Galapagos, Isabela Island, Cost of Living, Things to Do

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I wrote this Galapagos, Isabela Island, Cost of Living, Things to Do guide, to save you time and money. This Galapagos, Isabela Island, Cost of Living, Things to Do guide includes:

Isabela Island: Small Town Beach Feeling
Isabela Island: How to Get There
Isabela Island: Interesting Facts
Isabela Island: Top Things to Do
Isabela Island: Walking Tour
Isabela Island: Accommodations
Isabela Island: Restaurants
Isabela Island: Nightlife
Isabela Island: Livability Factors
Isabela Island: Cost of Living
Isabela Island: Final Thoughts

Isabela Island: Small Beach Town Feeling

This is Dan from Vagabond Buddha. I last updated this post on May 1, 2018.

Puerto Villamil, the main town on Isabela Island, has a small beach town feeling to it. There are several bars on the beach playing top 40 international music. When your feet are in white sand while you admire pastel blue waters as a parade of colors crawls across the sunset sky, you just feel content. So it feels more like a beach town than a fish village.

Plus, Isabela had our two favorite day tours, Tintoreras and The Tunnels. We saw more animals on these tours than anywhere else in the Galapagos.

I can’t say enough about the sunsets here on Puerto Villamil. About 50 meters past Iguana Crossing Boutique in front of La Jungle, there is a small shack facing the beach, called Atardecer, where they have 2 for 1 drinks at sunset. They also have a volleyball net and hammocks. Don’t miss it.

There is something about small beach towns with great sunsets that put me at ease. I could live here and right my first novel.

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Isabela Island: How to Get There

Flights to Galapagos: You can fly into either of the two airports in the Galapagos Islands (Google Map: Baltra Airport or San Cristobal Airport). We found the best rate on our flights using Skyscanner. Skyscanner has been consistently lower so we quit using other search engines. We flew into Santa Cruz Island (Baltra Airport) and spent 7 nights exploring before heading to Isabela Island.

Ferry to Isabela Island: We took the ferry to Isabela Island from Santa Cruz Island. The ferry cost $30 per person and takes about 2 hours. Luckily the swells were running parallel to the boat’s direction, so we didn’t feel motion sickness. You can buy your ferry tickets across the street from the pier where you catch the ferry (Google Maps).

Do not bring illegal drugs to the Galapagos. Both airports and 100% of the island transfer ferries use drug sniffing dogs and humans search the entire content of your luggage.

Before discussing the top things to do in Isabela Island, here are some interesting facts from Wikipedia about Isabela Island:

Isabela Island: Interesting Facts

I already covered the volcanic origin of the Galapagos and the approximate age of each island in my Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos, post. At that post, I also discussed Darwin, the Theory of Evolution, and how a high percentage of plants, birds, reptiles, and sea life in the Galapagos exist nowhere else on the planet.

Six Volcanoes: There are 6 volcanoes that created Isabela Island. The highest is Wolf Volcano at 1707 meters (5600 ft) which last erupted in 2015. All six volcanoes are believed to be formed by a mantle plume (tube through the earth’s rock surface that allows lava to flow to the surface) called the Galapagos hot spot. The Galapagos were created from lava and are the most volcanically active place on Earth.

Radar Station: On the Wall of Tears self-guided bicycle tour, there are stairs going from the wall of tears to a peak with Pacific Ocean view. Up those stairs you will see a platform where the USA once built a radar station. The radar station was torn down a few decades ago to build a church roof in Puerto Villamil. However, during World War II, the Radar Station was used by the USA as an early warning device to protect the Panama Canal from Japan and Germany.

Tortoise Species: Isabela’s large size and harsh topography created natural barriers that caused separation of species so several different tortoise subspecies developed in the isolated zones.

Whales and Dolphins: The west coast of Isabela Island in the Bolivar Channel is the best place to see whales and dolphins.

Isabela Island: Top Things to Do!

This are in order of our most favorite first:

The Tunnels Tour: Cost: $105 USD per person. A 16 seater 2 engine speed boat took us 30 minutes west of Puerto Villamil along the beach. The boat went over the top of crashing waves and maneuvered through lava channels with crystal clear sea water as shown above. You jump off the boat and the guide described the land formation and birds in the area. We saw Blue-Footed Boobies and Frigates. Then we went snorkeling with many wild sea turtles, sharks, sea lions, sea horses, and many fish in multiple snorkeling locations in their natural habitat. They served lunch on the boat and brought us home by 3pm. All of the tour operators sell this tour. Pay $5 extra to get the wetsuit. We didn’t have an underwater camera so the guide gave us copies of film from his gopro, gratis.

