Your base on Isabela Island will be Puerto Villamil, a sleepy fishing town on the southeast coast of Isabela. Isabela Island is home to one of the most beautiful coral beaches in the Galapagos with some excellent snorkelling sites just close by, and the chance of trip up to visit Sierra Negra (the second largest volcano caldera in the world), this is a great place to spend a few days before or after your cruise. Located in the west of Galapagos, Isabela is the largest island in the archipelago with an area of 4,640 square kilometres (1,790 sq mi) and elgnty of 100 kilometers (62 mi) which makes it almost four times the size of Santa Cruz (which is the next largest island). A baby in geological terms at only 1 million years old, it is formed by 6 shield volcanoes (Alcedo, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra, Wolf and Cerro Azul) all of which are still active except ‘Ecuador’ making it one of the most volcanically active places on earth.
This 16km round trip hike leads you up the flanks of the Volcano Sierra Negra to the second largest caldera in the world. It is 10km in diameter but only about 110m deep. From here you can see the lava flow of the most recent of its eruptions in 2005. The trail follows the rim for a few kilometres and then down the north side of the flanks to a beautifully shaded rest stop. You will continue on to Volcan Chico, a side vent that erupted in 1979 until you reach the craters and see the beautiful panoramic view of the other 4 volcanoes of Isabela and the western most island of Fernandina.
These are a group of small islets which you reach by dingy, just in front of Puerto Villamil. This tour takes you to one island where you can walk amongst the Marine Iguanas on an aa lava field, and past a narrow canal where white tip reef sharks often rest, sometimes as many as 20 or more sharks! You will also be taken around the coast line in the dinghy to see a small penguin breeding colony, and also for some wonderful snorkelling in the calm turquoise waters of the bay.
A spectacular snorkelling trip in a unique geological setting with fantastic scenery. The lava here has formed tunnels and arches in the intertidal zone and the snorkelling is outstanding with lots of sea turtles, seahorses, lobsters, rays, sharks as well as colourful tropical fish. It takes about an hour and a quarter to get there but on route you pass a small islet with a breeding colony of seabirds, and manta rays are commonly spotted along the way too. You get to snorkel at two different locations as well as take a short walk.
Overview: The Galapagos has 11 different species of Giant Tortoise of which five species are endemic to Isabela. A new breeding facility, built just outside of town by the Galapagos National Park Service is helping to increase the populations of these iconic endangered reptiles. Thanks to this breeding centre and the one located at the Charles Darwin Station in Santa Cruz, the populations of tortoises, which were on a severe decline until the 80´s, is now recovering and has reached over 30.000 throughout the islands.
Activities: Hike (1 mi / 1.6 km)
Type of Landing: Dry Landing
Highlights & Animals: Wetlands, salt and brackish lagoons on the way to the Breeding centre. Flamingos, stilts, adult and baby giant tortoises.
Overview: The wetlands of Isabela Island are located just outside of Puerto Villamil. The Wetlands consist of lagoons, swamps and mangroves and are home to a variety of unique bird species such as Black-necked Stilts, Whimbrels, White-cheeked Pintail Ducks, gallinules and other shore birds. The Wetlands can easily be reached on foot or bicycle via beautiful trails that wind through the swamps. Ecuador established a penal colony in Isabela between 1945 and 1959. During this period, prisoners shipped from the mainland were treated brutally and forced to build a wall, stone by stone, in isolation, only to be asked to tear it down again and start over. This now historical site standing at 20 feet (6m) took the lives of hundreds during its construction and remains as a vivid reminder of a dark past.
Activities: Hike (5 mi / 7 km) Biking
Type of Landing: Dry Landing
Highlights & Animals: Reef sharks, flamingos, herons, coves, large mangrove trees, coastal lagoons, Marine Iguanas, giant tortoises.
Tips: The best way to visit this area is by bike, which you can hire in various places in the town (however walking is fine too!) . Schedule a half day for this visit and remember to bring along plenty of water, sun screen and a puncture kit. Also take a swim suit along as there is one idyllic coastal lagoon which you can swim in.
Overview: A short walk from the town (10 minutes), near the municipal dock, is a board walk through the red mangroves where sea lions often rest. It leads to a shallow protected bay where there is a pier with a ladder so you can step into the lagoon and go snorkelling. Turtles are often seen here along with sea lions, rays, moray eels and colourful fish.
Activities: Walking & snorkelling
Highlights & Animals: Mangrove forest, Marine Iguanas, sea lions, sea turtles, and colourful fish.