Glistening water, intrigued seals and swimming penguins welcomed us to Isabela island. We were instantly in love. The famous seahorse shaped island is the largest of all Galapagos isles with thanks to the 6 volcanos that call it home.
Puerto Villamil is the small port village and tourist hub located on the South East of the island. It feels very quaint and new to tourism in comparison to the other islands we visited. The village does not have an ATM so take enough money out while in Santa Cruz or San Cristobal islands. Check out our Isabela Island Galapagos Budget guide below on free, cheap and other things to do on this island.
We spent 5 days in total on Isabela island and spent $672.85 for these 5 days. For a breakdown of prices check here. We did as many cheap and free things we could find so continue reading our guide to find out our top tips.
Isabela Guide and Top Things To Do
Centro de Crianza Arnaldo Tupiza – Tortoise Centre
Overview: tortoise breeding centre, lovely walk
The tortoise centre is at the end of a 1.2km trail where you can spot iguanas soaking up sun, hear before you see finch and river birds going about their business, and flamingos searching for food. It’s a really nice route with different lagoons and definitely worth it.
Swimming Marine Iguanas
Spot some Flamingos on the way!
The walkway to the Tortoise centre
The tortoise breeding centre itself wasn’t great but we did see some more frisky breeding going on so I’m happy to report that the tortoise population is on the rise!
The Giant Tortoise from Isabela
To get to the Tortoise Breeding Centre:
At Iguanas Crossing Hotel take a right and follow the path along the wooden board walk. Another 150m or so past the tortoise centre on the main road there is a flamingo mirador. We spotted about 5 flamingos there.
Wall of Tears (Muro de lad Lagrimas) and the Wetlands
Overview: historical site, 6km trail, mangroves, beaches, half day
Cost: Free if walk or $15 with bike
The Wall of Tears is a historical site which was used as a form of colonial punishment between 1944 to 1959. The convicts had to build this unneeded wall, sometimes in blistering heat, to keep them busy. Many are thought to have perished during this time so this 100m long wall stands as a testament to that period of cruelty.
On the way to the Wall of Tears – past free roaming Giant Tortoises!
To get to the Wall of Tears which is found at the end of a 6km trail we decided to get bikes. The bikes cost $25 for both of us from our accommodation but there are shops near the trail head (near Iguanas Crossing hotel) where you can rent bikes. There are lots of stops along the way where you can see all four types of mangroves that exist in Galapagos, small pretty beaches and miradors. Make sure you check out the mirador to the left of the Wall of Tears which provides a really nice view of the highlands and ocean. There are also wild tortoises roaming around so keep your eyes peeled. We spotted at least 3!
The Wall of Tears
The trail itself is pretty easy to cycle and all the sights are signposted so it’s very easy to navigate. We really liked Playa Palmita and enjoyed our lunch looking at the marine iguanas (one had no tail!) and pelicans. Playa Amor was nice too and full of baby marine iguanas.
Some of the views along the way
Watch out for thorns on the road. I unfortunately got a puncture outside Playa Amor and had to walk back into town.
To get to the Wall of Tears:
At Iguanas Crossing Hotel take a left and follow the path along the beach, past the cementary and continue. Note: cars drive on the trail also but they can only go until a specific point so the main trail continues without cars.
Sierra Negro \ Volcan Chico
Overview: active volcano, volcanic crater, more of a viewpoint
Rate: Miss if cloudy or any alerts
As we had had a lot of beach time we wanted something different so a hike up a volcano sounded perfect. Sierra Negra is an active volcano with a caldera of up to 10km in diameter making it one of the largest calderas in the world.
The cloud cleared a little to show us what could have been..
For our excursion we went with Ocean Tunnel and paid $30 each. This included pick up (7.20am), packed lunch, guide and transport. Unfortunately as there was a yellow warning in place, which we weren’t aware of at the time, our hiking and trip was cut short from 6 hours to 3 hours which was annoying. But we did experience an earthquake of sorts on our way down and it measured in at about 4 in the scale. Two weeks after we left the islands the volcano erupted so at least the alerts are accurate.
Due to the time of year the highlands were covered in mist so it was only possible to see a fraction of the crater. We were happy that we saw something at least. We wouldn’t recommend going if you can’t go to Volcan Chico and if it cloudy unless it’s on your bucket list or a short overpriced walk is what you are looking for. If it is cloudy, bring hiking shoes and a rain jacket.
Overview: half day tour, white ripped sharks, big marine turtles
Rate: Hit (but not as much as we had hoped)
We booked with Ocean Tunnel and paid $105 each. It was good tour where we saw huge marine turtles, massive manga rays (amazing!), white tipped sharks and one or two black tipped sharks, penguins, one starfish, blue footed boobies, fish and seals. The tour lasted for about 6 hours, included lunch, pickup (7.30am), guide and pictures of the marine life.
