Isabela is the largest island in the archipelago,
accounting for half of the total landmass
of the Galapagos at 4,588 square kilometers.
Though narrow in places, the island runs
132 km (82 miles) from north to south. Isabella
is formed from six shield volcanoes that
merged into a single landmass. It is also
home to the highest point in the Galapagos,
Wolf Volcano at 1707 meters (5,547 feet),
and calderas of up to 20 kilometers (12.5
On the way to Tagus Cove, the we sailed through
the Bolivar Channel. These are the coldest,
most productive waters in the Galapagos,
the upwelling of the Cronwell Current, where
dolphins and whales are frequently seen.
Tagus Cove, named for a British naval vessel
that moored here in 1814, was used historically
as an anchorage for pirates and whalers. One can still find the names of
their ships carved into the rock above our
landing, a practice now prohibited, of course.
The cove's quiet waters make for an ideal
zodiac boat ride beneath its sheltered cliffs,
where blue-footed boobies, brown noddies,
pelicans and noddy terns make their nests,
and flightless cormorants and penguins inhabit
the lava ledges.
From our landing, a wooden stairway rose
to the trail entrance for a view of Darwin
Lake, a perfectly round saltwater crater, barely
separated from the ocean but above sea level!
The trail continues around the lake through
a dry vegetation zone and then climbs inland
to a promontory formed by spatter cones.
The site provides spectacular views back
toward our anchorage in the bay, as well
as Darwin Volcano and Wolf Volcano farther
Urbina Bay is directly west of Isabella's Volcano
Alcedo, where we made an easy, wet landing
(a hop into a few inches of water) onto a
gently sloping beach. In 1954, a Disney film
crew caught sight of this gleaming white
strip, and on further investigation found
pools of stranded sea creatures! To their
astonishment, three miles (5 km) of the marine reef had been uplifted by as much
as 13 feet (4 meters) in moments. Now visitors
can walk amongst the dried coral heads, mollusks
and other organisms that formed the ocean
floor. A highlight of this excursion is the
giant land iguanas, whose vivid and gaudy
yellow skin suggests that dinosaurs may have
been very colorful indeed. Giant tortoises
inhabit this coastal plain during the wet
season, before migrating to the highlands
when it turns dry. Our landing beach also
provided opportunities to snorkel amongst
marine creatures, or just relax on shore.
We take care not to step on the sea turtle
nests dug carefully into the sand.
Elizabeth Bay: A zodiac boat ride took us to a protected
mangrove lagoon, where sea lions sleep in
trees (tree lions). Sea turtles and manta
rays surface in the quiet waters while Galapagos
hawks circle overhead. Outside the lagoon
sit three islets known as Las Marielas, home
to the largest concentration of Galapagos
penguins on the islands.
Punta Moreno is a place where the forces
of the Galapagos have joined to create a
work of art. In the places where the roof
of a large swirling black-lava flow gave
way to form craters, crystal tidal pools
have formed, some surrounded by mangroves.
These are a magnet for wildlife, including
flamingo, great blue herons and pintails.
One can walk to the edge of the lava to look
straight down at the inhabitants of the pools,
including the occasional green sea turtle,
white-tipped sharks and puffer fish.