🏝 Isabela Island, Galapagos: Ultimate Guide for First Visits (2024)

Isabela Island Galapagos blog cover image. Text overlaying an image of the Isabela sign on white sand with the blue ocean and sky in the background.

Isabela is one of only four inhabited islands where you can stay overnight on a trip to the Galapagos. It was our favorite island for beach days and the quietest we stayed on as well.

Puerto Villamil is the only major town on Isabela island. Accordingly, this is where you will find most of the restaurants, bars, shops, tour operators, and accommodation.

Notably, the town has been built along a pristine expanse of tropical white sand beach known appropriately as Playa Puerto Villamil. This proximity to the beach is the reason we, like many vacationers, prefer Isabela Island to Santa Cruz and San Cristobal.

In this ultimate guide to Isabela Island, we will explain everything you need to know for your first visit to the island based on our recent first-hand experience in 2023.

This includes information on how to get to Isabela, the best things to do, and where to stay and eat there.

πŸ™‚ Our Experience Visiting Isabela Island in 2023

The We Dream of Travel team crouch behind a pair of blue footed boobies at Los Tuneles on Isabela Island in the Galapagos.
Mom, Adam, and Sophie watching a blue-footed booby mating dance on Isabela Island.

In April 2023, we (Adam, Sophie & Adam’s 70-year-old mom) spent two weeks in the Galapagos islands with the goal of creating up-to-date travel guides for future visitors.

We stayed on the three major islands during our time, including 3 nights on Isabela Island. It was not our favorite, but there was a lot we loved about it!

Most notably, Isabela has the largest and most accessible beach among the inhabited islands. Finding accommodation right on the sand is easy, surprisingly affordable, and only an option on Isabela Island.

Isabela is also the quietest of the major islands with the least development and tourist services (for better or worse)!

🦎 Isabela Island Tips & Overview

Before you dive into the specific details of where to go and what to do in Isabela, you may want to familiarize yourself with some of the basics.

Below is a quick snapshot of what to expect from the island and our top tips to know before visiting.

Isabela Island Overview

Main TownPuerto Villamil
AirportIsabela Galapagos Airport (JBQ)
*inter-island flights only, no mainland service
Get ThereInter-island flights and ferry from Santa Cruz or San Cristobal.
Known ForBest Galapagos island for beach vacations.
Quiet island with sufficient tourist services.
HighlightsPlaya Isabela, Concha de Perla, Las Tintoreras, Volcan Sierra Negra
Time ZoneGMT-6 (one hour behind mainland Ecuador)

Top Tips for Visiting Isabela Island

A sea lion resting on a bench on Isabela Island Galapagos.
Bring CashMost businesses only accept cash and ATMs are unreliable in Galapagos.
Internet & WiFiFree WiFi is available in many places but is very slow in Galapagos.
Cell ServiceCell service is patchy, but data can be more reliable than WiFi in main towns. Claro provides the best coverage on the islands and SIM cards are cheaper to buy on mainland Ecuador prior to flying out.
SunscreenSunscreen on the islands is very expensive and the sun is strong, so be sure to bring plenty with you. Ensure you are using reef-safe sunscreen to protect the incredible marine life.
ToursYou can save some money by booking tours when you arrive on the islands. However, you risk the most popular tours being sold out. Consider booking online, or at least arrange your tours as soon as you arrive.
FerriesYou will likely be traveling between islands using the inter-island ferry. These often sell out in advance, so you will want to consider booking tickets online in advance. Tickets cost $30 on island or $35 online in advance.

Map of the Galapagos Islands

A color coded map of the Galapagos Islands showing inhabited islands and those accessible by day trip or cruise, plus ferry routes custom made by We Dream of Travel.

The map of the Galapagos Islands above shows the archipelago in its entirety.

It has been color-coded to indicate the islands that are inhabited and can be stayed on, those accessible by day tour, and those that are accessible via cruise ship only.

In addition, ferry services and airports are indicated by the appropriate symbols.


Map of Isabela Galapagos

Map showing all the best things to do, points of interest, and where to stay in Isabela Island Galapagos.
Map of Isabela Island.

