Galapagos: Queen Isabela

Days: 246-248

Total distance travelled: 47,185.3 kilometres (29,307.64 miles)

When we shared a taxi back to Puerto Ayora with Dave & Cyd (a lovely Canadian couple we befriended on board the Floreana), we had a shared desire to make it to Isla Isabela that same afternoon.

As such, the first task we set ourselves (it took all of about 5 minutes once we’d gotten to town) was to arrange for ourselves some tickets for the afternoon boat service, and as it was cheaper to do so, Sarah and I arranged both our return tickets, as well as onward tickets to San Cristobal Island (that is where we’d booked our departure flights from) as well.

We went our separate ways & later discovered that Kristina & Patrick, an American couple from our Galapagos cruise, had booked passage on the same boat.

Come 2pm, & the situation on the dock was chaotic. We eventually spied a man with a clipboard who had a manifest for our boat (he wasn’t in fact the 1st man with a clipboard, but he was the 1st with our names on it), so we hung as near to him as possible.

There was 1 unfortunate Gringo who had arrived clutching a ticket, only to be advised who was not listed for any boat! We felt grateful indeed for the fact that wasn’t us.

What none of us had been advised, was that we’d be ferried out to the relevant boat by not a harbour launch, but rather a water taxi, so immediately there was an additional, albeit small cost on top!

Two Americans (not our friends from the Floreana) were also in our water taxi, expecting to get dropped at their waiting boat. When they questioned this, somebody from the boat simply said “They’re all the same” & just like that we had two additional passengers.

I’m not sure how things went down on their actual boat when a head count was finally taken…

A couple of hours later, time through which Sarah and I mostly slept, and Puerto Villamil lay before us, ready to sting us with another, slightly more expensive water taxi, but then came the real kick in the pants, a $5.00 US harbour fee!

Still, we made it ashore in the company of Cyd and Dave, and now had a brief wait for all of the luggage and other parcels to appear on the dock for collection (all bags between the islands will be checked in a customs like manner before you leave the previous island, & are therefore tagged) and tag removal.

It was at about this time that Katrina and Patrick who’d come ashore on an earlier water taxi, advised that they’d spotted a penguin swimming in the harbour! A Galapagos Penguin, right here in the harbour!?

It was something we’d hoped to see, but hadn’t thought possible so close to the main harbour!

Turns out we didn’t see it, as it was seemingly long gone when we had a look… although there was a huge ray cruising around looking pretty cool!

We left our American friends here (Patrick and Kristina who jumped in a taxi) and made the fairly short walk into town with our Canadian ones (Dave and Cyd) in search of lodgings.

Our search felt pretty comprehensive, or perhaps I was just hot and bothered when we finally decided to settle for one we’d spied earlier, when we chanced to be walking past a roadwork construction site.

At this point we met a man who was seemingly at work, but more interested in renting us all a couple of rooms for what sounded a very good price.

He gave us directions, but in the end actually left his post at work, leading us on a lengthy walk that in truth didn’t appear to follow his directions, until we found ourselves at the unsigned hospidaje, Gran Pez.

The rooms were clean enough, there was a kitchen, Wi-Fi and best of all it was only $10.00 US per person.

The four of us ended up dining with Kristina and Patrick that night as well, although given the odd timing of all the meals, it was more a case of Cyd dined first (and alone), Dave and I kept company for our meal, whilst the final three of our posse (who’d all ordered fish) dined half an hour later again.

Still, it was nice to be in some good company!

We’d also managed to arrange a dive for ourselves before dinner (for 2 days later), which meant our following day was free, so Sarah and I resolved to walk to the Wall of Tears, a site about 4 kilometres out of town.

Bike hire was an option, but we had the time so figured we were better of saving the money and the stroll started off quite nicely, as before we’d even left the town we caught our first good sighting of one of the islands Pink Flamingos (we’d seen some from afar on Floreana Island, but nothing up close)!

A chance sighting of one of the islands 1,000 Pink Flamingos

The morning was hot, but thankfully most of the initial part of our walk hugged the shore, so any break in the foliage gave us a little relief in the form of sea breezes.

It was a pretty scenic area, with views of the ocean to our left and to our right, wild scrub and wetlands.

We passed many signed trails on either side of the road for a variety of sights, however we remained focused on our initial goal, deciding to visit any that were of interest on the return leg.

