Galapagos Experiences – 6 days in the archipelago (part two)
After our three-day adventure on Santa Cruz, seahorse-shaped Isabela island is a real retreat. It is the biggest island in the Galapagos Archipelago, but with a very small population of only approximately 2000 and the small village, actually very small, Puerto Villamil stretching along the white-sand beach. It offers the expected island feeling. And the best, our hotel was right at the beach!
The next day we took the boat-ride out to “Los Tuneles”. After we went to an office where we were fitted with short wetsuits, we were on our way to the pier to board the boat. We sailed relatively close to the shoreline for about one hour, with a view of Volcan Sierra Negra and Volcan Cerro Azul on the horizon. On our way to “Los Tuneles”, we spotted already some manta rays swimming next to our boat.
The captain made a stop at Roca Union, a stunning rock (formerly volcanic cone) in the middle of the ocean. The waves thrashed from all sides onto the protruding rock, mixing hues of aqua marine, blue and white. Hundreds of Nazca Boobies perched themselves atop the rock, oblivious to the angered waves crashing around them and a sleepy sea lion at the bottom of the rock.
The formation of dried lava arches, underwater tunnels, spare vegetation of prickly pear cacti and clear, turquoise water of los Tuneles always leaves me with a certain tranquility. It’s like being lost in time, I guess….
Along the short walk on the lava bridges, we saw blue-footed boobies and observed sea turtles gliding in the calm waters of this cove, protected from crashing waves.
Afterwards, we headed to another spot close by where the water is shallow and perfect for some great snorkeling. Sea turtles come here to feed, and white tipped reef sharks hide in caves.
Right after jumping into the water, our guide called us to see some seahorses. Even for swimmers who do not go very deep while snorkeling (like me!), it was possible to see the two seahorses swaying with the ocean tides, their tails curled tight around a strand of seaweed. A few minutes later, I was side to side with a giant sea turtle. I think, one of the highlights for me on this trip! They look so serene, swim smoothly in the waters and offer no thread at all!
On our last day on Isabela Island, we headed up to the Sierra Negra Volcano, the second-biggest crater in the world with dimensions of ca. 7.2 x 9.3 km, and to neighboring fissure volcano Chico. After a 40-minute or so drive from Puerto Villamil through some barren lava flows, endemic vegetation and then the cultivated part of Isabela island, we arrived at the starting point for the hike.
For the first hour the wide trail took us uphill on a relatively gentle slope through some lush fern-covered landscape, and occasionally we stopped to observe different species of plants and birds. Also, we learned from our guide about the guayabas, a non-native, invasive species of a fruit tree, a real problem for the island. Even though the incline is gradual, the hike can be strenuous for some due to the distance and heat of the equatorial sun.
Once we got to the edge of the rim, we saw the immense size of the crater. And to the far right side, it was possible to see the new, dried-up lava from the recent eruption in June 2018, even though most of the lava flow was towards the ocean. The Sierra Negra Volcano is one of five active volcanoes located on Isabela Island in the Galapagos Islands and it is the only volcano that visitors are allowed to hike, only accessible with a certified guide.
After spending a few minutes enjoying the view, we continued our hike a few more kilometers to Volcano Chico, an area which just opened up again three days before we arrived to the island due to the volcano’s activity. Here, most plant life disappeared and the lava fields turned from black to colorful hues of red, copper and rust, hollow lava tunnels running down the sides of the slopes. I felt like being on Mars! We made our way across a rocky terrain of loose lava rocks for about 45 minutes until we reached Volcano Chico, from where we had an unlimited view over Elizabeth Bay and the blue, greenish and turquoise ocean in the distance.
On our way back, we had our box lunch under the only bigger tree in the area, giving us some shade, before we continued again to the entrance of the path and our “Chiva” bus (an artisan rustic open bus) took us back to town.
Our last afternoon we enjoyed the beautiful sunset at the beach, stretching out next to the marine iguanas. Next day it was time to say goodbye until next time!
By Alexandra Löwe.