Hiking Galapagos – Muro de las Lágrimas on Isabela Island

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.  

Sign explaining the Muro de las Lagrimas complex and route

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!

Some of the stopping off points along the road to the Muro de las L

Some of the stopping off points along the road to the Muro de las Lágrimas – El Estero and a Blue-footed Boobie (top), lava tunnel (bottom left) and Los Tunos (bottom right)

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.

Sign by side of road explaining not to touch the tortoises

The need for signs explaining not to touch the animals never ceases to amaze me. A sad indictment on the behaviour of a surprisingly large number of travelers

I got super-lucky and came across 8 of these amazing creatures within a 2km stretch!  I love their pigeon toes and wizened faces.

Closeup of the face and front legs of a Galapagos Giant Land Tortoise - hiking along the Tortoise Way in Isla Isabela

This tortoise was one of the shy ones. He stayed retracted into his shell for the duration of my visit

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.

Front view of a giant land tortoise with neck extended, as well as details in the shell and the legs

The faces of the giant land tortoises are incredible – I would watch them all day! And the detail in the shell and their skin is fascinating

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. 

Cyclist passing a Galapagos giant land tortoise along the Tortoise Way on Isla Isabela

On my hike, I came across 8 tortoises enjoying the relative freedom of movement the edges of the road offered

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!

This looks frustrating

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.

This looks like hard work and a lot of effort!

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,

The view from Mirador Cerro Orchilla

The dry scrub that makes up Isla Isabela and the brilliant blue ocean from Mirador Cerro Orchilla

and then finally made it to the Wall of Tears. 

Approaching the Muro de las Lágrimas

Approaching the Muro de las Lágrimas

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.

Different views of the Muro de las Lágrimas

The Muro de las Lágrimas – an enormous amount of work to build a pointless construction

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.

The path up to El Radar and the concrete slab where the radar was positioned

The path up to El Radar. There’s not a lot left of the radar apart from a concrete slab

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.

Viewpoint from El Radar on Isla Isabela - Galapagos Islands - Ecuador

El Radar has a wonderful view over Isla Isabela

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!

Galapagos Flamingos

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. 

Flamingos at the estuary just outside of town

Its not often you get this close to flamingos

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? 

Recommendation

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.

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