Soon we came to a sign indicating that we were entering the ‘Way of the Turtle/Tortoise’, but we didn’t think too much of it.

On occasion, we started to see pairs of cyclists race past at fairly regular intervals. It would appear most others either take the bike hire option, or arrange a tour and/or other transport to the site.

About 10 minutes later however, when we spied those wisened features in a shaded hollow beside the path, our decision to walk felt vindicated.

There was our first Isabela Giant Tortoise in the wild!

Slow & steady won this race. Giant Tortoises in the wild, missed by all the cyclists who tore past us at speed

Slow and steady won this race. Giant Tortoises in the wild, missed by all the cyclists who tore past us at speed

At this point we began to start scouring (with our eyes at least) the scrubby growth that bordered the road with a bit more intent, eventually sighting a couple more of these gentle giants before we reached the Wall of Tears.

So what is the Wall of Tears?

Essentially it was an exercise in cruelty and futility.

Back in the 1940’s and 50’s when this part of the island housed an Ecuadorian penal colony, the convicts were forced to labour away in the heat building from the volcanic rock.

The result: A wall in the middle of the wilds that served no purpose whatsoever, but cost in pain, blood, sweat and lives.

An exercise in futility… The Wall of Tears

An exercise in futility… The Wall of Tears

To image people slaving away in this barren location under the glaring sun, it’s little wonder that this place took its toll in people…

Behind the wall sat a large rock which we climbed with the aid of some rough stairs, the view from the heights only illustrating further what a rough location this would have been to be sentenced to.

A little way back along the path sat another, slightly higher mirador (lookout) and it was from here that we got some stunning views back towards the town, even catching sight of the distant Isla Tortuga where we’d be diving the following day.

The dry scrub that abounds with a small sliver of green where Puerto Villamil sits (Click on image to enlarge)

The dry scrub that abounds with a small sliver of green where Puerto Villamil sits (Click on image to enlarge)

Our return walk proved even more fruitful on the tortoise front, with several more being spied (including 1 rather contentedly munching away on some fruit), as well as a couple of the ones we spotted earlier.

We also took the time to investigate a couple more of the side trails, visiting a beautiful, albeit small inlet, sheltered by mangroves and home to a large pelican and resting sea lion.

The natural tunnel (formed by tree roots) we’d had to navigate to enter the area was one of those little gems of nature in itself.

A giant tortoise extravaganza during the walk to and from the Wall of Tears

A giant tortoise extravaganza during the walk to and from the Wall of Tears

Another short walk got us a look at an old lava tube, partially collapsed and full of sea water, given that it really didn’t require a huge detour, it was worth the small effort.

We made the rest of the journey back to town along the beach, which was much cooler, especially for Sarah who’d intelligently worn her swimmers, and as such even indulged in a quick dip!

After lunch, which we ended up prepping for ourselves, we caught up with our 4 friends from our cruise on the Floreana for an afternoon snorkel (we also all dined together again that night, I believe it was pizza for us on this occasion) in the Puerto Villamil harbour.

Well technically, it wasn’t the harbour, but a cove a little further around, so we needn’t be watchful for water craft.

The snorkelling was a mixed bag kind of affair.

Refreshing as it was, the visibility was really odd, at 1st I simply thought my mask was smudged or fogged.

In truth, there were patches of the bay where the water almost looked like it had a film, whilst others were completely clear.

We were later advised that it was plankton in the water, but at the time it had us baffled.

A refreshing dip near Puerto Villamil harbour

A refreshing dip near Puerto Villamil harbour

There were still plenty of fish for us to observe, but the highlight, was something of a perverse parody of a scene out of Jaws.

Almost ready to call time on our swim (I’d been getting pestered by sand flies every time I surfaced), I was pausing for a moment on a rocky platform when Sarah joined me.

Looking up, I notice movement in the water ahead. Movement that was suddenly headed directly for us!

True, it was missing the shark fin you’d expect from a true Jaws moment, but suddenly there it was for an instant, before shooting right past us.

Our first Galapagos Penguin!!

We decided to snorkel a little further, but we never caught up to that little whippet of a thing. Still, we’d finally spotted something we were never guaranteed a sighting of.

Finishing off our swim with some tiny, juvenile Panamic Sergeant Majors

Finishing off our swim with some tiny, juvenile Panamic Sergeant Majors

When we were all done, we had ice-cream on our minds, and possibly another snorkel closer to the harbour proper, although once we were all out and had cooled somewhat, we dismissed any thoughts of a second dip.

