In order to protect the environment and the animals, the number of excursions you can undertake independently in the Galapagos is quite limited. One of the longer ones is the ~15km return journey out to the Muro de las Lágrimas (Wall of Tears) on Isla Isabela.
Almost everyone does this on a bike (and that’s certainly what the tourist agencies encourage you to do), but I decided I’d hike it instead.
It’s a very easy hike – the main difficulties being the heat and, if you aren’t used to it, the distance. However, there are plenty of points along the way for small detours and rest stops. For example, I was lucky enough to be passing “El Estero” at low tide – the only time possible to visit. It was an interesting little detour with mangroves and even a few Blue-footed boobies in the distance!
Galapagos Giant Land Tortoises
One of the key highlights of this excursion is “The Tortoise Way” – a section of road along which giant land tortoises are usually found.
I got super-lucky and came across 8 of these amazing creatures within a 2km stretch! I love their pigeon toes and wizened faces.
None of them was as big as I remember from last time I was in the Galapagos and, according to a sign, they were bred at the local tortoise centre. They are the descendants of tortoises that used to live on the slopes of the Sierra Negra volcano, and were released into the wild once they were big enough to survive – so were most likely juveniles.
That being said – they were still enormous! And it was a beautiful experience to come across so many of them in the wild. On my last visit, there were very few outside of the Charles Darwin and other breeding centres.
They are fascinating creatures to watch, and I spent some time with pretty much all of them. I watched this guy eating for quite a long time … he didn’t seem to care. But watching his struggle to strip the leaves of the small plants really makes you appreciate having hands and opposable thumbs!
And when they move, your heart really goes out to them. Every time, they would let out an “old-man-sigh” from the effort involved. Though I guess I would too if I had to carry around such a heavy shell! If they only want to move a short distance, they tend to half-lift, half-scrape themselves across the ground – the effort seemingly too great to lift themselves all the way up.
They only bother if they really want to cover some ground.
The Muro de las Lágrimas
Leaving my tortoise friends, I climbed to the top of the first lookout at Mirador Cerro Orchilla to survey the dry scrubby surroundings,
and then finally made it to the Wall of Tears.
This ~25m high construction was built by prisoners between 1946 And 1959 when Isabela Island was used as a penitentiary. An interpretive sign explains:
This futile construction is preserved in memory of those hardships endured by those forced to build it
Indeed it would have been a horrible labour under the strong equatorial sun! And some locals believe it is haunted, with stories of wailing and moaning being heard at the site.
Leaving this stark reminder of a darker period in the history of the Galapagos, I climbed to “The Radar” viewpoint – one of 3 old radar stations established in the Galapagos by the US.
I stayed up here for about 1.5 hours enjoying the shade and the breeze, and soaking in the incredible view over the ocean and the island itself. I didn’t see a single other person.
I was constantly amazed on this excursion how those on bikes didn’t seem to stop off at any of the side-“attractions” along the way, including the two prominent viewpoints. Why? If you are going to make the excursion, make the whole excursion!
Eventually, I re-traced my steps all the way back to Puerto Villamil, but decided to make a detour at the entrance to the town to visit the Flamingo estuary. It didn’t take long to spot several flamingos – their bright pink feathers highlighting them against the dull shrubbery and green brackish water.
It’s rare to be able to get so close to a flamingo, and fascinating to see how they filter feed. Who knew they were such noisy eaters?
The Muro de las Lágrimas is an amazing day (or 1/2-day on a bike) excursion on Isla Isabela. I enjoyed hiking it so I could take my time and explore everything along the way. Even if you rent a bike, I would still encourage you to take your time and do this, as there is a lot to be seen.
Cost: Free, if you hike
Time: I took about 7 hours to hike there and back. However, I did take it VERY slowly, stopped off at every location, spent a lot of time with my tortoise friends, and spent a lot of time chilling out at the viewpoints.