The small island of Isla de la Plata is about an hour by boat from mainland Ecuador. It is often known as the Poor Man’s Galapagos. Considering that I was indeed a poor man who could not afford to go to the Galapagos, that title is very fitting. However, for the price of around $40-50, you really can’t go wrong with a day trip over to Isla de la Plata. It is one of Ecuador’s most beautiful islands and it remains very pristine and untouched.
Planning to make the trip over to Isla de la Plata? Here’s everything you need to know.
How To Get To Isla de la Plata
You can’t go to Isla de la Plata on your own. It is a protected national reserve and a part of Machalilla National Park. You have to take a guided tour if you want to go to Isla de la Plata. The tours leave from Puerto Lopez but you can arrange transportation there if you are staying in Montañita or another neighboring town. The boats usually leave between 9-10 AM in the morning and as far as I know, you can’t just show up without booking in advance.
In short, book a tour to Isla de la Plata and get your booty over to the port in Puerto Lopez. The price of the tours depends on the season and where you are leaving from. I went during humpback whale season and left from Montañita, which likely added another $10ish in transportation to what the tour cost. I paid $55 and felt like I got beyond my money’s worth.
What You’ll See On The Way To Isla de la Plata
If you are around during humpback whale mating and breeding season, book this tour immediately. There are separate whale watching tours that you can book from Puerto Lopez but honestly, you will see plenty of whales on the way to Isla de la Plata. Seeing the whales breaching the water and jumping through the air was one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen in my life. I was in absolute awe. And it wasn’t a rare occasion at all. Once you get far enough away from mainland Ecuador, you’ll pretty much see whales the final 30-40 minutes before you arrive at Isla de la Plata.
Once you dock (in the water since there isn’t an actual pier on the island), you might be lucky enough to see green sea turtles swimming around your boat. We saw four!!! I felt like the entire tour was worth it before we even set foot on Isla de la Plata.
What Animals Can You See On Isla de la Plata?
So Isla de la Plata is home mostly to birds. There are three species of snakes, of which we saw one. There are absolutely no mammals that live on the island aside from rats that somehow swam their way to the island. However, the park rangers are doing a great job of depleting the rat population that might be endangering the birds.
The main attraction on Isla de la Plata is the one-of-a-kind blue footed booby. You can hike around the island with your guide, although you likely won’t be taking any of the longer trails. You’ll stumble upon dozens and dozens of blue-footed boobies nesting and roaming around the island. Other highlights are the pelicans, albatrosses, frigate birds, and tropical birds. So yeah, a lot of birds.
Can You Hike Isla de la Plata On Your Own?
One of the only disappointing things of the day was that we were not able to hike around the island for longer. The trail we took ended up at an absolutely incredible viewpoint that left me wanting to see more of the island’s stunning coastline. Unfortunately, you can not wander off by yourself without a guide. Since this is a wildlife reserve with animals that can get dangerous or aggressive, you need to always stick with your guide. There are trails around the island that are several miles long but we only were able to do the one mile acantilados loop.
Although it might be tempting to go adventure off on your own, you really do need to respect the island and keep it wild. The animals that live there call it home while we are merely just visitors to their home. I actually really admired how the park rangers and guides approach the island. They truly treat it with the respect that it deserves as opposed to simply a tourist attraction to earn money. Since there are many tour groups that visit the island daily, the guides will spread you out about 15-20 minutes per group so that there aren’t an overwhelming amount of people with the wildlife at any given time.
Snorkeling At Isla De La Plata
Once you’re done with your time on the island, which really only takes about two hours total, everyone will hop back on their boat to go snorkeling just off the coast of the island. You can see coral reefs and a lot of colorful fish. I didn’t see anything else but if you’re lucky, you might be able to see a turtle. The best part of snorkeling was hearing the songs of the humpback whales for the first time ever in my life. It was a shock to hear at first, what sounded like sirens and screams underneath the water. But once you got used to it, it was nothing short of enchanting. I didn’t want to leave the water.
Once you are done snorkeling, you head back to Puerto Lopez. It takes about an hour to an hour and a half but once again, you will see plenty of humpback whales along the way. Trust me, it doesn’t get any less exciting than the first time you saw them. Everyone on the boat will still be giddy and point them out every time they see them. It truly is an incredible experience.
Is Isla de la Plata Worth Visiting?
Yes. The only reason I could think of to say no would be if you had already been whale watching and had already visited the Galapagos. Even then, I still think it would be worth the trip.
Our guide had worked on Isla de la Plata for 22 years and he said that every day he comes back with a new group of people, it feels like the first time. He maintains his wondrous perspective and amazement as if every trip was a brand new experience. After having dealt with safari “guides” who don’t really care about the animals and environments and are just looking for money, this was a refreshing experience. I felt no qualms about paying $55 to support the preservation of this incredible island.