The poor mans Galapagos - Isla de la Plata

Monday, January 25, 2016

I first started reading about Isla de la Plata whilst in Quito and I instantly became obsessed with the idea of visiting the island. After a few questionable boat experiences so far I convinced myself that the hour long journey would be calm and non-life- threatening. (Pray for Bryony).



Ecuador at a glance

✓ Language: Spanish

✓ Currency: US Dollar 

  Street food: $1-$5 - Expect KFC and Burger King

✓ Restaurant food: $3-$10  - Menu del Dia's are widely available 

✓ Drinking: $1-$3 

✓ Bus travel: $1 for 1 hour - Some exeptions

✓ Where to see: Puerto Lopez, Olon, Montañita


All prices in US Dollar

Quito, Baños and climbing Volcan Pichincha

We left freezing cold Quito (not exactly freezing but a much cooler climate than Colombia). We left Quito after our group decided to climb Volcan Pichincha - something I wasn't so keen on doing once we got discussing altitude, jumpers and layered clothing.

I'd like to lie and say we climbed the full 4,500 meters of Volcan Pichincha but we didn't. The cable car option was much more appealing so we climbed aboard and headed up to the start of the hike trail. The cable car can be boarded from the bottom of the Volcano where the taxis drop off and collect climbers regularly. There's toilets, coffee and snacks available. Someone recommended getting some sweets to keep us going.


Most tourists take the cable car option as it makes the hike up Volcan Pichincha doable in half a day


Climbing Volcan Pichincha

The 3 hour hike was a struggle, the altitude made my lungs feel like they were going to pop and my head was going to implode. 3 hours up, 45 minutes down goes to show how difficult it was. The weather can get tough up there two. The sun is strong but the air is cold. Pace yourself and always take enough water to keep you going.

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Nippy at the top - Our little group climbed Volcan Pichincha 
The hike isn't for the light hearted and I am the light hearted so I admit it was a struggle. Volcan Pichincha should definitely be on your to do list when visiting Quito but be prepared because it is difficult.

We left Volcan Pichincha in a taxi back to Quito ready to board a bus to Baños. With our heads still pounding from the altitude we treated ourselves to a cultured KFC before the 3 hour $3 journey to Baños - movies included.

Baños is the ultimate Ecuadorian destination to take part in water sports, swing from the edge of the world and visit some thermal pools. A must visit for adventure junkies looking to almost die in some rapids. We spent 4 nights in the cooler temperatures of  Baños when I decided I was read for some sun sea and coastal fun. Take me to the ocean.

The prospects of an 11 hour bus journey West to the Ecuadorian coast of Puerto Lopez didn't phase me at all. I knew I'd spend the whole journey fantasising about sun sea and the sand on my feet. I was ready for the coast, more than ready. Cartagena was so long ago and call me shallow but my tan had definitely faded. We selected our destination from a map, we knew we had limited options so Puerto Lopez became our destination of choice, beach here we come. It worked out at $14 USD for an overnight bus, quite expensive considering the Ecuadorian $1 per 1 hour rule we'd been reading about so frequently.

Our Ecuador travel companions - It was a pleasure


Read about my time in Baños here


Busses in Ecuador

Let me explain the Ecuador bus rule. We read in a lot of places that roughly busses in Ecuador work out as $1 USD for every hour you travel, so far we had seen this to be true in Quito and on our trip to Otavalo Market. Not bad going really especially when you're penny pinching. I maintain overnight busses are the key to saving. One overnight bus means one less accommodation to pay for! Unfortunately for us Jamie cannot for the life of him sleep on busses, hence why we have taken a lot less overnight busses than initially planned. 

Isla de la plata, ecuador
Swinging from the edge of the world at Casa del Arbol

Swing from the edge of the world at Casa del Arbol

Back to the coast - Puerto Lopez

After a sleepless overnight bus of winding roads and frequent stops we arrived at the coastal town of Puerto Lopez on the Ecuadorian Coast much earlier than expected. Fortunately we had a hostel booked and fancied our chances there rather than in the overnight bright bus station. We arrived in Puerto Lopez at sunrise and figured if we could dump our bags fast enough an early dawn swim just might be on the cards.


There's nothing in this world nicer than the feeling of cool sea water on your toes, that was my first experience of Puerto Lopez at 5am. I was finally back in my happiest place, the coast. I love the ocean and I love the beach. I love the humid climate and I always feel so much more relaxed on the coast. 

Puerto Lopez is known and visited for whale watching trips during the whaling season, most people combine these tours with a trip to Isla de la Plata. When I first read about Isla de la Plata many people told me they only ever visited Puerto Lopez for the island tours, upon arriving I realised why. Puerto Lopez is very small. A handful of shops, bars and restaurant mainly filled with locals line the simple streets. We has arrived in Puerto Lopez in the off seasons and everything seemed to be moving very slowly. Not much was open and there weren't many other backpackers around, there were no whalewatching trips during this time of year either.

