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Your Galapagos Island Guide: Isabela Island

Straddling the equator and 865 miles from the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, the seahorse shaped island of Isabela is by far the largest of all the Galapagos Islands and is located on the western edge of the cluster of islands. Running for 74.5miles from top to toe and covering an area of 1803 sq. miles, the island is greater in size than all the other Galapagos Islands combined.

As one of the younger islands of the Galapagos, being only 1 million years old, Isabela Island was formed by the joining of 6 volcanoes, 5 of which remain active with the Wolf Volcano being the highest point on the Galapagos archipelago at 5600ft a.s.l.

The town of Puerto Villamil to the south of the Isabela is the hub of this archipelago’s activity and with long, white-sandy beaches backed by palm-trees this is by far one of the most beautiful towns of all the Galapagos Islands. As an old fishing town and port the town still retains its relaxed atmosphere and although Puerto Villamil has grown in recent years, it remains a joy to explore. Find out more below on exploring the wonderful and vibrant Galapagos Island of Isabela.

♦ A brief history of Isabela Island
One of the first people to walk on Isabela Island was buccaneer, Ambrose Cowley who traveled to the Galapagos during his circumnavigation of the world. In 1684 he arrived at what is today Isabela Island however, Cowley originally named the island ‘Albemarle’ after the Duke of Albemarle. It is believed that Cowley would have arrived at Tagus Cove on the northwestern side of the Island, much like the many other pirates, whalers, buccaneers as it provided a sheltered anchoring point.

One of those visitors was of course Charles Darwin who came to visit Isabela Island back in 1835.

There are two towns on the Island of Isabela one on the southern coast called Puerto Villamil and the other in the highlands known as Santa Tomás both founded in 1893 by Antonio Gil, a well-known Ecuadorian from Guayaquil. Today, known as Isabela Island after Queen Isabella of Spain, the Island is thought to have approximately 2,200 residents with majority living in Puerto Villamil.

Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island

The stunning setting of Puerto Villamil / Source

♦ What you should keep an eye out for on Isabela Island
Just about larger than the US state of Rhode Island, the Galapagos archipelago of Isabela is full of incredible displays of both fauna and flora. With Isabela Island still being relatively young, the vegetation on the Island has not had time to develop as it has on the other Galapagos Isles. Although the undeveloped lava fields and surrounding soils haven’t got the nutrients needed to support a wide variety of life zones like on the other islands, its animal, bird and marine life is incomparable. With more wild tortoises than any other island, the large volcanic landscape of Isabela has created natural barriers resulting in a large number of tortoise sub-species to develop.

Galapagos Penguin

A Galapagos Penguin taking care off its appearance / Source

While exploring Isabela Island, you’ll be able to see tortoises roaming freely in the calderas of the Alcedo, Wolf, Cerro Azul, Darwin and Sierra Negra volcanoes. Aside from the slow-moving tortoises, and mainly due to the island’s size, Isabela is a bird-watching paradise. One of the most common to spot on Isabela is the flamingo especially at the Pozo de los Flamingos (Flamingo Pond) near to the town of Puerto Villamil.

Although the soil may not be rich in nutrients, the cold waters off the coast certainly are and support wonders of wildlife such as the flightless cormorant and the endemic Galapagos Penguin which is the only species of penguin to live north of the equator in the wild.

With plenty of fish and marine life, you’ll also be able to enjoy the highlight of seeing whales, schools of dolphins and bottle-nosed dolphins. Las Tintoreras also known as Las Islas de los Tiburones is the best place to enjoy the marine life where you get to see from a safe distance white-tipped reef sharks. You can swim and snorkel in the lagoon where you’ll see rays and marine turtles, but make sure not to enter the channel as it’s not big enough for both you and the sharks and you certainly won’t want to get into a dispute with them!


♦ The top things to do on Isabela Island
As well as having stunning shows of wildlife, the Island of Isabela is also home to impressive landscapes and has a unique history. The Wall of Tears (El Muro de Lágrimas) is a stone wall on the Island that was constructed by 300 prisoners that were kept in a penal colony on Isabela during the 1940s and 1950s.

Used as a torture mechanism for the prisoners, they were forced into building their own prison using the sharp-edged lava boulders found on Isabela.

Many died as a result of the forced labor and the wall which was some 623ft. long, 29ft. high and 19ft. wide was abandoned along with building the rest of the prison following a revolt in 1959. Hiking on the many volcanoes of Isabela Island is another great activity to be enjoyed with Sierra Negra being the most popular to explore. Often found to be nestled in the clouds, the active volcano with the second largest crater in the world gives a special experience as you walk across the recent lava flows providing spectacular views at the crater rim.

Sierra Negra, Isabela Island

The vast caldera of the Sierra Negra volcano / Source

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