ISABELA (ALBEMARLE)

Isabela Island is by far the biggest island of the Galapagos; bigger than all the other islands combined. It is about 75 miles (121 kilometers) long and 50 miles (80 kilometers) at its widest. The total land area is 1,771 square miles (4,587 square kilometers) - bigger than Rhode Island. Composed by six shield volcanoes that have merged into a single land mass, it also has the highest point in the islands, Wolf Volcano. Isabela looks a bit like a sea horse facing toward the west. The most recent eruption was Cerro Azul in 1999. The island is still rising with a maximum elevation of 5,600 feet at Wolf Volcano. Its name comes from Queen Isabela of Spain (1451-1504) who helped Columbus get money for his voyages in the 1490's. On older maps you will see it called Albemarle, named by the English after a duke.

The northern part of Isabela is wild, remote, even forbidding. The main feature is the line of volcanoes that lie in a northwest direction. It is easy to see how the island is formed from these huge mountains fused together. Volcano Alcedo is the second largest volcano on Isabela and was once popular for visitors to climb up. However, a recent program to eliminate the tens of thousands of wild goats that plague the area has left huge numbers of carcasses on the slopes and so visitors are no longer permitted on Alcedo. Volcano Darwin was named to honor Charles Darwin, the Galapagos' most famous visitor. The equator runs through the caldera of Volcano Wolf which is named after an Ecuadorian geologist. Sailing around Volcano Ecuador you can see that half the volcano has slipped into the ocean. Scientists figure that it caused a huge tidal wave. The Bolivar Channel, between Fernandina and Isabela, is among the best places in the islands for whale watching. Here the waters are relatively shallow and up-welling brings nutrients from deeper waters so the channel is rich in plankton.

Volcano Sierra Negra is the dominant feature of Isabela's southern half. This huge mountain has the world's second largest caldera (crater) after Ngorogoro in Africa. It measures about 6 miles (9.7 kilometers) by 4.5 miles (7.25 kilometers.) Puerto Villamil is the main settlement on the island, with about 1,000 people. A dirt road leads from here to Thomas de Berlanga, a small farming community. Visitors can take a horseback ride up to the caldera around to the northeast of the crater. Here are large fumaroles; outlets from the volcano that emit steam and sulfurous gases. From here is a spectacular view of the entire island, and beyond to Santiago (James) Island. Volcano Cerro Azul is the smallest volcano on Isabela, but also the most active. It erupted for several weeks in late 1999, threatening several populations of giant tortoises that were airlifted to safety at the research center in Puerto Villamil.

Tagus Cove: On the way to Tagus Cove, the boat will sail through Bolivar Channel. These are very productive waters; whales and dolphins are often seen here. Tagus Cove was historically used as an anchoring site for pirates and whalers. The nature trail is an ascent through the typical dry vegetation zone and offers spectacular views of Darwin Lake, a saltwater crater lake and the long narrow inlet that appears to connect with it. At the top of the trail it is possible to observe the different vegetation zones, as well as catch a glimpse of Darwin and Wolf Volcanoes as well as Galapagos Penguins, Flightless Cormorants and Pelicans.

Punta Vicente Roca is located at the ‘mouth’ of the head of the sea horse, which forms the northern part of the islands. 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 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 up-welling of cold-water 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 most sought 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 island’s sixth largest volcano. Half of Volcano Ecuador slid into the ocean leaving a spectacular cutaway view of the volcanic caldera.

Urbina Bay is an easy wet landing on a gentle sloping beach. This area is very interesting in that it is a perfect example of the geological activity of the islands. In 1954 over 3 miles (5 kilometers) of the marine reef at the edge of the shore were uplifted by 13 feet (4 meters).

At Elizabeth Bay enjoy a panga ride through the mangrove area to see the rays, turtles, sea lions, and circling overhead...the Galapagos Hawks. A colony of penguins inhabit a rocky islet at the entrance to Elizabeth Bay.

Punta Moreno is a desolate and pristine landscape of very impressive black lava flows with a unique system of brackish lagoons that are a magnet for wildlife. This newly opened visitors site offers Darwin’s Finches, Galapagos Doves, Penguins, Flightless Cormorants, Blue-footed boobies, Mockingbirds. There is extraordinary and unusual vegetation here, all with a beautiful views of volcanoes Alcedo, Sierra Negra and Cerro Azul.

Isabela - Albemarle
   
General Information  
Area : 1,771 square miles (4,587 square kilometers)
Maximum Altitude : 5,600 feet (1,707 meters)
Population :  
Geographic Features : Caletas, Sierra Negra Volcano, lava tubes and cones, salt lake in crater, elevated corals.
Getting There : Private tour, cargo boat.
Getting Around : Hiking
Major Sites : Punta Moreno, Tangus Cove, Punta Tortuga, Urvina Bay, Villamil, Sierra Negra Volcano, Alcedo Volcano, Punta Albemarle, Elizabeth Bay, Punta Garcia.
Observations : Dry landing, snorkeling, visits in boats.
Flora : Mangroves, Saltbushes, Palo Santo, Shrub bushes.
Fauna : Batfish, Frogfish, Octopus, Sharks, Sponges, Flightless Cormorants, Galapagos Penguins, Marine Iguanas, Rays, Sea Turtles, Flamingos, Blue Herons, Marine Iguanas, Alcedo Tortoise, Pelicans.
Activities : Walks, snorkeling, scuba diving, bird watching, sun and beach, bars, restaurants, tours, surfing, horseback riding.