Island tours to Isla de la Plata

By the first day we had booked our tour to Isla de la Plata - The Poor Man's Galapagos as its referred to in most Puerto Lopez travel guides and literature.

Our tour to Isla de la Plata and our tour included snorkelling, lunch, snacks and drinks and was planned for the entire day. There are no shorter trips available as the boat is an hour plus trip to and from the island, weather dependent.

Isla de la Plata is often regarded as The Poor Man's Galapagos in many travel guides. I first heard the name in our South America Handbook by Footprints , the origin of island title comes to its similarity to the Galapagos but it's significantly cheaper cost to visit.


The similarity and comparison to the Galapagos comes from the unique eco-system on and surrounding the island which is almost identical to that of the Galapagos. Isla de la Plata is home to diverse bird and marine life and completely uninhabited like the smaller islands of Galapagos. The trip cost us $30 USD to visit plus a very reasonable $1 park entrance fee all this including the lunch and snorkel trip is quite the bargain for us poor men.


The Poor Man's Galapagos is the ultimate a budget friendly trip with lunch and snorkel hire included in the price


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Puerto Lopez Sunset - I love it when the sky turns orange
The boat to Isla de la Plata was kind-of pleasant, I'm probably biased though because I've developed an immense fear of rogue boats thanks to recent experiences. It takes one hour to get to the island during this time we received fruits, cakes, drinks and sandwiches provided all inclusive of our $30.

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The fishing bay - Puerto Lopez, Ecuador 
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The Isla de la Plata express - Our boat to the island
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The parched landscape of Isla de la Plata


Our guide for the tour

The Poor Man's Galapagos

The island itself is beautiful, dry and barren with a mixture of plant and bird life. The desert-like land in contrast with the crystal ocean makes for a pretty special photo. On Isla de la Plata Blue Footed Boobies nest everywhere, completely un-disrupted by the visitors due to thousands of years of no contact. 

The guides are very passionate, they care about the conservation and well being of the island which is always refreshing to see. Many people often only do tourist-related jobs for the money in Latin America, something we've seen time and time again on our route.

The Isla de la Plata guides are proud of this small patch of land. You can imagine the absolute scenes when a woman sparked up a cigarette below a No Fumar sign on the no smoking island. She was promptly rugby tackled to the ground. 


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Birds nesting - Totally unfazed by our presence on the island


More of the wildlife from Isla de la Plata
The beaches of The Poor Man's Galapagos are quiet, there is no evidence of human visitors at all and the wildlife rules. In the shallows off the island you can find groups of sea turtles fighting with Pelicans for possibly spoils from the visiting boats and anything else they can get their hands on. 

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Tortugas of Isla de la Plata
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More Turtles from the boat by Isla de la Plata

Wildlife tours and snorkeling

The island guises split the group up for two separate bird tours, Frigates and Boobies surviving in the heat, clinging to whatever piece of shade they can find.

An interesting fact about Isla de la Plata is there are no Mosquitos here. They never arrived for some reason, therefore there is no Mosquito carried disease on the island. The reason for this is that some of the plant life actually have natural mosquito repellents that cannot be found as commonly on the mainland. Minty smelling little things that remind you almost of the citronella products so widely available. I guess the island is exactly the right size, exactly the right distance from the land, with exactly enough Mosquito-repelling plants. 

After our educational bird tours around Isla de la Plata and questions about the island's ecosystems, climate, discovery etc it was time to rejoin the rest of our group for some organised snorkelling.

The snorkeling on The Poor Man's Galapagos takes place in the clearest of clear, warm waters hosting a range of exotic fish including trumpet fish and star fish. 

You're free to snorkel around the reefs and rocks freely providing you're respectful of the plant and animal life. An hour passes pretty quickly when you're exploring aquatic worlds, I know a lot of people felt the same as we did when it was time to pack up and leave.

Most of the tours of Isla de la Plata are in Spanish only, make sure your Spanish is at a good enough level to enjoy or you're with someone who's happy to translate


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I jumped back on the boat whilst snorkelling to grab these shots

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The bigger and more colourful fish are on the surface trying to find food from the boat
I'm really pleased we chose to take this island tour. Unfortunately our funds don't quite stretch to the Galapagos on this trip so I'm definitely more than happy to settle with  somewhere as stunning as The Poor Man's version for now. I guess I'll have a better understanding of how Galapagos-like Isla de la Plata really is when I get there someday and I'll be sure to share that on here. If you're heading down to Montañita or heading to Quito make sure to stop off in Puerto Lopez. The town itself hasn't much to offer other than the trips to Isla de la Plata but if you can't afford the Galapagos this time round then take a trip to the budget friendly version.

Jessie and I looking at the views on Isla de la Plata

Enjoying the island

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