This post is an insider guide to Isabela Island Galapagos where you will find out about all the things you can do where to stay and to eat in detail.
ECUADOR ENTRY REQUIREMENTS AND COVID PROCEDURES
Mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, have officially reopened! So If the Galapagos were on your bucket list you should take advantage of these weird and difficult times and take a break from stress and uncertainty, while enjoying this wildlife sanctuary.
The local authorities and operators are going beyond their ways to create a safe environment for locals and visitors alike, and protocols are in place and strictly followed.
Now, the Mainland and the Galapagos islands have slightly different entry requirements, which am explaining here below.
MAINLAND ECUADOR ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:
As of mid-July Ecuador’s international airports reopened, and flights have resumed with the following requirements:
- Proof of a negative COVID PCR (PCR test only) test within 10 days of arriving in Ecuador,
- Not presenting any symptoms of COVID on arrival
- If the above conditions are met there is no need for self-quarantine, on the contrary, passengers must self-quarantine in a designated hotel at their expense for 14 days and then take the test again.
GALAPAGOS ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:
- For the Galapagos islands, policies are a little stricter, as follow:
- A negative COVID PCR test within 96 hours of arrival in the islands (please note only PCR tests are accepted)
- Proof of Travel Insurance, including medical coverage for COVID-19,
- Proof of confirmed itinerary in the islands.
- Entrance requirements for Ecuador and Galapagos are subject to change.
TEST TIMING AND LOGISTIC
Please note the timing difference. That means that if you don’t want to take the test twice you need to make sure to enter the Galapagos Islands within 96 hours from when you took the test before coming to Ecuador. So make sure you do the maths.
Timing can be stressful. I had a similar situation when I crossed the border to Guatemala from Mexico. If you want to avoid stress, you can just take your time and arrange another test in Quito before getting to Galapagos. There are around 20 clinics in Quito where you can take it, and the cost is around 85 to 105 USD. You will have your results in 12 hours.
SECURITY PROTOCOLS IN ECUADOR
Both on the mainland, and in the islands, in all public spaces, including hotels, airports, yachts, and transportation, there are social distancing measures in place and new sanitation procedures.
Also, read my essential guide Galapagos islands Vacations travel guide.
ISABELA ISLAND GALAPAGOS (Isla Isabela) HIGHLIGHTS
Isabela Island is the biggest island of the Galapagos in extension, but the village is very tiny and laid back with only 3000 inhabitants.
What makes it so attractive is its peculiar geological formation. It is made of 5 vulcanos, among which some are active, including Volcano Sierra Negra, which makes a great hiking tour with stunning views from the top.
The other highlight of Isabela Island is a colony of penguins located on the rocks formation right in front of Villamil, reachable either by boat or kayak, as I will explain better here below.
As soon as you arrive at the main pier you are welcomed by a landing tax of 5 USD per person, that you have to pay at the counter right there before leaving the pier.
Right after you will just burst into laughter when you realize you are literally surrounded by sea lions that would make their way through the human passers-by while crossing the street and head to the nearby beach. It’s just hilarious.
They also demand to occupy all the benches that were probably supposed to be used by tourists to enjoy some shades and hang out by the beach.
Nothing like that. The sea lions decided that those are their benches and they would through away anything that they find on their way. I know for a fact as I saw one of them throwing my stuff away in order to make room for his nap. I couldn’t stop laughing.
Isabela Island is a laid-back place of 3000 inhabitants that all know each other. A long stretch of beach is lined by lovely hotels and restaurants. There is not a lot to do rather than snorkeling and a few interesting tours.
Here below I will tell you all about it.
THINGS TO DO IN ISABELA ISLAND (Isla Isabela) GALAPAGOS ON YOUR OWN
Snorkeling at Concha de Perla, Isla Isabela
This is a bay that you reach by a boardwalk right before reaching the main pier on your left. You will see the entrance and a sign, right by a local restaurant and a bunch of iguanas of all and age taking a nap totally undisturbed. Be careful not to step on them. Sometimes they camouflage very well.
Your walk to the bay can be quite complicated if the Macho alfa sea lion decides to make it his napping spot.
If you get to close he might become aggressive.
The smallest ones are mild and you can just walk by them. If it happens that a sea lion wants to confront you, just be firm and don’t let him know you are shitting in your pants.
