Off the Grid South America

The Other Galapagos: Isla de la Plata | Ecuador

Galapagos Alternative - Blue Footed Boobies on Isla de La Plata

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),  humpback whales, and hundreds of tiny crabs, all for about $50. Are you traveling in Ecuador and looking for a cheaper Galapagos alternative that won’t completely blow your budget? I was skeptical too. But to the backpackers and trend breakers, I’m happy to say Isla de la Plata is still one of the best things to do in Ecuador. Here’s why.

More details on Isla de la Plata tours and how to get there from Montañita at the end of this post!

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 Galapagos cruises ranging from $1,000 – $5,000, we should hope not! When you factor in flights and hotels, even the Galapagos on a budget makes for an expensive trip. 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?

I’ve had lurking interest in the Galapagos Island, but on my backpacker budget,I knew it couldn’t happen. When I found Isla de La Plata, I was mostly intrigued by the idea of seeing blue footed boobies, frigatebirds, sea turtles, humpbacks, and angel fish for a fraction of the cost. I have taken enough mediocre day trips that we had set low expectations for Isla de la Plata, but hey! Whether you make it as a day trip from Montañita or grab a hotel room in Puerto Lopez, I can honestly say it’s one of the better day trips I’ve ever taken.

Photos from our Isla de la Plata Tour

Galapagos Alternative: Isla de la Plata Group
Galapagos Alternative: Isla de la Plata Tour
Galapagos Alternative: Whale Watching in Isla de la Plata

Galapagos Alternative: Isla de la PlataGalapagos Alternative: Crabs on Isla de la Plata
Galapagos Alternative: Trail Map on Isla de la Plata
Galapagos Alternative: Hiking on Isla de la Plata
Galapagos Alternative: Checking out the blue footed boobies on Isla de la Plata
Galapagos Alternative: Checking out the blue footed boobies on Isla de la Plata
Galapagos Alternative: Blue Footed Boobie Mama and Baby
Galapagos Alternative: Frigatebirds on Isla de la Plata 2
Galapagos Alternative: Frigatebirds on Isla de la PlataGalapagos Alternative: The Views atop Isla de la Plata

How to Visit Isla de la Plata

What to expect on an Isla de la Plata tour? 

Isla de la Plata is a 1 hour speed boat ride away from Puerto López. If you visit between June and September, you may even get free whale watching on the way.

The island itself tiny at just 2 square miles, but it is home to thousands of birds. There are five distinct hiking trails, and your Isla de la Plata tour guide will likely let you choose between two— the one with the view or the one with the frigatebirds. Our group opted for the easy 2-hour Isla de la Plata hike that would afford us the chance to see more birdlife. 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. Our group was nearly tripping over them, ducking to avoid them, and swerving onto different trails to give them space.

How to get to Isla de la Plata: The cheapest option is to take the 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 did the former, and haggled our way onto a private Isla de la Plata tour for $50/person. We went with an operator called Aventuras la Plata with a local guide named 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.

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 López 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 in the day 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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Looking for a Galapagos alternative that won't blow your budget? Exploring Isla de la Plata for just $50!

Yeah, so Isla de la Plata is not quite the Galapagos, but for $50, we’d say it makes a pretty solid Galapagos alternative. Have you ever visited an alternative that’s better than the original? Tell us in the comments below!

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  • Reply
    Alfredo R
    October 21, 2016 at 12:46 am

    Awesome video guys! Loved the article!

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      October 21, 2016 at 2:18 am

      Thank you, Alfredo! You’d be impressed at our Spanish too 😉

  • Reply
    Sarah Stierch
    October 21, 2016 at 2:52 am

    How cool – I’m a total bird geek and those crabs, so cool! Great pics and thanks for sharing and inspiring.

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      October 26, 2016 at 10:06 pm

      Ah, Sarah, it was absolutely amazing! Where’s the best spot you’ve ever been birdwatching?

  • Reply
    October 31, 2016 at 4:22 am

    Beautiful post! Forget Charles Darwin, I wouldn’t mind giving the alternative Galapagos a spin! 😉

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      November 5, 2016 at 2:45 am

      Hey, thanks, Diamond! Hope you get to see both 😉

  • Reply
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