Posted by: Jena Davison | March 3, 2012

Isla de la Plata: A Glimpse into the Galápagos

For those who don’t have the budget to splurge on a Galápagos trip, a visit Isla de la Plata, also known as the “Poor Man’s Galápagos,” may be enough to satisfy your interest. Or it may do just the opposite and make you crave seeing more, as such beauty can often do, and push you to realize that the $1000 + for a tour to the Galápagos is totally worth it.

Tortugas, Isla de la Plata

No matter which way you are swayed, you will have the unique opportunity to peek into a small population of Galápagos wildlife at Isla de la Plata for the bargain price of $30-40 in off-season and $60-70 in high season. Only an hour and a half off the coast of Ecuador from  Puerto López, a small fishing village in Manabí province, Isla de la Plata is certainly one of the most popular day trips in the area and a reason many people come to this part of the coast.

Isla de la Plata from Boat

You cannot travel to the island independently, but you will have no problem finding a tour guide to bring you there; several tour operators line  Puerto López’s Malecón and you are bound to be approached by lots of individual guides who will try to convince you to reserve a spot on their boats. Most of the companies offer nearly identical tours, leaving Puerto López at 9:30 a.m. and returning around 4:30 p.m., including boat transport, a guided walk on one of the island’s bird-watching trails, snorkeling equipment and a light lunch of fruit and sandwiches. The more reputable ones are safer and have boats equipped with life jackets, etc.

Debarking Boat at Isla de la Plata

As the boat approaches Isla de la Plata, the first thing you will notice is the tons of birds flying overhead. The most famous species here are the Blue-footed Boobies, Red-footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies and Fragatas, which live on different parts of the island. Your guide will choose one of the trails to walk on, which will depend on what birds you will see along the way. Our guide took us to see the Blue-footed Boobies, which was an easy hour-long walk. Some of the other trails are much harder and longer, though. The sun beating down was the biggest challenge; make sure to wear sunblock and to bring lots of water!

Blule-footed Boobie Up Close

Blue-footed Boobies on Cliff

Baby and Mama Blue-footed Boobies

It is important to note that Isla de la Plata is very different in wet and dry season. The landscape during wet season is green and inhabited by lots of plants, meaning most of the birds can be found on the cliffs’ edges or flying overhead. During dry season, when the island’s plants dry up and become a tangle of branches, birds roam freely around the island and it is possible to see more species close up. Dry season also coincides with whale-watching season, which is also high season, spanning June-September. At this time, Isla de la Plata tours are more expensive, but include whale-watching on the way. No matter when you choose to go, bring your camera!

Isla de la Plata During Wet Season

Hiking on Isla de la Plata During Wet Season

In the afternoon, we went snorkeling, which was a definite highlight. The water was cool and refreshing after the sweaty hike. We were provided with goggles and snorkels and were given about 45 minutes to swim around and enjoy the colorful and shimmery schools of fish below. I really wish I had an underwater camera to capture them; they all swam right up to us!

Isla de la Plata Shoreline

Isla de la Plata is part of Parque Nacional Machalilla, Ecuador’s only coastal national park. As of 2012, all of Ecuador’s national parks are free (except the Galápagos), so you will not need to pay an entry fee, as required in the past.

Fun Fact: The island was named such in 1579 after Sir Francis Drake successfully looted a Spanish treasure ship called “Nuestra Señora de la Concepción,” popularly known as “Cacafuego,” and brought the stolen gold, silver and other goods to Isla de la Plata to split up among him and his men. Isla de la Plata literally means “Island of the Silver.”

All photos were taken by Jena Davison at Isla de la Plata, Ecuador.  © All Rights Reserved 2012.



  1. Jena,

    Thank you for this post.

    You reminded me of my only trip to the Galapagos, when I snorkeled so much that seawater entered my ear and I lost my hearing for a week. I didn’t have an underwater camera either…

    That’s great information about the park fees. I didn’t know that!


  2. We did Isla Salango 🙂 Would love a write-up on Isla de la Plata with some photos, great shots… will pay ya, let me know!

    • Would definitely be interested in writing up Isla de la Plata…will email you directly about this!

  3. Hi Jena! Do you remember what tour company you used to do Isla de la Plata? My dad is coming to visit, and I’m tentatively thinking about a trip in the south that would involve a day and a half in Montanita and then going to Puerto Lopez in order to do Isla de la Plata and Los Frailles. Do you think this is all doable in about three days? Thanks so much for your input 🙂

    • Hey Bronwyn! Yes, the name of the tour company was Machalilla Tours, which is on the main malecón in Puerto López. In general, it seemed as if most of the tour companies offered similar tours to the Isla for similar prices. I think three days to do all that would be a bit rushed. You wouldn’t really be able to do both Los Frailes and Isla de La Plata in one day, so you would need two full days in Puerto López to take advantage of it. The Isla de la Plata tours leave like 9 a.m. and don’t return until 4 p.m. That said, you could use Puerto López as your base for the whole time and just go to Montañita for one day to make it work. Hope that helps!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: