The Galapagos Islands make for an exciting vacation destination for just about everyone, whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach getaway, an active nature exploration, or a fun family trip. And the town of Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island, is a staple visit for most Galapagos cruises and a great place to stay on a land-based or island-hopping tour.
Compared to the buzzing 18,000-person town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, the town of Puerto Ayora, with just around 2,000 people, is quite tranquil. It makes for a great extension tour as well, if you’ve booked a cruise but aren’t quite ready to go home yet.
What to do
Whether you are on a cruise visiting Puerto Villamil for just one day or a land-based tour, there’s plenty to do right from town. If you’re looking for independent activities, swimming, snorkeling, and surfing are all options along the beachfront, and any equipment you need can be easily rented from a local vendor.
There are also a number of visitor sites that are close by:
- Bike or hiking tour of the Wetlands (Las Humedales), where you will find dense mangrove colonies and brackish lagoons that are home to pintails and other land birds.
- Visiting the “Wall of Tears”, where prisoners labored in the hot equatorial sun to build a wall of lava rock as part of their sentence back when Isabela Island was used as a penal colony. Now all that remains are black pylons of rocks to memorialize their futile work.
- Las Tintoreras is a great place to take a panga over the clear turquoise water to see a smattering of black and white-tipped reef sharks.
- The Tortoise Breeding Center, run by the Galapagos National Park, offers visitors a chance to see the giant tortoises for which the archipelago is named up close in all stages of life, from egg to adolescent all the way to adult. Conservationists carefully breed and raise these gentle giants in captivity until they are mature enough to be released into their natural habitats.
- For the active explorers, a trek up to the rim of the active Sierra Negra Volcano, with its massive 10km caldera, makes for an unforgettable experience!
Other visitor sites on Isabela
Although the following Isabela Island visitor sites aren’t accessible from Puerto Villamil, they are exciting spots to see on a cruise –
- Punta Moreno & Elizabeth Bay: Great for snorkeling or trekking over hardened lava flows to panoramic lookout points.
- Urbina Bay: A great place to take a short walk through arid beach vegetation where large land iguanas live and an interesting spot geologically where volcanic activity in 1954 pushed part of the seabed right out of the water.
- Tagus Cove: This has been used as an anchorage point for centuries, for everything from the pirates and whalers of the 18th century to the yachts and sailboats that cruise these waters today – it’s great for a short but intense hike to a viewpoint and snorkeling.
Where to stay
If you’re planning a land-based tour, then picking out the right hotel makes all the difference. For easy access to the beach, Puerto Villamil has several waterfront hotels. These tend to be on the more expensive end, but in the Galapagos Islands, you really do get what you pay for, and these hotels feature luxurious accommodations, gourmet food, and excellent service.
There are many other more economical options in town as well, which still offer great service and comfortable rooms, but might be a bit less decadent than the luxury hotels and tend to be at least a few blocks from the beach.
If you want a unique lodging experience on Isabela Island, consider staying at a lodge or hotel in the highlands. You will be much more secluded and find yourself immersed in the verdant vegetation of the highlands.