Hello again! Apologies to everyone following along — it’s been a crazy-awesome-fun last month, and in all of that we’ve fallen quite a bit behind in our posts. We’ll try our best to catch you up quickly!
Isla Isabela was the largest, yet most undeveloped of the 3 Galápagos Islands that we visited. The streets were all unpaved – for the moment anyway – and the town was small enough to walk anywhere in a few minutes. It also had the laid-back vibe of a beach town that can run on island time. We still have no idea what the hours were at our favorite bakery, only that they (usually) weren’t open in the mornings, and occasionally were o pen on our way home for dinner. Even the church embraced island life with a floor-to-ceiling mural depicting Jesus rising over a beach and stained glass windows of giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies.
After our busy week on San Cristobal, the slower pace of Isla Isabela was welcome, and we took the opportunity to slow down too. The wildlife here was similar to San Cristobal — with the exception of the elusive Galapagos penguins — so we didn’t feel the need to push ourselves to do lots of snorkeling and tours. Instead, we spent time swimming at the beach and walking around.
Since all ferries originate from Santa Cruz we had to take two separate boats over to Islabela: the first from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz, and the second from Santa Cruz to Isabela. Normally the boat rides are pretty smooth, but we managed to time our transfer with a big rainstorm, and ended up soaked on the first leg of our journey. We passed the time between boats in a small coffee and fro-yo shop on Santa Cruz that we remembered from our first stay on the island. Talking with the guy working there we learned that it’s rare for this much rain to come through — most houses aren’t built to deal with it and a lot ended up flooded. Our wet boatride didn’t seem so bad by comparison!
Do / See
Volcan Sierra Negra
We only did one official tour on Isabela — a hike up and around the rim of one of the island’s volcanos. At 19 kilometers round-trip it was one of the longer hikes we had done, but the views made it worth it. We were the first tour group on the trail so we had it to ourselves for the most part.
It was also clear weather up until the very end, so we were able to see all the way across the crater, and had views all the way to the ocean from our lunch time vantage spot.
Wall of Tears
The day before the volcano hike we did another long trek, out to the Wall of Tears. Left over from Isabela’s earlier days as a penal colony, the massive wall built by prisoners for no real purpose was a striking reminder that the islands hadn’t always been a protected oasis. Along the road to the wall were beaches, lava tunnels, and a few giant tortoises making their way slowly.
Tortoise Center and Flamingo Lagoon
Near the main beach is a short trail through the marshes to the island’s Tortoise breeding center. Similar to the center on San Cristobal Tortoise eggs are gathered, hatched, and raised in captivity until the animals’ shells have developed enough to withstand threats of the outside world, some of which include introduced species like dogs, cats, and even cars and motorbikes. On the way to the breeding center we passed a lagoon filled with bright pink flamingos.
Isabela had the best beaches of any of the islands with warm water and white sand. Our only regret was that we didn’t rent a boogie board for the waves!
By the time we got to Isabela we were pretty snorkeled out. We passed on the snorkel tours and instead opted to check out the small lagoon just outside of town on our own. We passed a couple snoozing sealions on the way, and there were a handful of fish in the lagoon itself, but compared to the spots we had been on San Cristobal it wasn’t overly impressive.
On our last day we came back here and tried to rent a kayak to paddle out to the nearby cove and try to see some of the island’s famed penguins. Unfortunately, the main kayak stand was closed the whole time we were there (lunch? siesta? who knows!) and the only other guy renting kayaks on the beach was selling tours for more cash than we had on us. Frustrated, and sad about missing out on the penguins, we finally admitted defeat and headed to the beach.
We went back and forth on whether to book a hostel before we arrived and ended up doing so at the last minute, through Booking.com. Our planning paid off when we were greeted by a free pickup from the dock, saving us the long-ish walk with heavy packs and Dramamine-induced grogginess. Sula Sula, our hostel, ended up being decent with clean, comfortable beds, A/C and breakfast included.
We had most of our dinners at the touristy restaurants around the main square. The fixed-price ‘cenas’ were a good deal and the food was pretty decent. We did hear rumors of cockroaches from other travellers we met, but chose to ignore the warnings and try our luck. Happily our gamble paid off and there were no crunchy surprises in our soup.
A couple other stand-out spots for us were the bakery a couple blocks away from Sula Sula, and the small juice shop on the main square. The woman that ran the shop was friendly and made fresh-to-order juices from local fruits like pineapple, papaya, and watermelon.
One last staple in our daily meals — Ecuadorian ice cream popsicles. They were sold at every corner store with flavors ranging from standard blackberry (mora) and coconut to more obscure native fruits like taxo, and were the perfect match for a warm day at the beach.
Along one of our hikes we met a couple from San Francisco who we continued to run into over the next couple days. On one of our last nights we ended up checking out the beach-side bars together. The first bar had tables on the beach, a pretty low-key atmosphere, and decent drinks. Kyle opted for a Cuba Libre, and I had a Caprinarah — a sugary, fruity cocktail we’d been seeing on local drink menus. It was delicious!
Our next stop, Bar de Beto, was attached to the hostel our friends were staying at. We had stopped by earlier in the day and it was packed with a group from a cruise ship hanging out on the hammocks. When we tried to go back after dinner it was closed up and all the lights were off, but by the time we finished drinks at the first bar it was back in full swing — this time with a disco ball, salsa dancing and some intense flashing lights. Again with the completely random island hours! Anyway, fun little bar with really strong drinks served up in coconuts.
Lessons & Tips
Keeping a balanced budget means hard choices. And deciding how much you really want to do something and what you are (or aren’t) willing to sacrifice for it. For us, it meant no penguins. But, this helped keep us on budget enough to say yes to a more expensive trek with friends a few weeks later.
Along those lines…no matter how long the trip is, you’re never going to see everything. And everyone you meet or talk to is going to have one more “must-do” to share. And if you try to do it all you’re going to end up exhausted with a half finished checklist. Our POV: It’s much better to pick a few must-do’s and leave time to really enjoy where you are and what you’re doing.
For boat rides in rough water always grab a seat near the back. Especially if you’re prone to motion sickness…