They call Isla de la Plata “The Poor Man’s Galapagos“. Much like its westerly neighbor, when you visit it, 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 to Isla de la Plata 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 bird watching 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?
The Galapagos isn’t super possible on a backpacker budget. But with the same blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, sea turtles, humpbacks, and angelfish, Isla de Plata is a pretty good Galapagos alternative. And since you can take an Isla de la Plata tour from Montañita, it’s possible to have a Galapagos experience at just a fraction of the cost.
How to Visit Isla de la Plata
What to expect on your tour
Isla de la Plata is a 1-hour speedboat 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 is tiny at just 2 square miles, but it is home to thousands of birds. There are five distinct hiking trails, and your 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 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 springtime, 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 from Montañita
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.
Isla de la Plata Tours
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 9:30 am. 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
The best time to visit is between June-September when the whales are passing through, or December-March when the weather is best.