Question: Where in the world can you find an island made from a half dozen volcanoes that look like seismic soup bowls?
Answer: Isabela Island, Galápagos
Astride the equator, million-year-old Isabela Island was forged in the seismic merger of six volcanos, five of which of are still active to this day. While Volcan Wolf, the highest point on the island, rises 5,600 feet, the volcanos are not known for their height but their width, with sprawling craters that resemble shallow soup bowls. Home to boobies, pelicans, marine iguanas, cormorants, endemic doves and hawks, Darwin’s famous finch, and myriad more species, Isabela’s volcanic landscape offers a dramatic backdrop for countless discoveries.
- All six of the island’s peaks are shield volcanos, so named because they rise comparatively slowly relative to their width and so, from land, appear to be shields resting on the earth (despite their caldera looking like soup bowls from above).
- Sierra Negra and Wolf are the busiest volcanos. Sierra Negra erupted seven times in the 20th century alone and got the 21st century off to a bang with a nine-day eruption in 2005. Wolf has erupted 11 times since records were first kept in 1797 and boasts the most recent eruption, a one-day event in May of 2015.
- Isabela Island continues to yield new species. In 2009, a new pink land iguana was identified on Volcan Wolf. With vivid pink flanks striped with deep crimson, and a spiky ridge down its back, the singular creature should be hard to miss, but the fact that there are fewer than 100 in existence makes them elusive.
- This island is home to more tortoises than all the other islands, and is the only one that has representatives of five Galápagos tortoise species (out of 11). Subspecies of tortoises vary from caldera to caldera, roaming freely within their habitats but generally either unwilling or unable to cross the lips of one volcano to explore the next.
- The eerie Wall of Tears on the southern coast rises 65 feet and was built by the prisoners of the island’s penal colony. It served no purpose other than to keep the inmates too busy and too tired for insurrection. Thousands died in its making, and locals say you can still hear their laments as the wind passes through.
- Some of Isabela’s most memorable wildlife is found offshore, including whales and dolphins. On Tintoreras, an islet, marine life abounds, including white-tipped reef sharks (or, tintoreras, from which the isle takes its name). The sharks have claimed a cove here as their favorite napping spot, untroubled by the visitors who watch from the rocks above.
- Isabela’s mangrove swamps are home to pink flamingos that aren’t pink. Flamingo feathers (which are white when the birds are born) get their eventual coloration from a combination diet of algae, shrimp, and small fish, with a diet higher in algae yielding a more hot pink hue. In the brackish waters of the mangroves, Isabela’s flamingos favor the fish over the algae, diluting the effect and making them salmon-orange flamingos.
The Galápagos is just one facet of an extraordinary journey when you join OAT on Machu Picchu & the Galápagos.