Located 600 miles of the Ecuadorian coastline are the Galapagos Islands, a series of islands known for their highly diverse and rich ecosystems and also known as being a rather pricey destination for your average traveller. But fear not in your quest to see Boobies (the blue footed sort of course!!) for there is another magical place, where any traveller of Ecuador can visit to see these odd little avians – for a fraction of the price!
Isla de la Plata, a small, much less famous island off the central coast of Ecuador is also home to the Blue Footed Boobie – who knew the Galapagos didn’t have a monopoly right?! An uninhabited island featuring shrub land, tropical dry forest and pristine beaches which is famed for its large populations of rather inquisitive sea birds….All sounding rather familiar? Of course it does – But how does Isla de la Plata Ecuador stack up to its more famous brother?
First off, the best thing is that its only 40 kilometers from the mainland, meaning that day trips out to island to see these creatures is entirely possible for a minuscule fraction of the cost of even getting to the Galapagos. HOWEVER, of course its not going to be quite the same level of amazing with a lack of sea lions, iguanas and tortoises but its pretty damn good all the same. The most common departure point to Isla de la Plata, Ecuador, from the mainland is the fishing town slowly turning tourist town of Puerto Lopez. It is also possible to depart from nearby Montanita or Manta with a shuttle included though the boat trip will be longer. Puerto Lopez is an underrated destination with a great beachfront that also doubles as a great place to simply chill and enjoy the sun for a couple of days. Shortly after arriving and a bit of research we decided on a company to book our day tour. Prices usually vary between $25-$40 which probably depends mostly on how good your Spanish is as most companies offer pretty much the exact same itinerary. I’d go with they best deal. Around 10am the next day we headed down to the dock and boarded our boat with about 15 others. The trip out to Isla de la Plata takes around an hour so there is plenty of time to take in some fresh sea air and if you’re lucky you may even be treated to a few Dolphins tagging along with the boat!
If you’re there between late July and early October there could even be a bigger highlight, Humpback Whales!!! Doesn’t get much bigger than that! Around 500 – 2500 migrate through the area so consider the timing when planning your trip. As well as whales, Manta Rays congregate off the coast during the same time of year. If you’re a diver it is possible to make trips from Puerto Lopez to dive with these magnificent creatures (for more great dive sites check out my Best Dive Sites in the World Guide!) Unfortunately for us we weren’t around at the right time but the rest of the wildlife is still pretty amazing! On arriving at the bay in Isla de la Plata and clambering out of the boat (there is no dock!) we got a first taste of the island close up. A dry and hilly landscape rose up in front of us dotted with woody trees and dessicated scrub. This is probably the biggest difference to the Galapagos where it’s volcanic history has left it with a huge variety of environments ranging from bleak, lifeless rockscapes to tropical cloud forests surrounding the high volcanic craters. But of course the Galapagos is much, much bigger too! Isla de la Plata on the other hand is part of the American continental shelf which drops deep into the Pacific Ocean only a few more miles away. While it’s no longer attached it’s geology and fauna is decidedly mainland – beautiful in its own way, but not quite as exotic!
After our arrival it was time to start the Boobie hunt! We had around 3 hours on dry land to explore. After the initial walk up the main hill, which I’ll admit was a little tough in the heat and the 200 or so stairs, we arrived at the first viewpoint where our guide told us all about the unique environment and animals of the island. I wasn’t really sure what to expect with the wildlife, or how easy or likely we were to see them, but our guide assured us this definitely wouldn’t be a problem. And he wasn’t wrong! Within 2 minutes of walking along the track we found a male Blue Footed Booby with its chick sitting smack bang in front of us with a picture perfect view behind it! It almost seemed unreal, it was as if someone had run ahead and placed them there. Side note – if that is a job where do I apply!
For the next few hours it was non stop, the boobies seem to love building their nest in the middle of the path and seem to treat it as their own personal highway. They don’t get out of the way either and expect you to go around them while they happily pose for photos. Just think of it like natures red carpet! They’re such weird little characters they you cant help but love them, from their bright googly eyes to the slapping sound their feet make when they walk. If only we could get some to move to New Zealand! Along with the boobies you’ll also see plenty of other birds including the famous Frigate bird. These guys don’t mind you getting near their perch in the tree either though they have a much more menacing look to them!
A few bays along and after a bit of light lunch we stopped at our snorkelling spot. Masks and snorkels were provided and don’t forget to take your swim gear as this is another great opportunity you don’t want to miss. After jumping in we found another turtle friend who didn’t hang around so long this time but that wasn’t a problem as there were plenty of other brightly colored fish around to draw our attention. It was great being in the warm waters just watching a whole variety of tropical fish going about their fishy activities, barely noticing the strange thing floating above them. I almost had to be dragged away from the water, I didn’t want to leave but we had to go, time to head back to the mainland!
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For a day trip that cost so little it certainly packed a punch and is a must do for any nature lover if you’re around the area. But is it an alternative to the Galapagos? Of course the Galapagos is one of the pinnacles of animal environments in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site but it also comes with a matching price which is out of reach for a lot of travellers. Isla de la Plata in Ecuador is a great alternative for those people on a budget still wanting to get close to nature – a Poor Man’s Galapagos. Or perhaps its also a great alternative for someone who doesn’t have the time to get all the way out to the Galapagos, meaning they don’t have to miss out completely. Plus did I mention Boobies? You get to see Boobies!