A few months ago, we had the good fortune of staying right on the beach in Puerto Villamil, which is the only settlement on Isabela Island in Ecuador’s famed Galapagos Islands.
Not only was Isabela Island our favorite of the three Galapagos islands we visited, but it felt completely different from both the more sophisticated Santa Cruz and the up and coming San Cristobal.
If sandy streets, relaxed vibes, a slightly Caribbean feel and an overabundance of some of the most unique animals in the world appeal to you, then Isabela Island might be perfect for you. Even more similar than the Caribbean, Puerto Villamil reminded us of our long stays on the southern beaches of Thailand with it’s eclectic selection of restaurants and it’s sandy, wide streets.
While we were there, we stayed at one of the islands best reviewed hotels, the Hotel Albermarle. Situated right on the beach, only seconds from the surf complete with scores of palm trees and marine iguanas just out it’s front door, Hotel Albemarle was a great place from which to explore Isabela island.
Our review of the Hotel Albemarle in the Galapagos Islands
Named after the original name for Isabela Islands, the Mediterranean styled Hotel Albemarle makes guests feel at home, no matter where they hail from.
Complete with a couple dozen or so rooms, many overlooking the white sands of the beach and the clear blues of the Pacific Ocean, stepping into the white lobby from the sand covered road in front feels like a hidden oasis from the hot sun of the Galapagos.
Without a doubt, one of Hotel Albemarle’s best features is the people working there. The resident manager, Carlos, was always on hand giving us great advice on which spots on the island not to miss and local tidbits on the best restaurants and best tour companies to go with. He always made sure we enjoyed our stay and was incredibly nice to talk to with his impeccable English.
Natalia, the next in line, was great as well and we had some great conversations the nights she was working. Both the cleaning staff and the breakfast cooks where also helpful and polite.
As well as the small front lobby complete with a few computers, the hotel also features a small pool in the center and a breakfast nook to enjoy the tasty, free morning breakfasts.
There’s also a fridge with water, drinks and beer you can purchase for about the same price as one of the local shops in town. The Albemarle Hotel also has filtered water where you can refill your own water bottle at any time during your stay, which was a nice plus.
If you want to relax, there are comfy sun loungers around the pool with some of the best free internet we found on any of the islands. There’s also a great roof top terrace that’s perfect for early morning coffee or late night relaxations. Just don’t try sitting up there during the day unless you want an instant tan under the unrelenting Galapagos sun.
Note: In general, the internet on any of the Galapagos Islands is just a fraction better than dial up and unreliable even on the best of days.
Don’t expect to push all your pictures up to the cloud or get much internet-based work done while you’re there. Streaming anything from YouTube or Netflix was also next to impossible anywhere on the islands.
We were in a pool side ground floor family room, with two twin beds and a double.
We loved the high ceiling (it must have been 10 or 12 feet high), with plenty of fresh air and a bright, white room.
Like all the hotels on Isabela Island, the Hotel Albemarle is a small boutique hotel. You won’t find any well known hotel chains on the island and that’s helping to keep the money local while ensuring that the island doesn’t outgrow it’s world heritage status.
The wildlife on Isabela Island
Considering 97.5% of the Galapagos Islands is a national park and that the entire set of islands is surrounded by a huge marine reserve that’s second in size only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, you’re guaranteed to spot some amazing endemic wildlife on and around the island.
From sea lions and marine iguanas on the shores, hammerhead sharks and sea turtles in the water, to giant Galapagos tortoises and blue footed boobies on the land, you can also find the only tropical penguin in existence on Isabela Island. The Galapagos penguin often plays right beside the main dock in town and a few have even been known to show up around the beach in front of Hotel Albemarle.
If you’re in the Galapagos Islands to view wildlife, and let’s be realistic, almost everyone that goes there does, then Isabela Island is probably the island for you. Nearly every Tripadvisor review (see reviews here) concerning Isabela Island has one single gripe, that they didn’t budget more time to stay there. Well, that and the fact that they didn’t bring enough cash, since there aren’t any ATMs on Isabela Island.
Note: Most of the day trip operators and even a few restaurants take credit cards. Just make sure you verify that before going and note that most of the tour operators charge you more if you pay with a credit card. Like the rest of Ecuador, the US dollar is the main currency everywhere in the Galapagos Islands.
