If there’s one island in the Galapagos that illustrates the diversity and natural history of the spectacular archipelago, it is Isabela. The largest of the islands – four times the size of the next largest, Santa Cruz – it is also one of the youngest, a mere one million years old. During our exciting new Galapagos, Ecuador, Andes & Amazon trip, our Discovery Tours small group spends three nights on Isabela, ample time to explore.
Most travelers come to the Galapagos for the wildlife. But once you set eyes on Isabela Island, you are as likely to be transfixed by its geology. And you’ll be in good company; after all, geologists remain fascinated by this active zone of volcanic activity. Straddling the equator, the island itself was formed when six volcanoes erupted and pushed their magma above the surface of the Pacific, merging together into one land mass. The tallest, Volcan Wolf, stands at 5,600 feet, and you will have the chance to hike the lunar-like landscape to the crater of Sierra Negra, at 3,688 feet, whose caldera stretches across six miles.
Like most any volcanic zone, Isabela is home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna. Certainly, Charles Darwin thought so when he observed species and subspecies here found nowhere else on earth. For instance, more wild tortoises live here than on any other of the islands, but several different types developed over millennia. Why? Because the hilly topography of Isabela prevented the gigantic lumbering tortoises from moving around the island. So small groups became isolated and evolved on their own, adjacent to but forever disconnected from their hard-shelled brethren. Today, they roam wild in the island’s various calderas.
Land iguanas, boobies, pink flamingoes, Sally Lightfoot crabs, Darwin’s finches, Galapagos hawks and other species also call Isabela home, and have done so for countless centuries. Forever isolated from predators, they show no fear of humans and might be more curious about you than you are about them. Just off the coast, surrounding the Tintoreras Islet, more wildlife abounds: This is an ideal spot to view penguins, sea lions, sea turtles and marine iguanas, the only lizard in the world whose habitat is the sea.
Humans also have a place on Isabela Island. The sleepy fishing village of Puerto Villamil, home to just a couple thousand people, is one of the island’s bases for exploration. Its pretty harbor is often dotted with yachts stopping over en route to the Marquesas. Just outside of town is evidence of a darker chapter in island history: the Wall of Tears, or El Muro de las Lágrimas. The 65-foot-tall wall was built between 1945 and 1959 by prisoners of war, when part of the island was a penal colony.
Human history aside, it’s the breathtaking natural beauty of the Galapagos that stirs the soul—a rich canvas of stunning volcanic island beauty, turquoise waters, walking trails that lead to mangroves and lava fields, and magnificent wildlife. Join our new Galapagos, Ecuador, Andes & Amazon trip and explore it all up close in your small group.