Santa Cruz Island, in the Galapagos, is home to the largest town in the archipelago Puerto Ayora which is the main Galapagos tourist hub.
Isabela Island Galapagos | Making the most of your budget
Isabela Island is the largest of the Galápagos Islands and is distinctly shaped like a horseshoe. It is made up of no less than 5 young volcanoes fused together with some of them still being active with the most recent eruption on Sierra Negro being only in 2018. Isabela is also home to some of the iconic Galapagos species such as the Giant Tortoises and Marine Iguanas as well as many more. On this island there are many things to do for free as well as the popular Galapagos tours both on land and sea. Below we’ll give you an idea of what we did on this beautiful island.
How did we get to Isabela Island Galapagos?
We went straight to Isabela Island after spending time on San Cristobal as we wanted to leave the most populous island for the end of our stay. There is no direct ferry from San Cristobal to Isabela so we had to make a short stop in Santa Cruz before continuing on to Isabela. There are multiple ferry ticket offices offering seats on boats from anywhere from $30 – $35 per trip. The way to do the whole journey in one day is to take the early morning ferry from San Cristobal at 6.30am which will get you into Santa Cruz around 8.30am and then take the ferry from Santa Cruz in the afternoon at 3.00pm which will get you into Isabela at approximately 5.00pm.
Its a long day travelling but worth it if you want to do it all in one day. We had approx 6 hrs to spend on Santa Cruz before the afternoon ferry to Isabela and the ferry company kindly stored our luggage for us whilst we explored and passed the time. We had fourteen days total on the islands and had to plan it so we saw all the islands we wanted in the time allowed and still be back to San Cristobal for our flight back to Quito. On arriving at Isabela we were met with the usual checking of luggage for invasive species and foodstuffs and we also were met with a port tax of $10.00 which was the largest amount we’d paid on any of the islands. The ferry terminal is about 1km just outside the small town and you have the option to grab a taxi or walk. Its only about a 10 min walk into town and everything is fairly central so this was the best option for us and again saved on those taxi fares!
The inter-island ferries are pretty good and you can find more information on the inter-island transport in our Galapagos on a budget blog
Where did we stay on Isabela Island?
Like the other Galápagos Islands there are a range of places to stay from the more high end hotels with spa’s and pools to the smaller hostel like establishments with dorm rooms. We chose something in between after finding that we needed something more than the basic accomodation we’d had on San Cristobal. The hostel we chose was the Gran Hostal Tintorera and it was a great choice. The hotel itself was clean bright with a lovely big spacious room but other than that the staff were wonderful in helping us seek out the best and most economical restaurants to helping us arrange a trip to the volcano. They also pointed us in the right direction when we wanted to hire snorkels and bikes. The breakfast was simple but really tasty and on the day we were leaving on the 7am ferry they popped a packed breakfast into our room the evening before as we would miss breakfast the following morning. So unexpected and lovely.
What did we do on Isabela Island?
Explored the main town Puerto Villamil
Isabela’s main town is pretty small and has a small square behind the beach. The roads are sandy and dusty and it still has a unique rustic charm about it. There is a fairly large church on one side of the square and at night-time the silhouette of the church resembles a large boat. The main street is lined with restaurants and tour agencies and the square has a children’s play area. The beach area in front of the town is a vast expanse of sand and there is a look out tower that you can climb and look out to sea. The beach area is dotted with Marine Iguanas and if you decide to climb up the viewpoint then you may have to step over a marine iguana or two so watch your step. This was a great place to snorkel and had loads of sealife.
Snorkel & swim at Concha de Perla
Right near to the ferry terminal there is a paved path, through the mangroves, that leads to small lagoon where you can swim and snorkel. This lagoon hosts a number of species such as the green turtle, sea lions, marine iguanas and if you’re lucky you will see a baby shark and even a penguin. At the end of the path there are benches to sit and watch but if you’re going int he water there are wooden hooks to hang your bags on. Just a note, you can hire snorkels in the town at most of the tour agencies and they’ll cost approx $5 per day. If you have your own then I’d advise to take them on your Galapagos trip as the hire cost adds up and you cant buy them on the islands.
