Isabela (Albemarle): With over 1800 square miles (more than half the land surface area in the archipelago), and about 80 miles in length, the seahorse-shaped Isabela is the largest island in the Galapagos.
This wasn't always the case, as originally there were six islands, each with an active volcano. The extensive lava flows from the six volcanoes (Cerro Azul, Sierra Negra, Alcedo, Darwin, Wolf, and Ecuador) joined together and formed what is today Isabela. Five of the six volcanoes (all but Ecuador) are still active. The Wolf Volcano is the highest point, at 5600 ft.
There are several Visitor Sites on Isabela, including Punta Albemarle, Elizabeth Bay, Punta Garcia, Punta Moreno, Punta Vicente Roca, Tagus Cove, Punta Tortuga, Urvina Bay, and the town of Villamil.
Two of the volcanoes, Alcedo and Sierra Negra, are also Visitor Sites.
In this island penguins, flightless cormorants, marine iguanas, boobies, pelicans and Sally lightfoot crabs abound.
At the skirts and calderas of the volcanoes of Isabela. Land Iguanas and Galapagos Tortoises can be observed, as well as Darwin Finches, Galapagos Hawks, Galapagos Doves and very interesting lowland vegetation. The third-largest human settlement of the archipelago, Puerto Villamil, is located at the south-eastern tip of the island.
Land Visitor Sites
Named after a British warship which anchored here in 1814, this cove is located to the west of the island and it is usual to take a panga trip below the high cliffs. Here there is an opportunity to see penguins as well as marine iguanas, Sally Lightfoot crabs and sea lions. As with many sites blue footed boobies are in abundance.
South from Tagus Cove and still on the West coast is Urvina Bay. The waters of the bay are a good place to see turtles and rays and ashore is a short trail leading to a coral reef, which is evidence of an uplift from the sea which occurred in 1954. Marine iguanas, flightless cormorants and pelicans can be seen at this site.
Located at the northern tip of Isabela (forming the horns or raised ears of the seahorse shape of Isabela), Punta Albemarle was used as a radar base by the U.S. during World War II. As one sails past, the abandoned water tanks can be viewed through a pair of binoculars. Often that's all that will be seen, as very few boats land here, due in part to the rough surf. The waters in this region seem to be very productive, and there are excellent chances for seeing whales here.
Located on, the eastern coast, across the Isabela Channel from James Island. Except for early in the morning, the dry landing is not an easy one. Sometimes not a very dry one either. This is the only visitor site on Isabela Island reachable without sailing around the west coast.
Darwin Volcano looms above this barren landscape covered with Galapagos Islands Aa Lava. Just above the shoreline Flightless Cormorants used to be seen breeding between March and September. The birds now seem to have deserted the site leaving an occasional Brown Pelican behind.
Santo Tomas Volcan
It is possible to climb to the top of this volcano. Landing at Puerto Villamil at the south of the island it is necessary to take an 18 km ride to the smaller settlement of Santo Tomas on the slopes of the volcano.
The visitor trail goes round the rim. Vermillion flycatchers, Galapagos hawks, finches and short-eared owls.
Still active, and recently seriously so, it is possible to take a trail to the crater from Shipton Cove on the East coast of the island. This is a wet landing and the trail is steep, rocky and about 10 km long. Because the journey takes between 6 and 7 hours to the 1128 metres peak of Alcedo, there is a camp site so that the return trip does not have to be completed in a day.a
Situated on the southwest portion of Isabela, The tour begins with a panga or zodiac ride along the beautiful rocky shores where penguins and shore birds, including great blue herons, are usually spotted. The panga then enters a grove of mangroves, where oysters can be seen at the base of the trees. After a dry landing, a difficult trek begins that traverses the sharpest lava rocks in the islands. The environment is enigmatic; the driest lava fields you will ever see are interspersed with lagoons and small ponds containing abundant wildlife, including a few pintail ducks and flamingos. There are several clumps of lava cactus and other pioneering plants here, but a species of Scalesia is also seen, as is the carpenter bee, one of the few insect pollinators in the Galapagos.