Back around at the harbour, there was a real treat in store.

Whether it was the same one or another, we’ll likely never know, but using the area as a playground was another Galapagos Penguin!

This video I took may look a little dull at first, but patience shall reward you…

Puerto Villamil was by now, already our favourite town in the Galapagos, feeling far less developed or tourist ridden in comparison to either Puerto Ayora or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (on Santa Cruz & San Cristobal respectively).

Fewer tourists, means fewer touts, which makes for a far more hassle free experience!

It probably helped we had cheap and decent lodging, plus we were genuinely enjoying the chance to spend a little more time with Cyd and Dave!

Tranquil Puerto Villamil

Tranquil Puerto Villamil

We felt a lot more comfortable in this much more laid back town…

We felt a lot more comfortable in this much more laid back town…

Our following day, our last full affair on Isabela, was occupied mainly with our diving (which can be read about separately).

We also grabbed the chance to get a lot closer to a posse of Galapagos Penguins, as our boat, on returning from our diving excursion cruised past a rocky islet that they’re known to frequent.

The admittedly brief experience, didn’t disappoint!

Galapagos Penguins, in their full dinner suit livery

Galapagos Penguins, in their full dinner suit livery

We lingered around the harbour a little longer, as we waited for the dive crew to ferry us back to town, not that we were complaining with plenty of marine life to entertain us.

More of the usual suspects in the form of sea lions, but a huge Spotted Eagle Ray was pretty cool, as well as 3 or 4 penguins which obviously made us very happy!

Galapagos Penguins proved themselves to be quite the show stoppers!

Galapagos Penguins proved themselves to be quite the show stoppers!

We farewelled Cyd and Dave that very night, as we’d be up to catch our 6am boat rather early the following day.

And that my friends was Isabela!



* Our boat to Isabela cost $30.00 US per person (although with the small saving, the return ticket was only $25.00 US per person).

* To actually reach the boat however, it cost $0.50 US per person for a water taxi from dock to boat in Puerto Ayora

* It cost $1.00 US per person for the water taxi from boat to shore in Puerto Villamil

* Once on the dock, there was a $5.00 US harbour fee (per person) in Puerto Villamil


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18 Responses to Galapagos: Queen Isabela

  1. Tami says:

    Loved the Galapagos Penguin — so fast!!

  2. What a great experience seeing the galapagos penguin.

  3. Wonderful photos of the tortoises and the Galapagos Penguins, I would love to see them one day! And what a relief that it was indeed a penguin – and not a shark – swimming towards you!

  4. I get insanely excited when I see a turtle while snorkeling – but a penguin – that would make my whole year !

  5. The penguins on Isabella were so Freakking cute I just about cried. AHAH I cannot get enough of them

  6. Tracie Howe says:

    I didn’t know there were penguins in the Galapagos. How cool it would have been to snorkel with that one if you had caught it. I know they’re fast little buggers!

  7. Hi Chris,
    It feels way better without touts, right? You can relax and really enjoy the place.
    Loved the tortoise pics, they do look huge!!!

  8. elizabeth says:

    Two of my favorites in one day- penguins and flamingos. I love both of these they are such unique creatures. I will make note of the lack of touts- they get old. We hope to make it to the Galapagos soons.

  9. I would love to visit the Galapagos (James is itching to go).
    You’ve got some great shots! Especially the Giant Tortoise.
    Very please to hear the shark was in fact a penguin…. sightly less toothy 🙂

  10. Another great Galapagos post, Chris! Loved the video of the penguin frolicking in the water. That would be awesome to see. Thx for sharing.

  11. I absolutely love seeing the wildlife pictures…this makes me want to had to the Galapagos!

  12. It’s always a bonus when you meet friends on the road, it’s a much welcomed break to only having each other to talk to. PS I can’t help but fall asleep on water taxis and boats! Must be the rhythm.

  13. Chris! How long have you been there? If you’re planning to stay longer and write more about Galapagos, I know a volunteering program there! Xx

  14. One word for the whole experiences: amazing!

  15. natalietanner says:

    How interesting. I did now know it had been a penal colony. Would love to visit one day!

  16. LOVE exploring the Galapagos through these posts! Had not heard of the Wall of Tears and it must have been such a contrast to experience the beauty and awe-inspiring nature and then learn about the history of this testament to human cruelty!

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