Isabela Tortoises

Cerro Azul and Sierra Negra Tortoises at the Isabela Tortoise Breeding Center

At the breeding center it is possible to see tortoises in the various stages of development from eggs to small hatchlings, to juveniles to sub adults.  The tortoises remain at the breeding center until they are big enough to survive on their own. When they are reintroduced to the wild.

Come back for tomorrow for more on Isabela… Isabela Cocha de Perla and Tintorares

Isabela Island – Introduction and Sierra Negra

June 9, 2010 § 3 Comments

Puerto Villamil

Puerto Villamil Isla Isabela

Located on the far west is the island of Isabela the largest of the Galapagos Islands and is home to the most diverse wildlife.  On the island’s southeastern edge is the sleep beach town of Puerto Villamil.  For years this was a secret destination known only to people insiders and sailboats crossing the Pacific.

Easily the most beautiful town in the Galapagos, Villamil appears more like what you might imagine in a dream than in reality – with miles of powdery white sand beaches, the prongs of coconut palms swaying in the breeze and the endless blue seas as far as the eye can see.  Yet it is so much more than your classic beach destination it is in Galapagos Islands and there are blue-footed boobies, nazca boobies, brown pelicans, sea lions, marine iguanas, pink flamingos and Galapagos Penguins and that’s all right from town.

Isabela is one of the two islands closest to the Galapagos Hot Spot and several of the volcanoes on the island are still active.  One of the most popular excursions is to visit the Sierra Negra Volcano home of the 2nd largest caldera in the world, where the last eruption was in October 2005.

Visiting Sierra Negra begins with a drive up the mountain passing the farm town of Santo Tomas.  Arriving near the top of the island you’ll leave your vehicles behind and either set out by foot or by Spanish style horses for the crater.  For American’s Spanish horses can be a bit unnerving they are considerably smaller and more spirited then the typical vacation trail horse.

Horseback to Sierra Negra

Traveling to Sierra Negra via Horses

Typically you’ll travel up the volcano under cloud cover to reach the craters’s rim and be treated to a spectacular 360-degree view of Isabela and the surrounding islands.  You’re guide will explain to you about the origins of the Galapagos how unlike Hollywood movies the Galapagos Volcanoes don’t spew lava from one point enveloping everything in their way.  They have several points where lava is tossed back and forth and though much of the crater rim is stark and barren there are islands of green known as Kipakuas where the plants survived unscathed from the eruption.

Come back  tomorrow for … The Isabela Tortoise Breeding Center and Flamingo Lagoons

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