We’ve put together a Google Map of all the places mentioned in this Isabela Island blog post.

You can click here to open the map of Isabela, or click on the image above.

✈️ How to Get to Isabela

There are no direct flights to Isabela Island from outside of the Galapagos archipelago.

The only way to get to Isabela island is to fly into Santa Cruz or San Cristobal, then take an inter-island flight or ferry onward.

Getting to Isabela From Mainland Ecuador

Daytime photo of the Welcome to Isabela island sign on Playa Isabela.

There are only two cities in the world with direct flights to the Galapagos islands, and both are located on mainland Ecuador. Those cities are Quito and Guayaquil.

You do not need any reservations, guides, or permits to fly to the Galapagos, but you will need to purchase an INGALA Tourist Control Card (TCT) from a dedicated desk at the airport prior to departing from the mainland. This costs just $20 and takes about 15 minutes.

You will also want to have cash ready upon arrival in the Galapagos to pay the $100 per person entry fee. These fees are both important to factor into your Galapagos trip cost.

From Quito or Guayaquil, you can fly into San Cristobal (SCY) or Santa Cruz / Baltra (GPS) in the Galapagos. The best way to get to Isabela from here depends on which island you are traveling from:

  • From Santa Cruz: Take the short inter-island ferry.
  • From San Cristobal: Take an inter-island flight.


Getting to Isabela By Plane

View from plane window arriving in the Galapagos showing a coastline comprised of white sand beaches, lava rock, and turquoise ocean.

There is a small airport on Isabela island, but it is only available for inter-island flights from Santa Cruz or San Cristobal.

From San Cristobal

We recommend flying as the alternative is to take two separate ferries and lose an entire day.

The plane costs a bit more, but is reasonably priced and comes with the benefit of having a scenic flight over the beautiful Galapagos archipelago.

From Santa Cruz

We recommend taking the ferry.

The ferry is cheaper than a flight, requires a similar overall time commitment, and departs from town rather than from the distant island of Baltra (where the Santa Cruz airport resides). Flights are an option, however, for those interested.


Getting to Isabela By Ferry

A view of Santa Cruz island taken from the back of the Galapagos ferry on the way to Isabela island.

The most common way to get to Isabela Island is to take the ferry from Puerto Ayora, which is the main town on Santa Cruz. From here, the ferry is only about 2-2.5 hours and costs only $30 locally, or $35 online in advance.

You will find ferry tickets available from San Cristobal to Isabela, but there are actually two separate journeys required for this trip. The first is the morning ferry ride from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz, and the second is the afternoon ferry from Santa Cruz to Isabela.

There is no direct ferry between San Cristobal and Isabela that does not stop at Santa Cruz.

Ferrying from San Cristobal to Isabela will consume an entire day, so our recommendation is to avoid this in favor of the inter-island flight, if possible.

πŸš• How to Get Around Isabela Island

A marine iguana walking across Playa Puerto Villamil on Isabela island Galapagos,

The best way to get around Isabela Island is by walking! All of the accommodation and tourist services for the island are located in the town of Puerto Villamil, which is located directly adjacent to the beach.

From where you will be staying in Puerto Villamil, all of the major attractions and the starting point for tours will be within easy walking distance.

For some of the remote destinations you may wish to visit, there are buses and affordable taxis available, as well as bicycle rentals for the truly adventurous.

There are no car rentals available in the Galapagos islands.

🏠 Where to Stay in Isabela

Best Areas to Stay in Isabela (Galapagos)

At no cost to you, we receive a small amount for any bookings made using the links below.

A view looking down the Main Pier toward the town of Puerto Villamil taken from the Isabela island malecon.

The area of Puerto Villamil is the best and only option you have for staying on Isabela Island.

Even if it were not the only option, it would still be where you would want to stay.

Puerto Villamil is built up directly along a lengthy expanse of white sand beach that runs for 2.5 miles (4km). This means that you can find affordable hotel rooms that literally open up onto the sand.

In addition to the beautiful beach, Puerto Villamil is also where you will find the Main Pier and most attractions including the flamingo lagoon and several popular snorkeling spots.