We saw this penguin on the tour!
Blue footed boobies
We had two snorkel stops and a short walk along the tunnels to see the nest of the blue footed boobies. The current was pretty strong on the day making it slightly more difficult to relax and enjoy the surroundings without fear of hitting either rocks or the French woman with the 5 Go-Pros attached to her.
Spot the turtle!
Everyone raved about this tour so we had high expectations, we thought it was good but overall would have liked more snorkel time due to the cost.
Concha de Perla
Overview: seals, sharks, busy, watch out at high tide
Rate: Hit (as it’s the only place to snorkel for free on the island)
Concha de Perla is one of the main spots for snorkelling on the island but we left the island asking “What is all the fuss about?”. We did not find the snorkelling here particularly great and we tried at low tide and high tide. We saw a few seals, a swimming iguana, one marine turtle and sharks but not much more. Ok I saw the chocolate chip starfish but unfortunately didn’t get a video as Alan was gone exploring at the time and I didn’t realise it was a big deal. I learned that afterwards!!
Be careful at high tide as the current becomes strong and we were nearly swept out to the harbour during a wave period. It gets really busy with herds of people from cruise shops or guided holidays so pick your time wisely.
To be fair with all tours or snorkelling adventures it depends on luck so go check it out.
To get to Concha de Perla:
Head out towards the port where you arrived by boat. The entrance to Concha de Pearl is on the left amongst the mangroves just before where you get the boat. There is a sign so keep your eyes peeled.
Isabela Dock and Beach
Overview: seals, sharks, not great for snorkelling
This is a great place to see some iguanas and seals relaxing on the beach. From the dock you also spot some marine life. We saw sharks, penguins and more seals. Some people saw rays from the dock so it’s definitely worth spending some time chilling out there.
Seal and Pelican playing
We saw this amazing sunset on the dock
…and this huge shark!
Playa Puerto Villamil
Overview: walk or relax
This is one of the longest beaches that can be found in the Galapagos. It is 3km long making it the perfect excuse to get some exercise and walk, or find a quiet spot and relax. Look at the rocks as you walk and you may find some marine iguanas warning up in the sun.
Playa Puerto Villamil
Iglesia Cristo Salvador
Overview: a very unique Church
One of the coolest churches I have ever seen. Christ hovering in front of a wall depicting a beach, stained windows with animals and statues of tortoises. Pretty different and very unique to the Galapagos. The church is located in town along Las Fragatas street so check it out of you have time.
The church on Isabela island
Overview: quiet, small, flamingos
Laguna Salinas is located in town, check out Maps.me, and can be easily visited if you have a spare 10 minutes. You might be lucky and see some flamingos, we saw one while there. Good idea to combine it with the visit to the tortoise centre if time permits.
Laguna Salinas and its solitary flamingo
- We found one restaurant for lunch which cost $5 it is behind the market \ stalls. I think it was called Fuego or Lava! Big plate of food and we sometimes got free bananas. Good bacalao fish.
- Panaderia across from the Fuego\Lava restaurant behind the market – banana bread slice for $1, pan integral 0.25c.
- Aventurecon – almuerzo for $7 but it was really tasty, breaded prawns, garlic octopus yummy!
- Another restaurant we spotted but didn’t eat in was Rock n Roll which has almuerzo for $6 but with no option.
It definitely pays to check out the different shops for prices as there were very different. 6 bananas here cost 60c, 3L of water cost $3.25, Lonchys noodles ranged from $1.30 to $2.70 (+tuna) depending on shop.
Other things to do in Isabela Island
More snorkelling – Los Tintoreras (approx. $45, 3 hours, can also kayak, can be done after Los Tunneles tour).
Where we stayed
We stayed in Air Bnb Casa Peregrino for 5 nights and were greeted by our Air BnB hostess Ruth when we arrived at the port. The accommodation was a short walk outside town and had limited internet. We were often given fruits from Ruth which was a lovely touch and we rented bikes from her too.
Brief overview of our 5 day itinerary
- Day 1 – Tortoise Centre and Laguna Salinas
- Day 2 – Wall of Tears and wetlands
- Day 3 – Volcan Negra and Concha de Perla
- Day 4 – Los Tunneles tour and Isabela Dock and Beach
- Day 5 – Playa Puerto Villamil, Concha de Perla and Iglesia Cristo Salvador
All the above activities can be done in 3 days. We had time so we relaxed and spread out the activities.