Island profile: Isabela

Isla Isabela is the largest island of the archipelago. Isabela was named after Queen Isabela of Spain who lived and ruled in the 15th Century. She supported and financed Christopher Columbus’ 1492 voyage that led to the discovery of the New World. 

Alcedo Volcano © Christian Ziegler

Alcedo Volcano © Christian Ziegler

Isabela is one of the youngest islands in the archipelago, in geographical terms, as it is only 1 million years old. The island is made up of six volcanoes merged together, Ecuador, Wolf, Darwin, Alcedo, Sierra Negra, and Cerro Azul. All of the volcanoes except Ecuador are still active. The most famous volcano on the island is the Sierra Negra Volcano; its caldera measures 10km across from north to south and 9km from east to west, and is considered to be the second largest caldera in the world.

Isabela’s geographical placement makes it one of the most interesting and unique land masses on the planet. Isabela is the only island to sit astride the equator and the islands placement, just on the end of the upwelling of the Humboldt Current. This ocean current brings huge amounts of fertile plankton from across the pacific right to the shores of Galapagos, creating nutrient rich waters and an incredible diversity in flora, fauna and the local marine life. The waters around Isabela are some of the most extraordinary on the planet, a huge variation in fish in the waters attracts predators such as Galapagos sharks, bullhead sharks and reef sharks. The west coast of Isabela in the Bolivar Channel is the best place in Galapagos for viewing cetaceans; some 16 species of whales have been identified in the area including humpback, sperm, sei, minke and orcas.

Orca © Tim & Kate Bradley

© Tim & Kate Bradley

The young island does not follow the vegetation zones of the other islands, boasting a very complex and interesting collection of lowland vegetation. This uniqueness is due to the relatively new lava fields and surrounding soils. The soils have not developed the sufficient nutrients required to support the varied life zones found on other islands, therefore very unusual flora and fauna grow. The highlands of the southern part of the island and is home to abundant vegetation due to the southeast trade winds.

Puerto Vilamil is the only town on Isabela. With a population of approximately 1,800 people, the primary economy for this town used to be fishing, however now the inhabitants have turned their attention to tourism. A small airport has opened on the east coast of the island, and paved roads and a small selection of guesthouses have emerged in recent years.

Isabela is home to many endangered and endemic animals, some with a range of just a few square kilometres such as the mangrove finch. The Galapagos penguin and the flightless cormorant are two incredibly endangered residents of the island, with under a thousand individuals of each species. Other endangered species include marine iguanas, land iguanas, boobies, pelicans and Sally Lightfoot crabs, Darwin’s finches, Galapagos hawks and Galapagos doves.