Best Hotels in Isabela (Galapagos)

A girl sips a cup of coffee at a luxury breakfast from her hotel above Playa Isabela.
Enjoying breakfast with a view at Cormorant Beach House.
Approximate Hostel Price
(bed in a dorm room)
Starting at $15
Approximate Budget Price
(basic private room in a hotel, hostel, or homestay)
Starting at $30
Average Midrange Price
(3+ star hotel rooms and apartments)
Starting at $70
Average Luxury Price
(5-star hotels, entire homes, and villas)

Accommodation on Isabela island is far more limited than on the more popular Galapagos islands of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal.

There are no luxury or 5-star hotels on Isabela island, but you will find a sufficient number of budget and mid-range options with upside.

For example, there are plenty of excellent and affordable beach-front options, such as Cormorant Beach House or Sandy Feet Beach House, as well as boutique options such as Chez Manany Galapagos Eco Lodge that will have a semi-luxurious feel.

Below are our recommendations for top-rated hotels on Isabela Island:


πŸ“Έ Best Things to Do in Isabela

Isabela island is best known for the pristine white sand beach that runs parallel to town, and for the numerous volcanoes you will see while exploring the island.

There are limited activities and destinations available that do not require booking a tour, but below are all of the best things you can do on Isabela on your own.

Following this section, you will discover the best beaches, tours, and day trips to consider in addition to these self-guided options.

1. Snorkel at Concha de Perla

A pod of beautiful spotted eagle rays are photographed underwater while snorkeling on Isabela island in Galapagos.

Concha de Perla is an incredible snorkeling site located next to the Main Pier on Isabela Island.

This natural pool is set amidst the mangroves. It is home to a diverse population of marine life including eagle rays and sea turtles, and even the occasional Galapagos penguin.

The platform is also typically littered with sea lions and marine iguanas, making for a uniquely Galapagos wildlife experience.

As you can snorkel at Concha de Perla for free and have the chance of some epic wildlife encounters, this rates as one of the best things to do for anyone visiting Isabela Island.

2. Walk to Flamingo Lagoon

Three flamingos bathe in the water at Flamingo Lagoon on Isabela island in the Galapagos.

Known locally as Posada De Flamengos, this small lagoon is home to a small population of flamingos.

You are not able to get very close to them, but it is pretty neat to see flamingos if you never have before.

You will likely stop here on the way to Sierra Negra if you plan on hiking the volcano.

If not, consider just walking to Sendero de los Flamencos near town instead.

3. See Baby Tortoises at Centro de Crianza Breeding Center

A baby Galapagos tortoise is photographed having a snack at Arnaldo Tupiza Tortoise Breeding Center, one of the best things to do in the Galapagos islands from Isabela.

The Arnaldo Tupiza Tortoise Breeding Center (Centro de Crianza Tortugas Gigantes Arnaldo Tupiza) on Isabela Island is home to all 5 different subspecies of giant Galapagos tortoise that are native to Isabela.

Here, they are hatched and incubated as part of a breeding program to increase the population of wild tortoises being threatened by newly introduced species and volcanic activity.

You will have the opportunity to see lots of baby tortoises as well as a few adults.

4. Walk or Bike to the Wall of Tears

The Wall of Tears (El Muro de las Lágrimas) on Isabela Island Galapagos.

The Wall of Tears (El Muro de las LΓ‘grimas) is a 1-hour bike ride (or 2-hour walk) each way from Puerto Villamil.

The site itself is just a wall of lava rock in the middle of nowhere. As far as Galapagos attractions go, it isn’t the most interesting.

However, it is worth a visit if you’re physically able and interested in human history.

Additionally, the cycle itself is fun! Along the way, it is common to spot wild Galapagos tortoises and other wildlife, plus you will have some beautiful viewpoints over the coast.

5. Walk the Sendero de los Flamencos Boardwalk

Two Galapagos flamingos wade through mirror-like water with their reflections showing.

The Sendero de los Flamencos is a short boardwalk that you can walk to from town which traces a lagoon habitat where flamingos typically congregate.

You can continue your walk through the wetlands (humedales in Spanish) to find mangroves and Opuntia cacti.

