Isabela is the largest of the Galapagos islands, covering 58% (46,000 km2) of the total land area, but with just 2,500 inhabitants in and around the sleepy town of Puerto Villamil. First settled in 1897 (Antonio Gil’s descendents still live here), the island was a US air base during the Second World War, then a penal colony. There are several small hotels and guest houses and a fine sandy beach (perfect for families).
After this was abolished in 1959, colonisation increased. Initially the main activity was agriculture (in the damper and fertile zone under the Sierra Negra volcano), then fishing, and more recently tourism. Five volcanoes dominate the island: Cerro Azul and Sierra Negra in the south, Alcedo in the centre, and Darwin and Wolf in the north. It was formed less than a million years ago.
From the village one can visit Concha de Perla, a protected area ideal for snorkelling or a swim; Las Tintoreras, a protected area near the port, and highly recommended; the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre (two local species); the Wall of Tears trails (Muro de las Lagrimas); and Sierra Negra volcano - a 22 km dirt road leads from Villamil to the highlands, where many villagers have their farms. The main crater, around the rim of which one can walk, is the second largest in the world after the Ngorongoro in Tanzania.
Elsewhere yacht visitor sites include: Elizabeth Bay - a narrow passage lined with mangroves with good views of the marine life, including marine turtles, rays and flightless cormorants. Tagus Cove - opposite Punta Espinosa, the cliffs are covered with graffiti of ship’s names going back hundreds of years and dolphins are often seen. A trail leads up past a parasitic crater with salty water that seeps in through an underground fissure, and at the top there are fine views of the lava fields from Darwin’s volcano. Urvina Bay - remains of a coral reef uplifted from the sea.
Our preferred accommodation
Hotel AlbermarleBeach hotel - On the beachA small hotel with a very good position on Puerto Villamil's wide beach, not far from the muelle (pier) where the larger boats arrive. It has a fresh water swimming pool and restaurant, and there are good views from the roof terrace.
Iguana CrossingBeach hotel - On the beachProbably the most comfortable hotel on Isabela Island, surrounded by the coastal wetlands and overlooking a beach. There is a hot tub on the roof with fantastic views, and on the ground floor there is a pool and bar.
La Casa de MaritaBeach hotel - On the beachPeruvian Marita de Zecchettin and her Italian husband run this popular and well-known boutique hotel, which is right on the beach in front of Puerto Villamil village. They have a good restaurant and charming staff. As the building has grown organically it is slightly quirky.
Scalesia LodgeLodge/Hosteria - Highlands of IsabelaA tented camp on a 16 hectare property in the misty highlands of Isabela island, about 14km (a 20 minute drive) from the town of Puerto Villamil. In the main building there is a communal lounge for relaxation and reading as well as a dining room.