Isabela is a monster compared to the other Galapagos Islands. At 1,771 square miles, it makes up nearly three-fifths of the archipelago’s landmass. Connected by five relatively young volcanoes, two of which are sometimes active, Isabela’s sheer size makes it difficult to travel around and visit within the time frame of most tours, especially since the main sights are on the island’s far west side. Few standard tours undertow weeks in length visit Isabela, unless they skip the other major islands.
One of Isabela’s main attractions is at Urbina Bay, about midway up the island’s west coast. This uplifted plateau was underwater until 1954, as evidenced by embedded coral and other marine life. The area provides a good opportunity to see large marine iguanas, pelicans, flightless cormorants, sea turtles, and some of the few remaining mangrove finches.
The impressive Volcan Alcedo, 4,144 feet high is visible from here. If you have the time, do an overnight hike to the rim of the caldera. It offers active fumaroles and a spectacular view, and is the best place in the Galapagos to witness giant tortoises at home. Other overnight hikes include Volcan Cerro Azul and Volcan Negra (Santo Tomas). All of these hikes require permits and a willingness to rough it. Inquire well in advance at the National Park office in Puerto Ayora. Nearby is Tagus Cove, where early sailors often anchored. Look closely and you may spot their graffiti scratched into the side of cliffs, as well as possibly the Galapagos penguin and flightless cormorant.
South of Urbina Bay is Elizabeth Bay where there is no place to dock and farther west is Punta Moreno. A dry landing is available, as well as a rough trail over lava flows and among brackish pools. Wildlife here is less abundant and diverse than on other islands that have been around longer.
Nevertheless, pioneering species are evident, as well as penguins and other shore birds. The main town is Puerto Villamil, along the south coast of the island, and inhabited by a few thousand people, with the smaller village of Santo Tomas inland from here. You can arrange travel to the interior of the island from Villamil.