The largest of the Galápagos Islands
South America > Ecuador > Galapagos Islands > Isabela (Ecuador)

Isabela Island, known by its Spanish name of Isla Isabela and less commonly by its English name of Albemarle Island, is the largest of the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.

A pair of Galápagos sea lions on the beach in the early morning

Towns edit

  • 1 Puerto Villamil. The largest town on the island and has accommodation and restaurants for tourist. Most of the inhabitants live in agriculture and fishing, but also tourism is growing. It's a nice place to hang out on the beach for a few days or do some snorkeling.    
  • 2 Santo Tomas. A collection of a few farms, barely large enough to have a name.

Other destinations edit

Understand edit

In the western part of the archipelago, Isabela is larger than all of the rest of the islands combined. Comprising six volcanos, the island is about 120 km long and covers 4,585 square km. Its highest point on Wolf Volcano rises 1,700 m above sea level. Due to most of the visitor sites being on the western side of the island, far from Santa Cruz, only the longer (and hence more expensive) boat tours visit this island.

See the Galapagos wildlife page for information on the flora and fauna of the islands.

Get in edit

By boat edit

There are public speedboats operated by Ferry Galapagos, running twice a day from Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz), departing at 7am and 3pm. Persons subject to seasickness should take appropriate precautions for this often bumpy ride. The four seats at the end of the boat are less bumpy than the side ones. It is best to buy tickets at least one day in advance. It costs $30 each way (Nov 2022), plus 2x $1.00 in taxiboats. When departing from Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz) you will also need to pay $1.50 port fee. You must arrive 30-60 minutes prior to departure as your bags will be subject to an agricultural search. On arrival in Isabela, foreigners must pay a $10 entrance fee ($5 for Ecuadorians). The public speedboat back to Santa Cruz departs some time in the morning and at 3pm. Again, you must arrive 30 minutes prior to departure. The transfer between Isabela and Santa Cruz is 2 hours.

By plane edit

Inter-island flights are available from EMETEBE Airlines, which operates nine seater aircraft to transport passengers and their luggage from San Cristobal Airport to Isabela, Santa Cruz and Baltra islands. Bookings can be done directly through EMETEBE's website or a travel agent.

Here is the schedule of flights:

  • From San Cristobal to Isabela: depart 07:30; arrive 08:00
  • From San Cristobal to Baltra: 07:30-08:05
  • From Isabela to San Cristobal: 13:30-14:00
  • From Isabela to Baltra: 08:30-09:05
  • From Baltra to San Cristobal: 11:00-11:35
  • From Baltra to Isabela: 12:30-13:05

Get around edit

Map of Isabela (Ecuador)

Most streets lack adequate street signs, but a civic improvement project is changing this, at least in the center of town. New sidewalks with lava pavers are also being added. The roads in the town are still unpaved though. The town is small enough to explore in an hour. Local children are glad to help you find your destination.

Standard price for a taxi ride is $1.00 (and $5.00 to get you the airport). A line of taxis is waiting in front of the harbor when speedboats arrive.