Tintoreras Tour: Cost $35 USD per person. A 12 seater boat took us to the little islands not far from Puerto Villamil. We went for a 1 hour walk where we saw sharks, turtles, sea lions, golden rays, and red crabs all swimming within 3 feet of us. We also went snorkeling and saw turtles and multitudes of fish. It ended with a boat ride where we saw pelicans and Blue-Footed Boobies. We were back at the dock by 1pm.

Wall of Tears (Muro de las Lagrimas): Free entry. Bike Rental $15 day. 5 km one way. This was surprisingly nice. We went with no expectations with the intent of just getting exercise on a bike for a few hours. The wall of tears itself is not that interesting. But the hike on the left side of the wall to a view of the Pacific Ocean is worth the time alone. Go early to avoid the hot part of the day. On the way back, stop at each path and see where they lead. The surprising part of this is you really get a sense of how isolated this natural habitat is from humanity. In the above picture and other landscapes you will see on this tour will amaze you, I have no doubt.

Flamingo Estuary: Free. This is the best way to walk to the Turtle Reserve. It is a raised wooden walkway over an estuary full of Flamingos and other birds. When your back is to the beach and you are facing the Iguana Crossing Boutique, the trail through the estuary begins on your left. It seems like the walk through this estuary and path is about 2 km, or 25 minutes. We saw about 20 Flamingos and many other birds.

Tortoise Reserve (Centro de Crianza Tortugas Gigantes Arnaldo Tupiza): Free. They breed endangered tortoises here before releasing them into the wild. There is a nursery full of baby turtles of all ages and adult tortoises they are breeding to increase the turtle population on the island. This tortoise reserve is at the end of the Flamingo Estuary path above.

Hotel Albemarle Beach: This is just a great white sand beach for taking pictures relaxing in the shade or sun. There are a bunch of palm trees to sit under if you want shade and lots of open white sand if you want sun. There is also a volleyball net a people playing from time to time. The is also a sandy beach area great for swimming (no lava rock). It is also the closest beach to central Puerto Villamil. Some of the best sunset pictures are from here also, especially if you like sunset pictures that include palm trees. Finally, there are a few happy hour bars nearby playing music that you can hear from this beach.

Secret Snorkeling Spot (Concha de Perla): Great spot for snorkeling. From the pier where the water taxi drops you when you arrive from Santa Cruz, there is a path going east about 100 meters to a hidden cove the locals call Concha de Perla. This is a great way to spend a few hours to relax. You need to bring your own mask and snorkel for this one.

Isabela Beach (Playa Isabela): There is a family of sea lions that live here that are very playful and active. This is right next to the pier where the water taxi drops you after your ferry ride from Santa Cruz.

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Best Sunsets (Bar Atardecer): The beach in front of Bar Atardecer is the best for romantic sunsets. It is more romantic because it is at the edge of town were fewer people attend happy hour sunset. You can get two Mojitos here for $8 at sunset. This is just west of the Iguana Crossing Boutique in front of La Jungle. This is also on the path to Wall of Tears.

Galapagos Jesus (Parroquia “Cristo Salvador” de la Isla Isabela): The Wall of Tear’s view lookout had a sign saying that a dismantled radar station was used as material to build a church roof in town. We went in this church to see if it was ‘that’ church. We couldn’t tell, but we were surprised to see all of the Galapagos animals around Jesus on the altar. I have always believed that Jesus cared as much about animals as people. This was the first time I had seen any church acknowledging that on the altar. I am vegetarian so this impressed me. I believe Jesus was more like Buddha than most people realize.

The two tour companies I promote GetYourGuide.com and Viator.com don’t presently have tours for the Galapagos. However, when you book tours elsewhere, please use these links. Although it will cost you nothing extra, we will receive a small commision which will help us continue to create travel information for you: GetYourGuide.com, Viator.com.

Isabela Island: Walking Tour

You can visit the places all of the places in my “Things to Do” list (except the tours) using my below google map for a walking tour. Here is the walking path I created on Google for you. Just click this map and it will guide you to each place. Buy a Claro 4G SIM in Guayaquil before boarding your flight to Galapagos and load it with Internet data so you aren’t paying international roaming rates when you start clicking the links to all of my suggestions.

Here is the embedded map:

Isabela Island: Accommodations

Most people who come to Isabela Island stay in Puerto Villamil. Here are my recommendations based upon your style and needs. For the lowest prices on accommodations, I suggest Booking.com and HotelsCombined.com. The below are listed from most to least expensive:

Iguana Crossing Boutique: This is the most beautiful place we saw on Isabela Island. It is also in an amazing location facing the best beach for enjoying sunsets. It is next door to the Flamingo Estuary path. It is in a very quiet secluded area of town but everything interesting is within a 5 minute walk.

