Isla Isabela in the Galápagos is jam-packed with wonderful scenery and interesting things to do, from awesome snorkelling and hiking tours to sightseeing excursions out to neighbouring islands. Between all these worthwhile and very pricey activities, though, it’s definitely worth saving half a day to explore the diverse area around Puerto Villamil on your own, giving yourself a break from the guides (and from the spending).
See flamingos, marine iguanas, sea lions, and giant tortoises, swim at secluded beaches, visit beautiful mangroves and lagoons, and learn about some of the island’s convict history at El Muro de las Lágrimas (The Wall of Tears), all within easy cycling distance from Isabela’s main town. This guide contains absolutely everything you need to know before setting out on your own DIY cycling adventure around Isla Isabela, including where to hire a bike, what to pack, how to find the trail, and all the best stops along the route.
What's in this travel guide
About Isla Isabela
Formed by 6 different shield volcanos about a million years ago, Isla Isabela is both the youngest and largest of the Galápagos Islands, home to a wide diversity of land and marine species, as well as an incredibly varied landscape. But, despite its size, Isabela is not very populous, and the main town of Puerto Villamil is only home to about 2,000 residents.
It’s the quiet, raw, undeveloped nature of Isabela that makes it so special, and even though cycling out to the Wall of Tears is a relatively well-known activity amongst tourists, it’s not unusual to have the trail entirely to yourself as soon as you cruise out of town.
From town, it only takes about 10min to cycle out to the start of the trail, where a large sign reads Complejo de Humedales y Muro de las Lágrimas (Wetlands Complex & The Wall of Tears). There is a map here, but the trail itself is incredibly easy to follow and every stop is individually signed, so navigation is no concern.
From the start of the trail, the ride is only 5km and rather flat (although there are some areas with loose sand that will slow you down), so you can get all the way to the end in about 20-30min if you don’t make any stops. Obviously that’s not the goal of this outing, though, so allow 4hrs from start to finish in Puerto Villamil to make sure you get to enjoy all the beaches, viewpoints, and animal sightings along the way. For more specific itinerary recommendations, keep reading!
Hiring a bike
Most tour agencies in Puerto Villamil hire bikes for a few dollars, but we got our bikes from Pahoehoe just because we knew the staff were really friendly (from having taken snorkelling tours with them out to Los Tuneles and Tintoreras) and that they spoke good enough English to give us some tips for the trip out to El Muro de las Lágrimas. The bikes were relatively nice hardtails, and at just $3/hr, the whole day cost us only $12USD.
As previously mentioned, it takes around 10min from Puerto Villamil to reach the start of the cycle trail, but I’d recommend riding straight to the end at El Muro de las Lágrimas, which will be an additional 20-30min. From the end of the trail, slowly work your way back towards town, stopping at each signed viewpoint, beach, or point of interest along the way. Some stops will only be a few minutes, while others might be worth staying a while to enjoy the scenery.
When you do make it back to the start of the trail, I’d recommend tacking on a few additional stops, first at a little beachside bar for a casual drink, then walking out to the nearby Pozo to see wild flamingos, and finally finishing at the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre. All said and done, this itinerary will take about 4hrs, but it could be done slower if you want to stretch it into a full day and spend more time at each stop.
1 | El Muro de las Lágrimas
El Muro de las Lágrimas, or The Wall of Tears, was the site of a penal colony in the 1940s and stands as a reminder of the harsh conditions under which the prisoners lived. The site is said to have been given its name by locals who could hear crying during its construction, as convicts were forced to carry heavy volcanic stones in blistering heat, erecting the 25m wall that confined them.
It’s certainly not a scenic stop on the cycling route, but it’s an important one, so take some time to read the information here and wander around a bit to get a feel for Isabela’s darker history.
Muro de las Lágrimas
2 | Cerro Orchilla
Not long after the Wall of Tears, a staircase ascends to a viewpoint over the wetlands and Puerto Villamil, surrounded by fascinating plantlife like the Galápagos Prickly Pear and wispy Spanish Moss hanging off bare tree branches.
Cacti at Cerro Orchilla
Amazing wispy moss at Cerro Orchilla
3 | Camino de las Tortugas
Along the entire cycle route to and from El Muro de las Lágrimas, giant Galápagos tortoises wander slowly across the path, nibbling fallen fruits or just peering curiously from their shells as you pass by.
They are comfortable enough around humans to let you approach for a photo, but still give the tortoises a respectful distance and move quietly to avoid alarming them.
Cycling by giant tortoises
Giant tortoise nibbling some fruit
4 | Zona Majagua
The next stop is an incredible tunnel formed by winding tree branches, a thick passage leading out to beautiful mangroves that feels like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia.
5 | El Estero
At the end of the majagua passage, a beautiful estuary home to all 4 species of mangrove found in the Galápagos is the perfect place to go for a dip and relax in the shade. There’s even a little picnic table here if you want to stop for a snack.
Beautiful estuary on Isabela
6 | Mirador Los Tunos
Walking along lava to reach the turbulent seashore, this lookout offers views of the jagged coastline and the many pelicans and sea lions who’ve made this their home.
Mirador Los Tunos
7 | Playa del Amor
A beautiful, volcanic beach with deep black lava stones that perfectly contrast against the golden sand and light blue water, Playa del Amor (Love Beach) is probably the best place along the entire cycle route to stop for a swim. There are heaps of marine iguanas lounging about, but head straight to the large tide pool for a sheltered float in the cool water.
Playa del Amor
Playa del Amor
8 | Pozas Verdes
These green lagoons (Pozas Verdes) are a great place to look for marine iguanas and flamingos, or just enjoy the beautiful cacti surrounding the islets of lava.
Pozas on Isla Isabela
Iguana swimming through the lagoon
9 | La Playita
The next stop is a small beach (literally by name) whose waters are great for spotting sea lions, sharks, iguanas, and marine birds, in addition to being a lovely spot to swim or snorkel.
Iguana lazing on the beach
10 | Bar Atardecer
After wrapping up the official cycle route out to El Muro de las Lágrimas, there are still a few excellent stops to enjoy, including this beachfront bar with inexpensive cocktails. Chill out in a hammock over a G&T before hopping back on your bike for the final stretch.
Enjoying a mid-cycle drink
11 | Pozas Salinas & Poza de Los Diablos
From the Sunset Bar, take a side path off to the left to explore the salt lagoons of Puerto Villamil, one of the best spots to see beautiful Galápagos flamingos fishing for dinner or artfully posturing on their graceful, spindly legs. You’ll have to leave your bike at the turnoff, but it’s only a short stroll out here on boardwalks.
Flamingos in the Galápagos
Flamingos at Pozas Salinas
12 | Centro de Crianza Tortugas Gigantes
Finally, after walking along the Pozos Salinas in search of flamingos, wrap up the day with a visit to Centro de Crianza further down the path, one of the most successful tortoise breeding centres in all of the Galápagos.
You can see large decades-old tortoises as well as more recent hatchlings, learning all about the re-release of tortoises into the wild on a guided tour or by reading the plaques provided throughout the facility.