See edit

  • 1 Flamingos. See flamingos at the lagoon in town or, in larger numbers, along the boardwalk to the tortoise breeding center.
  • 2 Giant Tortoise Breeding Center (Follow the 1,200 m long boardwalk which starts west of Puerto Villamil just past the Iguana Crossing Hotel). In this center the giant tortoises from Isabela are bred and raised before being released into the wild. You can see turtle eggs and lots of little baby turtles there, they also have turtles scarred by volcano eruptions but rescued in time. You can also learn about different species of turtles by seeing them. It's open to the public on weekdays, taking a guided tour is mandatory. Guides are waiting in front of the center. If you continue walking past the Breeding Center for another 200 m you will find another lagoon with flamingos. 10$.
  • 3 Sierra Negra Volcano and Vulcan Chico. Sierra Negra is one of the five volcanoes on the island. It has the second largest crater in the world and, when the weather is clear, the views at the crater rim are impressive (the wildlife less so). Follow the rain forest trail along the Sierra Negra rim to the sunny and dry moon-like landscape leading to Vulan Chico. The second part of the trail goes through a yellow land iguana habitat, if you are lucky you may spot some. You cannot see any volcanic activity on this tour though, if you want to see some then go to Minas de Azufre. 16 km total (4.5 - 5h walk counting pauses). Rain gear, full water bottle, sunblock, and sturdy footwear recommended. Tours can be arranged in Puerto Villamil. If you want to camp or go without a guide, ask permission at the park office in Puerto Villamil first. $45 (~ $75 if you want a horse).    
  • 4 Minas de Azufre. Sulfur mines. Since 2022 tour operators are allowed to drive up close to the site, from there there is a nice view of the fumaroles and a ~ 1.5 km hike down the caldera to the actual mine. You can smell and touch the sulfur, you can also feel the heat of the fumaroles if you approach close enough. You need to hike up to get back to the car. Water bottle and hat recommended. It's less popular than the Sierra Negra and Volcan Chico tours. Not all tour agencies organize it every day, sometimes it's just once or twice a week, but it's worth shopping around for one which will do it on the day you want. The Fuego agency allegedly organizes these tours every day. $65.
  • 5 Los Tuneles. Canals in the lava rocks with bridges and caves. The scenery there is picturesque. Cactus grow on the rocks where many blue footed boobies nest and you can see many big turtles, rays, and fish swimming in the canals and pools filled with sea water. The tour includes snorkeling at a similar nearby site where sea horses and sharks can be seen along with eagle rays and turtles. You can also see penguins if you are lucky, and also a different species of sea lion than the ones in town. It is a 45min boat ride (one way) from Puerto Villamil. ~ $100.
  • 6 Wall of Tears (El Muro de las Lagrimas). There's a nice 2.5-3 hour (return trip) hike to the Wall of Tears. On the way there are lots of things to see: lakes with flamingos and other wildlife, beaches with hundreds of (really big) marine iguanas, beaches with sea lions, giant tortoises, and there are some view points. The ones close to the end of the trail offer splendid views of the island. Visitors must register at a gate at the beginning of the actual trail. Take plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat. You can also do it by bike: many agencies in the town rent bikes for $10. Make sure to get one with wide tires as some parts of the road are quite sandy. There are wooden bike stands next to all the main things to see. Free.

Do edit

  • 1 Concha de Perla (Follow the boardwalk from the docks). It's a natural pool good for snorkelling and playing with sea lions.
  • Diving (Puerto Villamil). On a dive liveaboard cruise, you can visit the following sites: Punta Vicente Roca (abundant coral, mola molas, bullhead shark, sea lions, penguins, flightless cormorants); Roca Redonda (underwater fumeroles, pelagics); Cabo Marshall (mantas, sea lions, Galapagos sharks); Roca Blanca (abundant coral, sea lions, mantas, white tipped reef sharks, lots of tropicals); Isla Tortuga (hammerheads, mantas, eagle rays, sea fans, coral, turtles, lots of tropicals); 4 Hermanos (from Jun-Nov trips are unlikely due to rough seas); La Viuda (advanced dives only due to currents).
  • Diving - there is only one diving center on the island which offers dives for 120-140$.
  • Liveaboard Cruises. On a liveaboard you can visit Tagus Cove, Elisabeth Bay, and Urvina Bay.
  • 2 Las Tintoreras (Take a water taxi at the docks. The price is around $3 per person depending on group size and bargaining skills). A lagoon where white tip sharks come to rest. They can be seen from the trail, but it's not allowed to go snorkelling in the lagoon. The snorkelling at the beach behind is excellent, however, and sting rays and sea turtles can be seen here.
  • Snorkeling - snorkeling around Las tintoreras or Concha de Perla is excellent. You might also ask a local panga owner to take you out to "Los Tuneles", or "The Tunnels", a wonderful area of eroded lava islets filled with sea life.

Buy edit

Shops in Puerto Villamil sell food, supplies, and souvenirs. A good place to buy fresh fruit and vegetables is around Mercado Municipal.