Clap your hands and scream “move, move”! It happened to me on Punta Carola in San Cristobal and I was freaking out. So I throw him water with the help of a book I was reading and he went away.
My friend who watched the scene is still laughing.
Anyway, back to Concha de Perla. Once you make it through iguanas and sea lions you will finally get to the dock from where you can jump, oh well, step down to the water. It’s like a giant round natural pool surrounded by mangroves and with a natural canal to the open ocean. I did try to swim there but I was way too cold and didn’t resist a minute and went back.
I never had the chance to do it again, maybe for laziness.
But you should do it. They say if you go around 5 pm, you might see even dolphins coming in and other sorts of marine life. Bring your snorkeling gear and a swimsuit. You don’t need any particular kind of shoes.
Bike to the Muro the las Lagrimas (or walk)
You can rent a bike (20USD per day), or this is how people normally do it and ride all along the coast with beautiful sights of long stretches of beach only interrupted by mangroves and other local trees until you will lose sight of the water and will be riding in a green tunnel of thick vegetation. It’s about 6 km long, but you can make many stops along the way at many interesting points. I would suggest you should go all the way up to the Wall of Tears. There you can park the bike and have a nice hike up to the top. You will see the steps. Up there, you will enjoy breathtaking views of Puerto Villamil and the entire bay, and opposite to that, a never-ending green carpet. It’s spectacular, indeed.
On the way back you can take your time and stop either on the left side where the lagoons are and you might spot some flamingos, while on your right side you will find two beaches.
Playa del Amor, an organic beach made of pure coral.
At the back of it, there is a protected and off-limits area where the iguanas lay their eggs.
Another one is la Playita where you can freely go and take a swim or relax after your bike ride.
NOTE – on the way to the Wall of Tears, you will need to sign in and write your name at the security checkpoint. It’s nothing major and you will see it every time you will enter a protected area. It’s a way to have a sort of control of the visitors. it says it closes at 6 pm but there is no gate and people go back and forth to run. It’s just not advisable to walk through the path when it’s dark.
Walk on the boardwalk to the Tortoise Breeding center and watch the beautiful Flamingo along the way
Right past the Hotel Iguana Crossing, you will see the beginning of a boardwalk, with a giant iguana sleeping on it to welcome you. I am not sure if it’s always there, but it’s for sure a nice encounter.
It’s a silent walk across the lagoon, and it’s very common to find flamencos searching for their food in the swampy waters.
They are accompanied by beautifully colored ducks that navigate the ponds in a group and fish their food, submerging their tiny head and lifting their but as if diving—super fun to watch.
When you are tired of taking photos of the feathered critters, you can keep walking for about 1,5 miles passing through intricated trees and mangroves until you arrive at the Tortoise breeding center, where you can admire the old giant tortoises in their different stages of life.
I would suggest you should do it around 4 pm so that you are more likely to see the flamingos.
Hang out on the beach
There is one long beach lined by little boutique hotels and a couple of bars and restaurants. The beach is free, and you can even take a swim, just be mindful of the currents.
DAY TOURS FROM ISABELA ISLAND
Also, in Isabela Island, you will find plenty of travel agents selling their tours, which are basically the same with a 10 USD variation on the prices. Here below, I will tell you what we did.
Kayak to Las Tintoreras and snorkel around the reef
We did this tour with Paddle to the Penguins, a relatively new company run by young and enthusiastic guys. Their equipment is all-new, and in great conditions, so we didn’t mind paying a little more than other companies. Their tour costs 60 USD. With a maximum of 10 people and 2 guides, you will kayak to Las Tintoreras, a group of rocks right in front of Puerto Villamil bay that boasts an abundance of marine creatures, including Tintoreras Sharks, hence the name.
You leave from Playa Isabela, where you will leave all your belonging, which should be limited to clothing stuff. Then you will hop on the Kayaking in pair and start paddling towards the rocks. It’s a short trip, so no worries if you have never done it. It will be easy to learn and fun.
Once you get to a secure zone, the guide will secure the kayak, and you will start snorkeling around. We have seen sharks and turtles besides other local fishes.
But the best part came later on. We followed another route during our trip back and found 2 penguins hanging out on a rock together with Blue-footed boobies. So cute. It made my day.