This area is a great place for bird watchers and you can see a variety of avian life, including pintail ducks and the critically endangered mangrove finch.

If you continue on to El Estero, you can even spot the occasional Galapagos penguin!


🏝 Best Beaches in Isabela

1. Playa Puerto Villamil (Playa Isabela)

A perfect sunny day on the beach at Isabela island in the Galapagos with palm trees blowing in the breeze.

Playa Puerto Villamil, informally known as Playa Isabela or Isabela Beach, is a beautiful stretch of coastline that extends 2.5 miles (4km) westward from the main pier at Puerto Villamil.

This is the most accessible beach in all of the Galapagos islands and is the primary reason for choosing to stay on Isabela Island over Santa Cruz or San Cristobal.

Shade is quite limited, as are services once you get past the town limits, but there are basic toilets at the far end of the beach as well.

2. La Playita

A small group of marine iguanas scurry out to see at La Playita Beach on Isabela island with Volcan Cerro Azul in the distance.

Appropriately named, La Playita (which translates to “Little Beach”) is a small sandy shoreline located just beyond the expansive, aforementioned Puerto Villamil Beach.

The main appeal of visiting La Playita is the seclusion. While Playa Isabela will typically be abuzz with tourists, those who venture just 1.5 miles further will likely discover their own little piece of Galapagos paradise.

There are basic toilets available near the beach, but be sure to bring your own toilet paper!

3. Playa del Amor

A well camouflaged marine iguana perches on lava rock on Isabela Beach.

Even further along the shoreline, you’ll find Playa del Amor.

This small beach is not quite as good for relaxing or swimming due to the volume of lava rock here.

However, it is a great place for spotting marine iguanas and for solitude.

You can also occasionally spot sea turtles here.

4. Playa del Embarcadero

A sea lion sat posing on the sand at Playa del Embarcadero on Isabela Island Galapagos

Playa del Embarcadero is really just a small patch of sand near the pier. However, it is a good place to spot both sea lions and marine iguanas.

You will typically find large numbers of each laying in the shade of the trees around the beach, as well as on their way to and from the water.

It is best visited before or after a day tour that leaves from here, or on your way to Concha de Perla. Otherwise, you will see it as you arrive or depart by ferry from Isabela.


⛡️ Best Day Tours from Isabela

One of the best things to do in Galapagos is to simply enjoy a beach day, and Isabela is the best island for this. Unfortunately, most other activity requires an official national park guide and/or day tours.

The following are the best things to do on Isabela that require you to arrange a tour (meaning they cannot be done on your own).

1. Los Tuneles (Cabo Rosa) Tour

A young man crouched behind a blue footed booby at Los Tuneles Isabela Island Galapagos

Assuming you have an interest in snorkeling, taking a tour of Los Tuneles is one of the best things to do in Galapagos and our top choice of things to do on Isabela Island.

On this tour, you will explore an underwater world surrounding ancient lava tunnels.

On the land, this is the best place in Galapagos for seeing the iconic blue-footed boobies up close and personal.

A host of interesting submarine landscapes and tons of marine life await you underwater.

In particular, the sea turtles here are incredibly plentiful and it is one of the few places to reliably encounter sea horses.

2. Sierra Negra Volcano Hike

Looking out across the Sierra Negra crater from the viewpoint shows a huge black expanse of lava rock edged with lush green vegetation.

The Sierra Negra volcano hike takes you to the rim of the great caldera of a still-active volcano.

From the rim, visitors will gaze across a black, baron landscape that abuts a lush green mountainside.

The length of the hike varies from 4-10+ miles (6-16+ km). This depends on the tour you select as some stop at the first viewpoint, whereas others continue on to Volcan Chico.

For those that prefer, there is also the option to ride horseback to Sierra Negra.

3. Las Tintoreras Tour

A sea lion sits on a rock amongst kayakers at Tintoreras on Isabela Island.

There are a number of different tours that you can take to Tintoreras, so be sure to select the one that sounds best to you.

These can include kayaking only, snorkeling and kayaking, or a boat ride and snorkeling. Some even include landing on Tintoreras islet.

