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Isabela Island, also known by its Spanish name of Isla Isabela and less commonly by its English name of Albemarle Island, is the largest of the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.
- Puerto Villamil is the largest town on the island and has accommodation and restaurants for tourist.
- Santo Tomas is just a collection of a few farms, barely large enough to have a name.
Located in the western part of the archipelago, Isabela is larger than all of the rest of the islands combined. Comprising six volcanos, the island is about 75 miles long and covers 1771 square miles. Its highest point on Wolf Volcano rises 5600 feet above sea level. Due to most of the visitor sites being on the western side of the island, far from Santa Cruz, only the longer (and hence more expensive) boat tours visit this island.
The town of Puerto Villamil at the southern end offers lodging and food to visitors wanting to stay on the island.
See the Galapagos wildlife page for information on the flora and fauna of the islands.
There is a public speedboat twice a day from Santa Cruz that departs at 7am and 2pm or 2:30pm. It is best to buy tickets at least one day in advance and costs $30 one-way or $55 return. You must arrive 30 minutes prior to departure as your bags will be subject to an agricultural search. On arrival into Isabela, foreigners must pay a $10 entry fee ($5 for residents of Ecuador)[Sep. 2017]. The public speedboat back to Santa Cruz departs twice daily, morning and afternoon. Again, you must arrive 30 minutes prior to departure. The transfer between Isabela and Santa Cruz is 2 hours - 2 hours 15 minutes. Annoyingly, the ferry boats will not dock at the pier, you have to pay $1 for a taxi boat to take you the last couple hundred meters. The pier is about 1km out of town, a $1 "bus" can take you if you don't want to walk.
Traveling from one island to another is best done by air. An inter island air service called EMETEBE Airlines www.emetebe.com.ec operates 9 seater aircrafts to transport passengers and their luggage from San Cristobal Airport to Isabela, Santa Cruz and Baltra islands. Passengers tend to prefer this option since it is much faster than the boat (30 minute flight approximately), no sea sickness is involved and because of the spectacular views of Galapagos from the skies. Bookings can be done directly through EMETEBE's website or a travel agent.
- Wall of tears - there's a nice 2,5-3 hour (return trip) hike to the wall of tears. On the way there are lots of things to see; lakes with flamingos and other wildlife, beaches with hundreds of (really big) iguanas, beaches with sea lions, giant tortoises and view points. Take plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat.
- Giant Tortoise Breeding Center. In this center the giant tortoises from Isabela are bred and raised before being released into the wild. It's open to the public on weekdays. Follow the 1200m long board walk which starts west of Puerto Villamil just past the Iguana Crossing Hotel. It has now become compulsory to visit the breeding center with a guide (10$ /pax) who must be hired in town [January 2021].
- Flamingos. See flamingos at the lagoon in town or, in larger numbers, along the boardwalk to the tortoise breeding center.
- Sierra Negra Volcano and Vulcan Chico. Sierra Negra is one of the five volcanoes on the island. It has the second largest crater in the world and, when the weather is clear, the views at the crater rim are impressive (the wildlife less so). Follow the rain forest trail along the Sierra Negra rim to the sunny and dry moon-like landscape leading to Vulan Chico. 16 kilometers total; rain gear, full water bottle, sunblock, and sturdy footwear recommended. Tours can be arranged in Puerto Villamil. The price is $75, but cheaper without English speaking guide or without a horse. As of april 2016 you can't get a permit to go without a guide. Tours have been seen for around $40
- Las Tintoreras. Las Tintoreras is a lagoon where white tip sharks come to rest. They can be seen from the trail, but it's not allowed to go snorkeling in the lagoon. The snorkeling at the beach behind is excellent however, and eagle rays and sea turtles can be seen here. It has also been declared part of national park, so you need a guided tour to get there.
- Concha de Perla. Follow the boardwalk from the docks. It's a natural pool good for snorkeling and playing with sea lions.
- Los Tuneles. Canals in the lava rocks with bridges and caves. Cactus grow on the rocks and many big turtles, rays and fish can be seen swimming in the canals and pools filled with sea-water. The tour usually costs $70+ and includes snorkeling at a similar nearby site where sea-horses and sharks can be seen. Group sizes are limited to 10 people, so tours fill up pretty quickly.
- Iguana Crossing. On the West side of town between the beach and the lagoons is the Iguana's crossing. Even the police stop to let them go. This is the only controlled intersection in Puerto Villamil.
- Camino de Tortugas is on the way to Muro de los Lagrimas. Here you can see several giant tortoises in the wild. It is a further 2km to the Muro, a huge wall built of volcanic stones by the inmates of the infamous prison colony. There are are couple of miradors near/on the way to the Muro.
- La Playita is a beach around the corner from the main beach on the way to the Camino de Tortugas. Here you may be able to swim with penguins.
On a live aboard cruise you can visit the following sites:
- Tagus Cove
- Elisabeth Bay
- Urvina Bay
You can dive the following sites from Puerto Villamil:
- Isla Tortuga - Pelagic sightings include hammerheads, mantas, eagle rays, etc. Sea fans, coral, turtles, lots of tropicals to see.
- 4 Hermanos - From June - Nov, trips are unlikely due to rough seas.
- La Viuda - Advanced dive only due to currents.
On a dive liveaboard cruise, you can visit the following sites:
- Punta Vicente Roca - Abundant coral, mola molas, bullhead shark, sea lions, penguins, flightless cormorants.
- Roca Redonda - Underwater fumeroles, pelagics
- Cabo Marshall - Mantas, sea lions, Galapagos sharks.
- Roca Blanca - Abundant coral, sea lions, mantas, white tipped reef sharks, lots of tropicals to see.
Camping is permitted at Minas de Azufre and Volcán Chico with prior authorisation from the park rangers, but only with a guide.
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