Money edit

There is one ATM (Cooperativa de ahorra y credito) in Puerto Villamil. It's located in calle Escalecias next to the supermarket "el familion". Very few locations accept credit cards, make sure to bring plenty of cash in case the ATM is not working.

Eat edit

The town of Puerto Villamil at the southern end offers lodging and food to visitors wanting to stay on the island. There are several restaurants and bakeries in Puerto Villamil. Most restaurants serve rice, beans and a piece of meat for around 2 dollars.

  • Encantado de Pepa is a wonderful little cafe serving good food on a clean and charming patio adjacent to the town's main square. They have lunch and dinner menus for $8 each. La Pepa is one of the most entertaining characters in the Galapagos.
  • Cesar's is a restaurant just next to Encantado de Pepa. They also serve both lunch and dinner menus for $8. There is Wi-Fi available there (ask them to turn the router on if it doesn't work).

Drink edit

The nightlife is pretty sedate in Puerto Villamil.

  • Bar de Beto is a beachfront bar popular with locals and travelers, good to grab a beer and chill out.
  • Pink Iguana is a spacious bar located directly on the beach, very popular. Drinks for $6-$8. Happy hour 5pm-8pm - 2 drinks for $10.

Sleep edit

Budget edit

  • Plaucio lodging house (in between the village and the harbour), +593 097 733 083. This quiet friendly budget hostel is run by the very friendly artist Plaucio Alvarez. There are 3 simple cottages costing $10,- per person set in a nice cactus garden. Rooms have electricity, toilet and hot shower. Use of kitchen facilities.
  • Hostal Gran Pez, Barrio las Tintoreras cerca de Escuela Cornelio Izquierdo (follow the main street from the port for 5-10 minutes, it's the high green wooden house to the right), +593 5-3016883, +593 8-9863596, . The two stories house built entirely from wood offers the cheapest rooms on Isabela which are very good-value and a big communal area with a kitchen on the second floor. USD $8.
  • The Jungle.
  • Hostal Flamencos. Probably the best deal in town. The clean spacious rooms have air-conditioning, television, fridge, private bathroom with hot shower and a view on poza salinas, where sometimes flamingos can be seen. It's run by a friendly family who also serve meals. The price is only $20 per person per night.
  • Casa Rosada. on the beach
  • Hotel San Vincente Galapagos. is popular by travelers. It has a restaurant they also organize tours. There's room for 48 guests distributed in singles, doubles, and triples rooms. All rooms have air conditioners, hot water, private bathroom, and TV. The price is around $30 per person per night plus taxes and include the breakfast.
  • Gladis Mar, corner Pinzon Artesano / Tero. Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 8:30. Clean rooms with private bathroom, use of the kitchen, the owner can book you tours and is helpful $15pp for a twin / fan (low season).

Mid-range edit

  • [dead link] Hotel La Laguna Galapagos. This hotel is located in front of the Flamingos Lagoon in Isabela Island offers double rooms with private bathroom, hot water, air conditioner, comfortable social areas, wireless internet services and Jacuzzi. USD 56,00.
  • Casa Isabela (formerly La Casita de la Playa), +593 97 198 142 (mobile), fax: +593 5 2529103, . On the beach, near town center, air conditioning, picture windows, quiet, family owned, top notch service.

Splurge edit

  • La Casa de Marita is the first upmarket place in town.
  • Red Mangrove. upscale
  • Iguana Crossing. upscale
  • Hotel Albermarle the newest and most upscale hotel in town.

Connect edit

As of 2022, Internet connectivity on Isabela is significantly worse compared to Santa Cruz or San Cristobal. This applies to guest houses as well as the mobile network. Claro offers 3G connectivity in Puerto Villamil whereas Movistar has only 2G (GSM/EDGE) coverage. Take that into account when buying a SIM card.

It is not common for restaurants, cafes and bars to offer Wi-Fi access.

Stay safe edit

Go next edit

This city travel guide to Isabela is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.