One of the first things people tend to ask you when you say you’re going to Ecuador is if you’re planning a trip to the Galápagos Islands. Unfortunately, my budget wouldn’t stretch to a jaunt over to the land of Darwin’s finches, but I had heard about an alternative for getting my wildlife fix, and it’s known as the Isla de la Plata (Silver Island), or, The Poor Man’s Galápagos. The Isla de la Plata is an island 42km from the fishing town of Puerto López. A 1-hour and 15 minute journey by boat will get you there and the whole day-trip costs $40.
It’s an island that boasts some of the same species of birds and marine mammals that are found on the Galápagos Islands. For example, it is one of the only other breeding grounds for the Waved Albatross, also known as the Galápagos Albatross. At the time of our visit the Albatross were there breeding and so a part of the island was closed off. Instead, we walked another trail where we saw a plethora of Blue-footed boobies, Frigatebirds with their glaring red throat glands puffed out, Nazca boobies, and we were even lucky enough to spot a couple of Red-footed boobies off in the distance. Suffice to say, my inner bird nerd was pretty satisfied.
The Waved Albatross mate for life
The male Frigatebirds puff out their red gular pouches to attract a mate
Nazca booby and its young
The Red-footed booby
After the hike, you head out on the boat and are given the opportunity to snorkel, but I have to say that it wasn’t really the ideal spot for it: choppy, deep waters don’t make for relaxing snorkelling. And so, after about 10 minutes we gave up and just enjoyed a bit of a swim.
Pelican bobbing on a buoy off the island’s shore
And the highlight of the day was yet to come.
After roughly 45 minutes into the boat ride back to the mainland, and starting to feel a bit queasy, suddenly, a little way off, appeared hundreds of birds grouped together and diving into the water. I turned to Brittany and said, “That’s funny, usually when birds behave like that it’s because all of the fish are being pushed to the surface by… DOLPHINS!”
All of a sudden, dozens of dolphins could be seen as their dark grey bodies broke the surface of the water, one after the other. A mad rush for cameras ensued and one of the crewmembers grabbed my hand and led me to the bow of the boat. “Don’t be scared”, he told me as I shimmied nervously along the side of the boat, very conscious of the expensive camera dangling from my neck.
Diving Blue-footed boobies
The captain turned off the engine and we sat there and watched the incredible display of diving Blue-footed boobies and jumping spotted dolphins. I had such a great view from up at the front of the boat with our tour guide and the crewmember who had picked me as the lucky one to sit on deck.
I had never been that close to dolphins before and it really was an exhilarating experience and made the whole day even more worth it.
The Isla de la Plata is definitely not going to be on par with the Galápagos Islands, I’m sure, but as a nice day out and a way of getting your wildlife fix in Ecuador, it’s a very good alternative.
And maybe one day I’ll get to visit the Galápagos and be able to make a true comparison.