We highly recommend booking a tour that includes snorkeling and kayaking. Reaching Tintoreras by kayak is a much more fun way of getting there.

However, you will also want to get in the water as it’s harder to make out the marine life from your kayak.

During the cold season, Tintoreras is a common spot to see Galapagos penguins. Year-round you have a good chance of seeing sea lions, turtles, white-tip reef sharks, and rays, as well as various birds.

4. Sulfur Mine Tour (Minas de Azufre)

Highlightsβ€’ Dramatic volcanic landscapes
Cost$80+ locally, $100+ online
DurationHalf Day
Fumaroles and vibrant volcanic landscapes seen on a Galapagos day tour to the sulfur mines on Isabela Island.

For many years sulfur was mined here for use as sulfuric acid in many chemical and pharmaceutical processes.

Today, the mines are no longer in use but provide a unique otherworldly scenery of green and yellow rock.

A tour to the sulfur mines starts with a 45-minute drive to the Galapagos National Park checkpoint.

From here, you will hike for around 2 miles (3km) to the mines where you can spot sulfur emissions rising up out of fumaroles.

There is also the option to reach the mines by bicycle or horseback for those who prefer not to hike.

5. Isla Tortuga Day Tour

Underwater photo of a starfish burrowed into coral in the Galapagos islands.

Just a short boat ride from Isabela Island is the small islet known as Isla Tortuga or Turtle Island, supposedly named for its shape rather than inhabitants.

The snorkeling is excellent for spotting hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, blacktip reef sharks, manta rays, eagle rays, and starfish!

It is also a great place to spot a lot of seabirds, including blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, frigate birds, and lava gulls.

6. Los 4 Hermanos & Cartago Bay

A green sea turtle seen snorkeling in the Galapagos islands

One hour by speed boat from Isabela are four island rock formations known as Los 4 Hermanos (The 4 Brothers).

This is one of the best snorkeling spots in all of Galapagos. The deep sea site offers a high chance of seeing pelagic fish as well as hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, and manta rays.

A day tour will also include a stop at Cartago Bay, which offers a sheltered area for shallow-water snorkeling. Here you are likely to swim with sea turtles, rays, sharks, and a variety of fish.


πŸ›³οΈ Best Cruise Stops on Isabela

Isabela Island is the largest of the Galapagos islands but the infrastructure outside of Puerto Villamil is severely lacking. As such, some of the best things to do on the island can only be done as part of a cruise.

The cold currents of the Bolivar Channel between Isabela and Fernandina bring some of the richest waters in the area. This, in turn, attracts a wealth of marine life, including whales, dolphins, and mola-mola (sunfish).

Isabela Island is one of the few islands in the Galapagos that is home to penguins and flightless cormorants. These are most populous on the west coast of the island, in areas that visitors can only get to via cruise ship.

The best cruise stops on Isabela Island include:

  • Punta Vicente Roca
  • Tagus Cove
  • Bahia Urbina (Urbina Bay)
  • Punto Albermarle (Albermarle Point)
  • Punta Moreno (Moreno Point)
  • Elizabeth Bay

🍽 Where to Eat & Drink in Isabela

While the dining options are more limited on Isabela Island than on San Cristobal and Santa Cruz, you will still find a reasonable number of places for eating and drinking to fit all budgets and preferences.

As you might expect, local food comes with a local price tag (typically about $5 per meal), while European, Asian, and American fare is available at a similar price to what you’d pay back home.

Best Ambiance: Royal Rock

While much of our time in the Galapagos was spent on a self-guided adventure, we joined Inspiring Ecuador for a group tour for our time on Isabela.

Our first meal together was at Royal Rock Grill, which provides the best views and ambiance on the island.

The food was fairly average, but the experience is worth the walk and the prices are reasonable.

Best Local Food: Albita Grill

The set dinner options at Albita Grill are an excellent option for anyone wanting to try Ecuadorian food and/or enjoy a cheap meal.

We ate at local restaurants for most meals during our two weeks in Ecuador, and this was on our top 3 favorites for local fare. We both had the grilled fish which comes with rice, beans, plantain, salad, and juice for $7.

