They call Isla de la Plata “The Poor Man’s Galapagos“. Much like its westerly neighbor, when you visit Isla de la Plata, you will find blue footed boobies and frigatebirds in droves. You’ll also find tortoises (though not the giant kind), fhumpback whales, and hundreds of tiny crabs, all for about $50. Are you traveling in Ecuador and looking for a Galapagos alternative that won’t completely blow your budget? We were skeptical too. But to the backpackers and trend breakers, we’re happy to say Isla de la Plata is one of the best things to do in Ecuador. Here’s what it’s all about:
The Galapagos vs Isla de la Plata
Why travel to the Galapagos Islands?
It seems for the last several years, everyone has been buzzing about the Galapagos Islands. Adventure travelers and wildlife watchers once so set on African safaris have shifted their sights to Galapagos cruises. So what’s the big deal anyway? Well, the Galapagos Islands remain isolated and pristine thanks to their location some 600 miles off of Ecuador’s coast. With 200+ species of wildlife, many of which are endemic to the 13 Galapagos Islands, you’ll spend your days birdwatching and spotting creatures by the thousands.
We’ll level with you here. There is probably no true Galapagos alternative. But with weeklong trips ranging from $1,000 – $5,000, we should hope not! Even the Galapagos on a budget makes for an expensive trip when you factor in airfare, arrival tax, inflated cost of living, and day trips. If you have the budget, by all means, go! But if you’re just looking for a glimpse at bizarre wildlife, Isla de la Plata is a pretty awesome day trip and a good Galapagos alternative.
Why travel to Isla de La Plata?
We’ve had lurking interest in the Galapagos Island, but on our backpacker budget, we knew it couldn’t happen. When we found Isla de La Plata were mostly intrigued by the idea of seeing blue footed boobies, frigatebirds, sea turtles, humpbacks, and angel fish for a fraction of the cost. We have taken enough mediocre day trips that we had set low expectations for Isla de la Plata. And, hey! We can honestly say this was one of the better excursions we’ve ever had.
We got lucky and our Isla de la Plata tour ended up including whale watching, too!
We went for the longer 2-hour hike to see more birdlife — primarily the famed blue footed boobies. The area was pretty desolate with only the infrequent living tree, but the views from the top were stunning. We expected more of a search for blue footed boobies and frigatebirds, but you don’t have to look hard to find them. The boobies don’t roost and instead incubate their eggs right on the sand. If you visit during spring time, you’ll see babies and courting boobies everywhere! We found ourselves nearly tripping over them, ducking to avoid them, and swerving onto different trails to give them space.
How to Visit Isla de la Plata
How to get to Isla de la Plata: We took a bus from Montañita to Puerto Lopez ($2.50), but it is also possible to find tours that include transport from Montañita. Our group of 6 haggled our way onto a private Isla de la Plata tour for $50/person. We went with an operator called Aventuras la Plata, and they set us up with our local guide, Lucas (email), and a two man crew on a private boat. The plan was a 6-hour excursion that included a nature hike on Isla de la Plata, lunch, and snorkeling. It’s possible to see migratory humpback whales between June – September, but we figured we had arrived a bit too late in the season.
Booking an Isla de la Plata Tour: You can visit Isla de la Plata on a day trip from Montañita, or you can go straight to Puerto Lopez to book a tour. There’s a lot of buying pressure during the low season, so expect to get dragged into a few shops while you price shop. Boats typically depart at 9:30am. We swung a deal at $50, but if you’re looking to keep costs down, arrive early and take advantage of group rates.
Best Time to Visit Isla de La Plata: The best time to visit is between June-September when the whales are passing through, or December-March when the weather is best.
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