Flamingo watching at the lagoons
There are several lakes or lagoons just outside the main town which are host to the beautiful pink flamingos. If you make your way to Poza de los Flamingos then you might be able to spot one or two. Further along the path is a walkway taking you to 2 further lagoons. At the end of this path you’ll come to the Tortoise Breeding Centre and if you jump onto the main road and continue up the path on the right hand side, you’ll come to a larger lagoon where you’ll hopefully spot some more flamingos. It’s said that the best time to visit the lagoons is in early morning or dusk. We only saw a couple when we visited but that’s better than none.
Hike the Sierra Negra volcano
One of the tours we did do was something that we really wanted to see and that was the volcano Sierra Negra. The tour cost $60.00 each so it wasn’t that expensive compared to some of the other tours and prices and there was no other way to see this volcano. Considering it last erupted in 2018 and there was the chance to see fumerols so it was worth it for us. The bus came to collect us at 7.10am from the hostel and then collected a few other people from other hotels. The hostel had provided a packed lunch which was a nice touch. The journey to the start of the hike took about 45 mins and when we arrived it was a bit misty and drissly but our tour guide assured us that as we made our way round the path up to the crater the sun would shine and he wasn’t wrong. After only about 20 mins of walking we were taking off layers and applying the suncream.
It took about 45 mins to reach the crater rim and Sierra Negra and this crater is one of the largest craters in South America measuring 6 miles in diameter. The views were stunning and we continued to walk round the rim. After stopping for our lunch we then took a path downwards for about 45 mins to 2 large vents which feed off the main crater. The landscape was phenomenal and so beautiful. The views stretched to the north of the island and to other surrounding islands. After visiting the vent craters we followed the path back up to the crater and then back to the area where the bus dropped us off and yes it was raining again. The whole hike took approx 5 hrs and covered 10 miles. It was a great day.
Hired bikes to visit Muro de las Lagrimas (Wall of tears)
On our last full day on the island we hired bikes as we wanted to visit the site of Muro de las Lagrimas, the wall of tears. This was 6km outside of town but on a dedicated path. The bike hire cost us $10.00 per person per day for the hire of the bikes, helmets, a pump and bike lock. The path we took ran parallel to the beach and at first it was on sand which was a bit tricky to navigate on a bike you were unfamiliar with and had questionable gears. We managed that first bit and soon the path turned into a paved surface which was much easier. We decided to head straight for the wall of tears as it was the furthest point and see the other points of interest on the way back. On our way there we saw a sign saying Camino de la Tortuga (Tortoise road) and sure enough before long we came across a Giant Tortoise slowly making its way up the path. There were a few more dotted around and again these creatures were lovely to see.
When we arrived at the wall we parked our bikes and headed down a path where we saw the wall in front of us. It’s rumoured to have been built by prisoners on the island when it was a colonial jail. The wall is 10 mtrs high and an impressive structure. On the way back to town there are several offshoots of the path which take you to the coast and several look out points where you can see more of the Galapagos wildlife such as marine iguanas, sea lions and seabirds.
What else can you do on Isabela Island?
There are a number of other things that you can do on the island if your budget allows. There are boat tours to the lava tunnels which are approx $150 per person, snorkelling & kayak tours to the small islands just off the coast of Isabela which are about $70 per person. You can also dive and a 2 dive day will cost you around $185.00. You can visit the Turtle Breeding Centre that is a short walk from town which is $10.00 per person. We didn’t have time to do everything however had we had 1 more day we probably would have taken the Kayak and snorkelling tour. It all depends on your budget and how much time you have to spare. For more information on how to secure a tour at the best price then check out our Galapagos on a budget blog.
Food and Drink on Isabela Island
For such a small island the food and drink options are pretty varied. There are a number of seafront restaurants offering anything from pizza to steak but the best value we found was again the trusty old Menu del Dia. A few blocks back from the main square there was an area with several local Ecuadorian restaurants and these were jammed packed full every evening. These restaurants offered a 2 plate meal of BBQ meat or fish accompanied by some patacons and a salad with another plate of rice and beans or lentils all accompanied by a juice and all for $6.00 per person. We tended to eat at the one called Arbita as it was recommended to us and didn’t disappoint. There are also great places in the town to get ice-cream and coffee so you’ll have a ball.
Booking resources for your trip to Isabela Island
Tours & Tickets
You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site. Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.
For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.
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San Cristóbal is the fifth largest and easternmost island of the Galapagos. It is comprised of three or four fused volcanoes, all extinct.