If you are looking for that end of the earth, back in time, out in the middle of nowhere feeling, Isabela Island is your spot. Despite its large land mass, this seahorse-shaped island is the least populated of the inhabited Galapagos islands. That being said, what it lacks in the form of a town it way more than makes up for in natural beauty and animal encounters! It’s a must-do on your Galapagos land-based itinerary.
What to Do on Isabela Island
Los Tuneles Tour
Given our tight budget, we had to be super choosy about what tours we did while in the Galapagos. After a ton of research, we decided to do the Los Tuneles tour while we were on Isabela Island and we are SO glad we did. We haggled the tour lady down to $85 per person for a tour leaving the next morning. The tour takes about 6 hours and you get to see most of the animals on your Galapagos bucket list. Check out ours here.
The tour starts out with a nice boat ride to Los Tuneles. The watercolor and beaches are absolutely beautiful. A few people from our boat saw manta rays flying out of the water but Rachel and I kept missing them.
Snorkeling on the Los Tuneles Tour
After a nice ride, you pull into Los Tuneles for the snorkel. I had so much fun diving down and swimming through all of the lava tunnels. If you are not as comfortable diving down the guides will help you and it is definitely worth doing. As soon as you poke your head down into the caves you will see that they are completely filled with white tip sharks! We also saw the biggest sea turtles of our whole trip during this snorkel.
One of the big highlights of this tour is the chance to see seahorses. Minutes after we dove into the water our guide called us over to see a seahorse so we were super excited. Unfortunately, when we got there it was pretty apparent that this seahorse was not alive (I am not a biologist so I could be completely wrong but it didn’t look too good). That was the only seahorse we saw on our snorkel so Rachel and I now have a theory that it is not even real. That being said, the other wildlife on this tour way more than made up for it.
Bird Watching on the Los Tuneles Tour
After the snorkel we all got back on the boat to ride over to lunch and the land-based portion of our tour. On the way we stopped by some rocks to take pictures of penguins playing in the waves! The driver was able to get us super close so we all had good views of the weird little birds swimming and waddling around.
Lunch consisted of some of the best ceviche we had during the entire trip. The guides were super generous and gave us plenty to eat and drink. After lunch we climbed out of the boat onto the lava rock in search of the legendary Blue Footed Boobie! Within a few minutes of walking around the lava rock (bring sandals) we heard the unique call of the Blue Footed Boobie. We were treated to a hysterical mating display. We had a super funny Asian lady in our group that about fell out when the boobie did his dance at her!
DIY Snorkel Tour
As with all of the Galapagos Islands, Isabela has a ton of amazing free snorkeling. Here are some of our favorite spots.
As you pull up to the island you will see a bunch of sea lions playing in the water near all of the anchored boats (just to the right of the dock). This is actually the back end of Concha Perla a famous snorkeling spot on the island. Rachel and I woke up early one morning and walked down to Concha Perla for a swim and had the whole place to ourselves! The path to Concha Perla is a wooden walkway covered in marine iguanas and, during our visit, a tiny sea lion pup! From the walkway you can see all of the sea lions playing in the mangroves.
Snorkeling Concha Perla
The snorkel area is a large circle with ropes marking off where they do not want you to go. Rachel and I did not see the sign telling us to stop swimming towards the back end of the circle and we ended up out by all of the anchored boats. It was early in the morning so none of the boats were moving and we had a great time swimming and interacting with all of the sea lions. If you also happen to miss the sign and swim to this sea lion playground be warned that the swim back in is pretty difficult as there is a strong current.
Inside the swimming area we saw some great lava tubes, a large whitetip shark, and a humongous sea turtle. Towards the end of our snorkel the full facemask crew showed up and it got crowded so I definitely recommend getting here early.
Bike to the Wall of Tears
My retired parents visited Isabela Island before Rachel and I and they highly recommended renting bikes to visit the Wall of Tears. I am not sure if it was my dad’s new carbon-fiber knee or what but Rachel and I did not find the ride to be as easy as they had made it seem. That being said we are still super glad we did it.
Stop 1: Flamingo Lake
As you head out of town (beach on your left) you will come across a wooden path leading into the mangroves. This is a nature trail to the Tortoise Breeding Center. The path winds through the mangroves and there are a bunch of lakes full of flamingos! I recommend walking about 10 minutes down the path and then turning around to head back to your bikes. If you walk all the way to the breeding center (which we did) you will just have to walk all the way back when you are done.
Stop 2: Tortoise Breeding Center
Once you get back to your bikes ride to the first road on your right. Then take that down to the Tortoise Breeding Center. They do a great job of telling you about the process of repopulating the islands with the once critically endangered tortoises. We also enjoyed learning about all of the different types of tortoises and how Darwin eventually started to think about evolution after his time with them.
Stop 3: Tortoise Traffic
Keep an eye out as you make your way down the path! Rachel and I got stopped by a large tortoise trying to cross the road.
Stop 4: Wall of Tears
Apparently, Isabela Island once held a work prison way out in the middle of nowhere. Today all that remains is a large stone wall left as a memorial to all of the prisoners that died while being held in the camp. The wall itself is pretty huge but it is the surrounding beauty that makes it worth the trek. We ended up hiking up above the wall all the way to the top of an overlooking mountain. The path is clearly marked but I will warn you it is steep and keeps going for a long, long time. The view from the top is absolutely breathtaking. It is amazing to see how little of Isla Isabela is undeveloped and virtually untouched by humans.
On the ride back, cool off in the mangrove pools and check out the small beaches and cave!
Where to Eat and Drink on Isabela Island
Food options are pretty limited on the island but it is, for the most part, affordable and good. Most of the restaurants are lined up on the main road adjacent to the beach. They all offer about the same thing at the same price. We seemed to find one we liked better than the others so we ate there a few times. There is a lady selling fresh empanadas right when you get off the ferry boat that are amazing. We made the walk back to her from town a few times.
There are not many other ‘attractions’ on Isabela Island but we did have a great time wandering around the town. There is a beautiful church decorated with the local sea creatures (think Jesus meets Little Mermaid). And there is also a nice pier to walk down and get a view of the sunset.
Happy Hour at Caleta Iguana
Caleta Iguana or pink iguana house is my ideal sunset beach bar. The music is good, the drinks are reasonably priced, and the vibes are at an all-time high. As the sun goes down and the sand starts to cool hundreds of marine iguanas begin to come off of the beach and climb up the stone walls of Caleta Iguana. It is really a crazy thing to see. I wish I would have had my GoPro so I could catch them on a time-lapse.
Where to Stay on Isabela Island
We found Hotel Casa Sol on Airbnb and absolutely LOVED it. It is not expensive ($50 per night after haggling via email) and it is literally located right in the sand. We had a huge glass window that overlooked the beach where we could watch pelicans and sea lions playing in the surf. This was probably one of our favorite places we stayed on our trip. Even if you don’t stay there, head to the beach in front (left of the pier) to snorkel with small black tip sharks!
Haven’t tried out Airbnb yet? Click here to get a $40 travel credit.
If you are planning a land-based itinerary for the Galapagos I highly recommend a few nights on Isabela Island. We were warned before we went that there was absolutely no wifi or ATMs on the island. But we did end up having decent wifi and we saw a few ATMs. (Although we did not try to use them).
Check out this video from our Galapagos Trip!
Want more information to plan your trip to Isabela Island? Check out the Galapagos Lonely Planet here.
Lazy as a lizard,