Albemarle Hotel: This is a gorgeous beach front boutique hotel with the best white sand beach on the island right in front of it.

Posada Caminante: This is a moderately priced place with large rooms. A room with a private bath was $40 USD per night when we stayed here. There is a common area with hammocks and a common area kitchen if you like to cook. Normally we stay in Airbnb apartments when we travel but nothing we liked was available the days we needed.

Airbnb Apartment: Here is a centrally located place with its own private kitchen. On the day I checked it was about $50 per night. (If you are new to Airbnb, use this code www.airbnb.com/c/dbell50 for a discount).

Price Check: Once you have selected where you want to stay, then use HotelsCombined.com to find the agency offering the lowest booking price for that property.

Isabela Island: Restaurants

Tourist Restaurant Row: This part of Antonio Gil street is restaurant row. Lunch specials here are about $8. The prices are a little higher and the ambience is much better, but most of the restaurants here serve dishes here are not as good as the following local place. The following local place lacks ambience.

Local Restaurant: (Las Delicias De Jaqui): This is local Ecuadorian food prepared for the locals. We had a delicious lunch here for $5 USD each. In case you are vegetarian, I asked and they said the beans are prepared without pig fat. This was absolutely delicious. You should try Ecuadorian food.

Palm Beach: The international food here is decent but it is priced for tourists. $16 entre.

Vagabond Buddha Restaurant: We made sandwiches for many of our day trips. We also cooked a few meals in the hostel kitchen in our hotel. El Familion Grocery Store (across from Bike and Surf), Vegetable Markets (behind this restaurant), Bread for Sandwiches (next door to this restaurant).

Isabela Island: Nightlife

Beto’s Place: This place was jumping for sunset and for a few hours after.

Bar Atardecer (Happy Hour): The beach bar shack in front of La Jungle mentioned above under things to do–sunsets.

BJ’s Beach Club: This place was well attended for sunsets. It is next door to Iguana Point Bar.

Isabela Island Livability Factors

Walkability: Puerto Villamil is walkable day and night. You may want to rent a bike for the Wall of Tears tour. Always wear sunblock and a hat when outdoors during the day. An equator sun is unforgiving. Carry water also in case you have a heat spell.

Internet: The Internet was poor. Get an Ecuadorian Claro 4G SIM card and load it with Internet data.

Food: Grocery store food costs are outrageous compared to most anywhere in the world. Restaurants all over the typical Ecuadorian lunch special for about $5-8/person. For dinner, you will pay US prices. We ended up buying sandwich rolls and making sandwiches to take with us on day trips when we were going to be away from town.

Weather: The weather is hot in the middle of the day but has more breezes than Santa Cruz Island. Wear a hat, carry sunblock and sunglasses.

Desire to Move Here: High. But not realistic. There are already too many people living here and the government is trying to send some Ecuadorians back to the mainland.

Isabela Island: Cost of Living

Below is the estimated cost of living one month in Isabela Island as a temporary visitor. Some of the estimates could be reduced as a long term visitor, or full time Expat. Because there is no chance of living here, we didn’t check into furnished apartment prices.

Monthly Cost of Living, Isabela Island, Ecuador ($USD)

Expense

Cost

Low

Medium

High

Airbnb (1 Bedroom Apt)

$50.00

0

14

30

Moderate Hotel

$40.00

0

12

0

Backpacker Hostel

$25.00

30

3

0

High End Restaurant

$18.00

1

4

8

Neighborhood Restaurant

$5.00

30

44

48

Food Cart

$3.00

30

12

4

Subway/Train/Metro

$0.00

20

26

8

Bus

$0.00

20

10

0

Taxi/Uber

$2.00

6

10

20

Total

Per Month

$1,020

$1,603

$1,936

Total

Per Day

$34

$53

$65

For more information about how the above “Cost of Living Monthly Multiplier” works, please visit the bottom of this page at Vagabond Buddha. It does not include alcohol, excursions, or extras, and it is for one person. Some of the expenses remain unchanged when you add another person.

Isabela Island: Final Thoughts

The combination of a laid back small white sand beach island with fearless wild animals is very attractive. The sea life is amazing. Like I said above, I would love to stay for a year and write my first novel. But foreigners are only allowed 30 days per year in the Galapagos.

The world is your home. What time will you be home for dinner?

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