Our Favorite Meal: Shawarma

We were recommended to try Shawarma by a local in Santa Cruz and it did not disappoint. In fact, we ended up eating here on multiple occasions!

The food was great and very cheap and offered some much-needed alternative flavors to the usual options. We tried both their burgers and shawarma and enjoyed both.

πŸ™‹β€β™€οΈ FAQs About Isabela

Palm trees sway over Playa Isabela with the welcome to Isabela sign displayed in Puerto Villamil.

In this section, you will find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Isabela Island in the Galapagos that first-time visitors have.

Simply click the drop-down arrows to reveal answers.

What is Isabela island in Galapagos known for?

Isabela island is one of only 4 Galapagos islands that you can stay on, and is best known for the pristine white sand beach that runs alongside town, making it the top choice of islands for beach vacations.

Other popular attractions on Isabela island include Sierra Negra Volcano, Los Tuneles, Concha de Perla, the Wall of Tears, Centro de Crianza Tortoise Breeding Center, and Las Tintoreras (seasonal nesting site for Galapagos penguins).

Is Isabela the best Galapagos island?

Isabela island is the best Galapagos island for beach vacations specifically, but should otherwise only be considered as a secondary or tertiary option.

Santa Cruz and San Cristobal islands are much easier to get to, are more centrally located within the Galapagos archipelago, and offer more of the necessary tourist amenities.

Is Isabela Island in Galapagos worth visiting?

If you are already planning to stay on Santa Cruz island and have more than a week in Galapagos, Isabela is absolutely worth visiting and staying on for 2-3 nights.

Isabela Island boasts a more peaceful and local experience than the other inhabited islands, and offers some unique opportunities for hiking, day tours, and wildlife encounters.

How many days do you need for Isabela Galapagos?

You only need about 2 days to explore Puerto Villamil and the local attractions on Isabela island, but you will also want to add an additional day for each day tour you wish to add to your itinerary.

Some of the most popular day tours include hikes up Sierra Negra Volcano, snorkeling throughout Los Tuneles, and visits to nearby Isla Tortuga.

Can you stay on Isabela Island in Galapagos?

Isabela is one of the four Galapagos islands you can stay on overnight, but can only be reached by taking an inter-island flight or ferry from Santa Cruz or San Cristobal.

Services and accommodations are more limited on Isabela than on other islands and should only be considered as a secondary or tertiary option for a Galapagos vacation.

The islands you can stay on, in order of popularity and population, are:

  1. Santa Cruz
  2. San Cristobal
  3. Isabela
  4. Floreana
What is the best way to get around Isabela Island in the Galapagos?

Walking or renting a bike is the best way to get around Isabela Island. All of the major services such as hotels, bars, and restaurants on Isabela are located in the town of Puerto Villamil, many of which are built right onto the beach!

For some of the remote destinations you may wish to visit, there are buses and affordable taxis available, as well as bicycle rentals.

Car rentals are not available in any of the Galapagos islands.

Can you walk around Isabela Galapagos?

Puerto Villamil is the only major town on Isabela island and can be easily explored by walking or cycling.

Most of the popular attractions on Isabela that are not within walking distance of Puerto Villamil require a boat/tour to reach.

πŸ“š More Galapagos Islands Travel Guides

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below πŸ™‚

Hopefully, this guide has answered all of your questions, now it’s time for the rest of your planning!

These guides will help you through the process step-by-step, providing insight on everything from finding flights to top activities and so much more.

Planning Guides

Local Guides

Things to Do Guides

πŸ’¬ Final Thoughts

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below πŸ™‚

We truly hope you have found this complete guide to visiting Isabela island in Galapagos useful as you plan the Ecuadorian vacation of a lifetime!

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Was there any information that you found confusing, inaccurate, outdated, or missing?

Or perhaps this is the best guide you’ve found on the topic and had all of your questions answered?

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Adam Marland is a professional travel blogger and landscape photographer from Oregon. After over a decade of experience as a freelance travel photographer, Adam found national acclaim when he became the National Park Foundation's β€œChief Exploration Officer” in 2021.

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