Isla de la Plata: The Poor Woman's Galapagos
Ecuador is known for many things including the famed Galapagos Islands. Unfortunately, the Galapagos are not a budget friendly destination. During my visit to Ecuador back in October, I knew that the Galapagos was out of reach but I still wanted to find a way to experience the wildlife. On the recommendation of a tour guide and some hostel guests, I decided to change my plans and make the trip to Puerto Lopez to see the famous Isla de la Plata. I am SO happy that I did because Isla de la Plata was a truly magical place.
Located 2 hours from Guayaquil, Puerto Lopez is a sleepy little fishing town and the entry point to Isla de la Plata. You can also access Isla de la Plata from Montanita, a backpacker party town up the road. Since that really isn't my scene, I opted for Puerto Lopez instead. After meeting other hostel guests who were just coming from Montanita, I was happy with my choice and enjoyed the local feel and quiet of Puerto Lopez.
Getting off the bus at the main station in Puerto Lopez I grabbed a bike taxi ride from an extremely nice, but pushy, man. He helped me book my tour for Isla de la Plata for $30 (tours range from $30-$40 depending on the season). While there I stayed at a great little hostel offering beach front views and free breakfast for $10 a night. There isn't a ton to do in Puerto Lopez itself, the main attraction is Isla de la Plata, but there are plenty of tours and local buses to explore the surrounding beaches.
The day after I arrived I headed down to the boat dock for my tour. The first stop on the tour was to see giant sea turtles being fed, after that we had a quick stop for lunch before heading to the island.
Isla de la Plata is a part of Machalilla National Park and many measures are taken to ensure that the island remains a safe conservation area. In addition to birds, the coastline is covered in crabs, lizards, and other critters.
On the island, we had the choice between 2 hikes: one focussed on blue-footed boobies and the other on frigate birds. I opted for the blue-footed boobies. Blue-footed boobies are incredible and seeing them up close was worth the trip out. Blue-footed boobies are named for their most distinctive feature which comes from their diet of fresh fish.
On our way back from the island we made a short stop to go snorkeling off the shore of the island (equipment was also included in the tour cost). We got really lucky and were able to catch a view of some whales on the boat ride back. Whale sitings are frequent in the area but can vary greatly depending on the season.
Overall, Isla de la Plata truly surprised me and was one of the highlights of my time in Ecuador. For anyone who wants to truly experience the incredible wildlife of Ecuador without breaking the bank, Isla de la Plata is the place to go.