Just north of Tagus Cove on the western side of Isabela Island, a bathing beach surrounded by mangroves. Here the black sand beach and mangrove swamp were tectonically uplifted in 1975.
Galapagos Islands visitors who venture into the swamp have the opportunity to see the tool-using Mangrove Finch, endemic to Isabela and Fernandina. The Galapagos Islands Mangrove Finch holds twigs or spines in its beak and uses the tool to hunt for grubs. If the tool is a particularly useful one for the finch it will save it for future use.
Punta Tortuga offers a spectacular view Fernandina's volcano. In 1825 the American ship Tabor anchored here at Galapagos Islands Banks Bay to watch an eruption. The close proximity to the eruption and the heat generated caused the boat's rigging to melt.
Located on the southeastern coast of Isabela in the Galapagos Islands. Puerto Villamil is the main settlement area on Isabela Island. A small peaceful town with a laid back atmosphere offers quite a different experience than the tourist shops on Puerto Ayora.
Villamil and the neighboring settlement of Santo Tomas were founded in 1897 by Antonio Gil. Villamil began as the center of a lime production operation. The lime produced by burning coral found off Isabela. Santo Tomas served as a sulfur mine and coffee plantation. The ventures were only somewhat profitable due to water limitations in the Galapagos Islands.
Together Villamil and Santo Tomas now have a population of approximately 1000 people. There are a variety of rooms available for visitors and equipment and supplies available for those climbing the near by Sierra Negra Volcano.
Villamil is often considered the most beautiful site in the Galapagos with its long white sand, palm lined beaches. Behind Villamil are several brackish water lagoons where Pink Flamingoes, Common Stilts, Whimbrels, White-Cheeked Pintails, Gallinules are usually seen. The lagoons are nesting areas between November - April. The beaches and lagoons near Villamil are home to the best migratory bird viewing in the Galapagos Islands.
In the west side of the Galapagos Islands archipelago. Located in the southern part of Isabela Island between the volcanoes Alcedo and Cerro Azul. Sierra Negra's caldera at 6 miles x 5 miles is the largest in the Galapagos Islands and the second largest in the world after Ngoro Ngoro.
The journey up to the crater begins at Puerto Villamil. From town you follow the road to the small town of Santo Tomas where it is possible to rent a horse. Whether on foot or by horse the trip takes between 3 - 5 hours. The landscape along the way is quite lovely. Once on top there are a series of fumaroles inside small craters. The view during the "rainy season" is quiet spectacular.
This trip is normally done as an overnight camping trip, allowing visitors to camp at the crater rim.
Marine Visitor Sites
It is not possible to land here so a panga or zodiac trip is the only option. At the entrance to the bay are the Mariela Islands which offer an excellent opportunity to see penguins.
Vicente Roca Point
Located at the ‘mouth’ of the head of the sea horse, which forms the northern part of the Galapagos islands, is Punta Vicente Roca, Here the remnants of an ancient volcano form two turquoise coves with a bay well protected from the ocean swells.
The spot is a popular anchorage from which to take panga or zodiac rides along the cliff that are the remains of the volcano or explore a partially sunken cave at the water’s edge. Masked and blue-footed boobies sit perched along the point and the sheer cliffs, while flightless cormorants inhabit the shoreline.
The upwelling of coldwater currents in this part of the Galapagos, give rise to an abundance of marine life which, in combination with the protection of the coves, make Punta Vicente Roca one of the archipelago’s sough after dive spots.
One cove is only accessible from the sea by way of an underwater passage. The passage opens to calm waters of the hidden cove where sea lions like to laze on the beach having traveled along the underwater route. The entire area of Punta Vicente Roca lies on the flank of 2,600 foot Volcano Ecuador.This is the Galapagos island’s sixth largest volcano. Half of Volcano Ecuador slid into the ocean leaving a spectacular cutaway view of the volcanic caldera.