Around Hotel Albemarle and Puerto Villamil
From day trips to just hanging out on the beach, there are tons of things to do outside the Hotel Albemarle Isabela. Right in front of the hotel is a gorgeous beach complete with a volleyball court and small playground for the kids.
Off to the side is a protected marine iguana nesting site with dozens of marine iguanas basking in the sun or competing for mating rights and for an animal that spends the majority of the time just sitting there watching them fight can be quite entertaining.
To the other side of the beach there is the town jetty that makes for scenic views and, when we were there, they were getting ready to open a bar at the end of it.
Right next to the hotel is the town’s often boisterous enclosed football (soccer) field. For such a small town there are soccer games nearly every night and on the weekends it can get quite loud at times. Be prepared that if you’re in a room adjoining the field, don’t expect to get any sleep before 10:30 when the last game is often played.
Carlos informed me that the town is planning to move the football field further into town and setting up an open aired market in the paved zone in it’s place. This will be a great addition to the town as well as ensuring that people with early mornings can get the sleep they need.
Just down the sandy road that runs in front of the hotel, on the other side of the soccer field, is a series of chill out bars playing soft reggae while watching the waves break along the beach.
On the other side of the hotel runs the main street of Puerto Villamil, here is where you’ll find restaurant after restaurant featuring local delicacies as well as pizza, pasta and lots of fish. There’s also some of the bigger touring companies, a ferry company and some small grocery stores.
Note: Because the Galapagos Islands are so remote, over 600 miles or 1000 km’s from the mainland, supplies on the island can be hard to get at times. While we were there, the main cargo boat that supplies all the islands sank and all the stores and restaurants had mass shortages on stocks for a few weeks so a lot of menu items weren’t available while we there.
Animals of the Galapagos Islands
Some of the most scenic day trips you can do in the Galapagos Islands originate from Isabela Island so whether you’re taking one of the many tours or going it alone, there’s a lot to do for such a sleepy place. Carlos at Hotel Albemarle was great at giving us suggestions on where to go and most of all, when to go to get the most out of it.
Like most of the Galapagos Islands, you can be sure to see sea lions and marine iguanas just about everywhere you look as well as the remarkable frigate birds flying overhead. In the wetlands of the island you can see pink flamingos and common stilts and Darwin’s finches exist near land and sea.
Under the water you can see hammerhead sharks as well as plenty of sea turtles, stingrays, manta rays and sea horses. If you’re snorkeling there’s a good chance you’ll be visited by an inquisitive sea lion and, if you’re lucky, the only tropical penguin in the world, the Galapagos penguin.
Day trips from Isabela Island
Some of the more notable day trips from Isabela Island include our favorite, snorkeling at Los Tuneles with it’s lava channels and tunnels where you’ll see plenty of sea turtles, reef sharks and the the blue-footed booby.
For the hikers there’s the Sierra Negra Volcano which is the second largest active volcano in the world. This 16 km walk will take you to the rim where you’ll see spectacular views of thevolcano and the surrounding islands.
If you want to see the only tropical penguin in the world up close then you’ll want to do the Tintoreras tour. On this tour they take you across the channel from the dock to explore the little islands where the penguin resides. Expect to see plenty of sea lions and you get to look down on some amazing shark nesting channels on a small hike.
If you want to get your feet wet you can hit any of the many beaches throughout town or the one across from Hotel Albemarle. However if you want to do some snorkeling, then Concha de Perla is where you want to go. Grab the wooden pathway beside the main dock and walk for a minute until you get to the small dock and jump in. You can see everything from sea turtles to reef sharks at the Concha de Perla.
If you want to see some giant Galapagos tortoises then you’ll want to take the wooden walkway just past Iguana Crossing that will take you over lagoons and swamps filled with flamingos and stilts to the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center. It’s around a 30 minute walk and you’ll get to see some of the giant tortoises first hand. If you’re tired from the walk, just take a 5 minute taxi back to town.
If you want a little tragic history, you’ll want to rent a bike and bike down to the Wall of Tears. It’s around 5 km from town and can get quite hot if you don’t go in the morning or late afternoon but it’s an interesting bike down well marked roads where you can stop at quiet lagoons and totally secluded beaches.
What you need to know about the Hotel Albemarle Galapagos
Hotel Albemarle is in the small town of Puerto Villamil, on Isabela Island in the Galapagos, Ecuador. It’s a stone’s throw from the town’s restaurants and shops.
You can find out more about the Albemarle Hotel on their website.