Isabela largest island in the Galapagos

Isabela of the Galapagos Islands: Individual tours for volcano trekking, bike riding, and snorkeling

I thought about that lone penguin shrilling on his perch. I thought about those boobies with the bright turquoise feet, doing their little mating dance. If you wanted to find the road less traveled in the Galapagos, all you really had to do was show up. Because the entire archipelago is off the beaten path.

Our New Book

Hiking for the Island Panoramic

Volcan Chico yawned a few miles ahead, with the promise of lunch and a spectacular view. A panorama of the neighboring islands, from an altitude of 4920 feet. Almost 5000 feet below lay the roiling ocean that had spawned this archipelago, expelling landmass from its fiery underwater lair in a series of volcanic eruptions. Thirteen major, six minor and innumerable islets comprised the Galapagos--borne from Poseidon's wrath.

Biking to the Wall of Tears

We've been exploring Isabela. On our first day we rented bicycles from our hotel, and headed out on our own, biking along a deserted road skirting the coastline. Headed to el Muro de Las Lagrimas (the Wall of Tears), another trail well off the beaten path. Always within earshot, though concealed behind a wetland forest of black manglares (mangroves), the crashing waves matched the rhythm of my pedaling. Neptune's thunder, the breakers rumbled into shore, according to the whim of the tides. When the swells retreated, and their resonance faded, leaving only whispers of foam along the sand...I was following the same tempo. Six miles later, we reached el Muro, an impenetrable rock 'wall' built by prisoners in the 1950s, when Isabela housed a penal colony. We scaled the steps to the lookout point at the top. Being a clear day, we were able to distinguish other islands within the Galapagos chain. Back down at ground level, I was contemplating the ride back, when my son Nicolas yelled, "Mama, to you." I did look, and much to my surprise, I saw a young tortoise, half camouflaged in the thorny underbrush. He was munching on something green--either an Opuntia cactus leaf or fruit from a poisoned apple tree--and like all the other wildlife on Isabela, was completely oblivious to our presence. He went right on ruminating, chewing the vegetation in his unhurried manner, while the shutters of our cameras clicked. For him, it was a typical afternoon in June, South America's late autumn...a little bit humid, but devoid of mosquitos and the sweltering heat of a November summer. We did more than hike and bike, we planned a snorkeling excursion -- a Tunnels tour.

Snorkling and Exploring The Tunnels

The Los Tuneles (The Tunnels) tour included a good 60 minutes over open seas from Port Villamil by speedboat. It had been a veritable National Geographic aquatic life experience. Pez volador (flying fish) leaping from the wave crests, like shimmery rocks; classy sea turtles skimming the surface; and an enormous raya (manta ray) showing off its blinding white underside as it jumped from the water.

Isabela largest island in the Galapagos
When we finally arrived at the treacherous entrance, our captain, Leonardo, slowed to a crawl; manual guidance was required to navigate through the lava rock. The tranquil water of The Tunnels lapped gently against the side of our boat, easing us through the maze. "This is what people try to make their saltwater aquariums look like," remarked Elizabeth Abrahams, a teacher from San Francisco. She was right. With its emerald tincture, and barely discernible ebb, the ocean favored an enormous fish tank, replete with colorful parrot fish and interesting geologic formations which sported candelabra cactuses and lichen blooms. In some places, the arcos de roca (rock arches) barely peeked out of the water; thus earning the nickname of our attraction--Los Tuneles.

In their own bizarre fashion, these archways of cooled magma truly resembled tunnels...gateways to a bountiful underwater paradise of hammerheads, corals, sea cucumbers, and chocolate-chip starfish. A tortuga (turtle) paddled by me, swimming with such elegance that by time I finished marveling at its gracefulness to focus my camera, I ended up with a picture of its tail. Shame about that...memories fade, photographs don't.

Appreciating the Wildlife

It seemed as if every destination here on Isabela was off the beaten path. After all, who would have expected an enclave of submerged lava tunnels in the middle of the Pacific? After snorkeling, Leonardo successfully maneuvered us back through the serpentining channels. We bid adieu to the colonies of piqueros (blue-footed boobies) nesting on the rocks. At the last outcropping of rock, sitting on a ledge, a defiant Galapagos penguin squawked at our passing.

Though small for his species, there was nothing wrong with his vocal cords. Head tilted back full hilt, his yammering reverberated audibly across the crystalline waters. I wondered what he was saying in his private pinguino tongue. Perhaps, "don't come back. You're bothering me." Or maybe that was just his way of enticing one of us tourists to toss him a sardine snack. The little fellow apparently decided that no-one was going to wing a fish his way, so he plunged into the chilly surf, in search of his own krill. Into the cold Humboldt temperatures, the 'current' that allowed him and all the other Galapagos penguins to live right at the equator. Adaptation and evolution -- that had long been Darwin's interpretation of the islands' endemic wildlife.

Have a comment to share? Like us on Facebook - OffbeatTravelCom and post your comment.

Read more about Central and South America travel

Vickie Lillo is a Florida-based travel writer, multi-lingual, and an avid adventure traveler who appreciates meeting new people and experiencing new cultures from around the world. She is proud to say that she has already given the gift of the love for travel to her son.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: August 23, 2016

© 2016