Isabela Island, Galapagos

The week before last, I took one of the small 16-passenger motorboats making its daily trip over to Isabela Island, where I spent a week. What should have been a two-and-a-half hour boat ride turned into a five-hour boat ride after we ran out of gas about a half hour away from Puerto Villamil, our final destination. The small fibra, as the boats are called, was full of people and the sea was rough. Needless to say, as the boat bobbed up and down uncontrollably, a number of us began losing our lunch. We were uncomfortably close to the waves crashing along the rough volcanic coastline of Isabela and were missing five lifejackets. At the beginning, it was unclear if someone was coming with gasoline, but then after 45 minutes of waiting, a motorboat arrived to save the day. The fibra had no lights, so the boat escorted us into the small port. It was dark and the tide was low, but eventually we arrived safely.

Galapagos Map

Isabela is shaped like a seahorse and is the largest of the islands. It has a population of approximately 2000. Of the inhabited islands, only Floreana is less populated with at least one hundred people. Isabela is rugged and pristine, and has a different feel from the other populated islands. Most of the roads are still made of sand, though they have started using gravel (a change from last year). The people are more reserved and the atmosphere is peaceful and quiet. Small island hoppers have been landing in Puerto Villamil for years, but recently a significant investment was made in building a new terminal and runway. This was supposed to allow larger planes to arrive directly from the continent. As the construction in downtown Puerto Villamil indicates, the airport was scheduled to open soon. It turns out the planes will not be able to land because the runway was not built to specification for the larger planes. Everyone I spoke with was pleased to hear the news. Isabela is not prepared to handle mass tourism.

Pier Renovation

I went to Isabela primarily to concentrate on writing for our upcoming NovaGalapagos website, but I also met with a few people with whom we might collaborate in the future. On that Tuesday, a fisherman, who has started his own tour business, took me on a snorkeling trip to an area called Las Tintoreras (white-tipped sharks in Spanish). We saw a variety of colorful fish and many sea lions. We also visited La Loberia (sea lion rookery). I have never seen so many marine iguanas in my life. It was quite spectacular.

guess how many

Another fisherman and his family make homemade coconut cookies and sell them door-to-door. Their operation is labor intensive and time consuming. First, they pick and process the coconuts. The tools to shell and grate the coconuts are primitive, but effective. It was a rewarding and eye-opening experience to observe and participate in the process.

Samuel’s coconut

It gave me a better understanding of the time and effort involved in producing a quality product with limited resources. It was a pleasure to meet with the fishermen and a number of other people on Isabela.

I took several walks along the beach from Ballena Azul (blue whale), the hotel where I stayed. There were many overcast days, but the photo opportunities abounded nevertheless. On the only sunny morning, I setoff for the cemetery at the end of the long beautiful sandy beach. After walking for fifteen minutes I realized my camera battery was still charging in my hotel room. I decided to continue. It was a thoroughly enjoyable walk even without taking photos. Before leaving Isabela, I also had a chance to do a bit of writing. It really is a great place to concentrate and relax.

walk to cemetery

My trip back to Santa Cruz Island was speedy and pleasant. By chance, I met a friend on the return boat trip. When we arrived in Puerto Ayora at 8:15am, we stopped at El Descanso del Guia (the guide’s restaurant) and had a delicious breakfast of balón de verde (a baseball-sized mixture of green plantains and cheese) with a sunnyside egg accompanied by tea and a mango milkshake.

7 responses to “Isabela Island, Galapagos

  1. Hi Milena,

    I have heard about the Galapagos, and it sounds nice. However, I am (to put it mildly) a computer geek, and it seems like a long way to travel (and a long time to be away from my broadband connection). Do you think virtual tours are as good as actually being there? Can you recommend any virtual tours?

  2. Hi Jim, I responded to your inquiry, but the message bounced back. Do you have another email address? Best, Milena

  3. Hi Milena,

    I love your pictures of the marine iguanas. They look like little dinosaurs. I will print out one of the photos and show it to my son, Bruce, who happens to be a big fan of dinosaurs. I’m pretty sure he will be amazed. Thanks for posting them.

    Also, keep up the good work in the Galapagos and may you have more fun and exciting adventures ahead. Happy new year!

    Best regards,


  4. What a wonderful description of your Isabela experience. I have chosen to stay there for 6 days with my 10 yo son (a mom and son trip), and have chosen to work with Dora at Ballena Azul — who seems really nice and helpful. Do you have any suggestions for me in terms of tours to take and places to eat? I am trying to make this trip as economical and educational as possible. Do you have anyother suggestions.
    BTW — I really aprreciated your write-up of you appreciation of the effort in making coconut cookies…I hope I run into such hard-working merchants to tastes their creations!

    Kindly, Alissa

    • Did you take this trip those 4 years ago? If you would share any info, that we be much appreciated. I am planning a mom/son trip to galapagos (he will be 9 when we go). I teach 4-6 graders at a Des Moines, IA Montessori School. my son attends as well, and we are very interested in learning while we travel.

      Thank you so kindly!


  5. I live in the pink house there – Casa Rosada – great description and photos – the one of the footprints was taken in front of my house.


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