Santa Cruz
San Cristobal
N. Seymour
Galapagos Islands
Isabela (Albemarle)
Land Iguana
Land Iguana

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 miles) across.

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 north.

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.

© Photos copyright Nova Fisher 2008