When we were almost back to shore, we have been welcomed by mantas and turtles. A marine feast!
If you don’t want to paddle, regular tours are organized to Las Tintoreras by boat and cost about 40 USD.
Snorkeling trip to Los Tuneles
Los Tuneles is a half-day tour of these spectacular unique geologic formations of lava rocks whose nooks and crannies make the perfect environment for rich sea life underwater and bird nesting on the surface.
We had a short hike around and one long hour of snorkeling about which I will tell you more on another post where I will explain in more details the surprises we had on the way back.
This tour is definitely one of the highlights of Isla Isabela not to be missed.
Snorkel and fishing trip to Tortuga Island – 150 USD
The tour company sold it to us so well that we ended up so disappointed for not being able to do it.
Unfortunately, it was low season, and they didn’t have any other requests to fill a boat. The tour was supposed to take us to Tortuga island, a massive horseshoe-shaped rock populated by the ocean’s big guys. Huge manta rays, hammerhead sharks, and blacktip sharks, among others. The tour also implies fishing and eating our own fish. It would have been so great.
Make sure you request it if you have time. It will be an experience.
Hike to Sierra Negra Volcano – 30 USD
I am so embarrassed to say that I didn’t feel like hiking up there. The tour costs only 30 USD and it must be a spectacular hike in a moon-like landscape not to mention the views you get once you arrive on top.
I really didn’t feel trained enough and I decided to pass. Needless to say, I have regretted it quite a bit. But that’s the way it went. If you go make sure to bring good hiking shoes and water. It’s hot and dry out there.
WHERE TO STAY IN ISABELA ISLAND
In Isabela Island, we stayed in one of the apartments of the San Vicente group which apparently have quite a few accommodation options on the island. After seeing some of the great hotel options that the island offer we thought that a hotel would have had the same convenience. Here I will tell you about the cute hotels that we have checked out.
High-end hotel options
Iguana Crossing you wouldn’t believe in such a laid-back hippie place as Puerto Villamil, you could find such an elegant and fine hotel as Iguana Crossing. It’s probably the most exclusive and expensive property, located right on the beach on the way to the Muro de las Lagrimas and the tortoise breeding center.
Mid-Range budget properties
Hotel Albemarle – when I saw this hotel I just fell in love. The white rooms are nicely decorated with fine art and elegant touches and the internal courtyard is just a cozy little corner of paradise, not to mention the seafront location. I wasn’t sure if I should include it among the high-end or the middle range as it falls in between I would say. You will decide.
La Casa de Marita – cozy seaside option, with lovely decorations and a great restaurant.
Hotel Coral Blanco – beautiful, cozy, sparkling clean. This is where I would have stayed with a low-mid range budget. It has actually quite a low price but a mid-range quality. Great value for money.
WHERE TO EAT IN ISABELA ISLAND
Here we had only a couple of meals out. Otherwise we would cook our own.
El faro which was not impressive, and quite expensive.
A little kiosk by the pier right on the way to Concha Y Perla that offers a delicious Almuerzo ( fixed menu lunch) which was just delicious for 5 USD.
The best empanadas are made in a little kiosk in Calle Flamingo, right around the corner of Paddle to the Penguins shop.
Other than that you can find a lot of touristic restaurants along the main road
There are tons of restaurant options. The touristic ones are located
GALAPAGOS NATIONAL PARK RULES
There are common sense rules that we should follow all the time, not only in the Galapagos National Park. I was happy to see that these rules are strictly implemented with a lot of controls, with the help of the local nature guides and people involved in conservation.
- Don’t touch the animals
- Don’t litter
- Stay at about 6 feet from the animals
- Don’t feed the animals
- Don’t use flash when photographing
To know about all the rules you can check out this official website on Galapagos conservation.
It would be great if we get the habit and will continue to follow these instructions on how to respect the environment and live in peace with nature.
FOR FURTHER READING
- The most spectacular lakes in South America that you must visit
- The real origin of Panama hat
- 25 Interesting facts about Ecuador
- The 7 Best Restaurants in Quito
- Where to stay in Quito, a guide to the best hotels for any budget
- Your essential Galapagos Packing List
- Galapagos Cruise or DIY trip? How to visit the Galapagos Islands