An Ecologist’s Dream: Puerto Villamil and Isabela Island

(c) AB Raschke
(c) AB Raschke

Much like the larger Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, Puerto Villamil has a main street, which runs along the coast (Avenue de Gil Antonio). Villamil, however, is half the size or smaller than Ayora, and the atmosphere of the place is characterized by this fact. It takes about 15 minutes to walk from one end of Puerto Villamil to the other.
(c) AB Raschke
(c) AB Raschke
There are few paved roads in the village, and all of the restaurants and shops are clustered into the center of the town.

For the most part, I found the size of the town to be enjoyable and characteristic. It was very peaceful in Puerto Villamil, and the beaches there were quiet and breathtaking.

(c) AB Raschke
(c) AB Raschke
However, there is at least one drawback to the village’s size. Restaurants in town are only open for a few hours around meal times, and for traveler’s getting off a boat from Santa Cruz around 2pm that means a long wait till dinner. There are several supermarkets near the main square of the village, however, that are well stocked with cook-able food and snacks. That being said, when the restaurants are open many of them have special lunch and dinner plates that include juice and run at about $5.

Our first trip from Puerto Villamil was out to the east of town to Concha de Perla. This is a short wooden walkway that leads from the road to a mangrove rimmed, crystal blue pool of calm ocean water. We didn’t swim here, but the place is available for the use of snorkelers, and the simple beauty of the cove is well worth the walk.

(c) AB Raschke
(c) AB Raschke
There is plenty of wildlife to be observed from the trail, and I have little doubt that taking a dip in the water would reveal even more. Just hiking we saw two sea lions, frigate birds, crabs, and a great variety of fish.

In the afternoon, we rented bikes for some longer excursions and these took us out to another tortoise breeding station, and nearly out to El Muro de los Lagrimas. The breeding station is a short bike ride up the road that runs up towards Sierra Negra, the large, active volcano in the middle of the main part of the island.

(c) AB Raschke
(c) AB Raschke
There are plenty of adult tortoises to be viewed here, and a very nice trail that loops back to the main road. Along this trail there are several small waterbodies: Poza Baltazar, and Poza Puerta de Jeli. The water here appears shallow and has an earthy color. They aren’t the most beautiful of places but they are wonderful examples of the brackish water lagoons that make up the majority of the standing freshwater habitats of the Galapagos. They are also a great place to bird watch, as a variety of different species use these areas.

After getting back from the center, we took our bikes down the long road towards El Muro de las Lagrimas. We didn’t make it the 5km to the wall, but the bike ride was well worth the effort, even in the heat of the afternoon. It passed by long stretches white sand beaches, through shady groves, and past a small graveyard of white, tiled monuments. It was on this road that we saw a free ranging tortoise, which after seeing all the animals in the breeding centers, was a pretty cool experience.

We stopped at Cerro Orchilla, where we parked our bikes at the bottom of a hill, and tiredly climbed a long set of stairs to a wooden viewing platform.

(c) AB Raschke
(c) AB Raschke
This was one of the few places where we got high enough off the ground to see over the shrub forest. From here we could see the majestic Sierra Negra, the surrounding hills and scrub forests, and the bright blue waters of the ocean. It was such a wonderful view that I had to stop and take pictures in every direction.

Finally, we hired a taxi driver from town to take us up to Sierra Negra. Unfortunately for us, the only real way to see the volcano is through a day long tour, but the taxi driver brought us up the road that leads to the volcano, showed us a wide array of different habitat types, and even let us explore some lava tubes on the side of the mountain. After spending days in the hot, dry atmosphere of the low lands, being up in the rainforests of the higher elevations was really wonderful.

(c) AB Raschke
(c) AB Raschke
The plants were exotic, and the landscape was a mix of agricultural fields and wild forests. The smell of guavas was pervasive the whole drive, and while following our driver down the small road to the lava tubes, we had the chance to snack on some of the guavas that grew along the edge of the road. On the way down, we also had the opportunity to see some of the lava fields of the island.

As amazing (and cheap) our drive up the volcano was, I regret not going on the tour of Sierra Negra. From what I have read, it is a pretty strenuous hike, but after spending most of our time in the lower climes of the islands, I would have loved to spend some time hiking at the higher elevations. If we had had more time, I would have also liked to have gone on a tour to Los Tintoreras were people get to snorkel and hike around some small, rocky islets just off of the coast.

(c) AB Raschke
(c) AB Raschke
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