At the top of our list—during our trip to Puerto Lopez—was Isla de la Plata (the poor man’s Galapagos). When you consider that you can basically see the same thing for a fraction of the cost (minus the huge tortoises), then it’s quite the deal. In fact, I think it’s a better deal; you get to see the humpback whales instead!
Our friends recently took a trip to the Galapagos for thousands of dollars and still didn’t get to see the giant tortoises, and we paid a total of $35 per person to see the same type of wildlife for a fraction of the cost. It’s definitely worth the trip, but there are some things you need to know before you get on the speedboat that will take you on your 1-1/2 hour trip into the ocean.
First of all if you get seasick, please take your Dramamine (Mareol) 20 minutes before boarding the boat! You will be asked to take off your shoes (which will be put in a large plastic bag), and you will wade in the water until someone hoists you aboard. There were 16 of us on our double-decker “barca”—complete with a restroom. You will also be asked to put on your life vest (not a bad idea as you will be heading out 22 nautical miles into the Pacific).
The Hosteria Mandala made our reservations for us aboard “Yubarta” and the $35 included a snack , lunch, tour of the island, snorkeling, and our entrance fee into the Machalilla National Park. It’s a long day that starts at 9:00 a.m. with arrival on Isla de la Plata around 11:00 a.m., three to four hours of hiking around the island, lunch at 2:30 p.m. (on the boat), and then snorkeling in “Bahía Drake.” The return trip puts you back at Puerto Lopez at about 6:00 p.m. (mas/menos).
You should wear your swimsuit (if you don’t want to change clothes in the small bathroom on the “ship”), and comfortable clothing with lots of suntan lotion (at least SPF 30), a hat, comfortable hiking shoes or sneakers, a small backpack to carry a bottle of water and camera equipment, and beach towel.
About 15 minutes into our outboard journey, the boat suddenly stopped and we heard the word “ballena” (whale)! There were several other boats in a semi-circle where we enjoyed the “plumes” of the humpback whales, lobbing their tails and putting on a grand performance. In order to get excellent pictures you need a mega-zoom lens and you need to keep pointing and clicking because the whales don’t respond on command like “Water World” in Florida.
If the whale is already out of the water doing “summersaults,” you’re too late. So keep aiming and praying and you will get something! Our boat bobbed in the water watching the show for a good 30 minutes before we headed on to the island.
Once we reached Isla de la Plata, we were give back our shoes and allowed to use the “facilities” before we started hiking. Our group opted for the longest and highest trail which meant we walked for 3-1/2 hours! The first part of the journey was a total of 216 steps—almost vertical. That’s the part they left out in the guidebook! Mark and I are both runners and we considered it moderately difficult. Some folks were simply not able to keep up and eventually the stragglers were left behind (and later caught up).
Our guide, Alegria, spoke both English and Spanish and was delightful. The dry tropical forest (made up of 35,000 acres) was dessert-like, parched and sad looking. It’s definitely not a place you want to be shipwrecked for any length of time, unless you enjoy eating twigs for breakfast. The only permanent residents on the island are the red-throated frigate birds, the blue-footed boobies with their turquoise blue feet and crossed eyes; the Nazca booby with their yellowish-orange beaks and a variety of other birds—including the waved albatross. If you take the lower trail, you might be able to see a colony of sea lions or porpoises, but no giant tortoises. We did see some turtle nests as we started out on the trail and also some sea turtles when we were snorkeling, but no giant “tortugas.” You need to go to the Galapagos for that!
After hiking for 3-1/2 hours you tend to work up an appetite, so when we arrived back at our starting point, we washed off our feet and got back on the boat for lunch which consisted of sliced watermelon, pineapple, two types of sandwiches, and a Snicker’s bar (just kidding!). It was actually a nice-sized chocolate cookie. We washed it all down with Coke and bottled water.
And then we plopped in the water to do some snorkeling (on a full stomach). The boat “parked” in Bahía Drake (named after—you guessed it—Sir Frances Drake). A couple of our shipmates brought their own snorkeling gear and fins, but the rest of us used what was given to us on the boat (snorkeling equipment minus the fins). The underwater world was magnificent— filled with iridescent tropical fish, blue starfish nestled among the coral, and sea turtles. We were warned not to get too close to the coral reef, but of course there’s always someone on ship who doesn’t listen to the rules. I learned my lesson (that stuff can be nasty!).
Once on board the boat, we put on our life vests and headed back to Puerto Lopez. The water gets a little more choppy after 3:30 p.m., so it’s best to take your sea sickness medication again if that’s a problem for you. And be sure to bring a hooded jacket and re-apply sun lotion—especially to your feet!
I fell asleep on the way back to Puerto Lopez and don’t remember too much until I was pushed out of the boat! Once on shore, we were given back our walking shoes and had a wonderful dinner at “Casa Vecchia”—the best pizza in Puerto Lopez. The trip was definitely worth $35!