Many travelers return from the Galapagos Islands with stars in their eyes. The problem is that visiting the archipelago off the coast of Ecuador is expensive, even very expensive. Here we present to you a plan B, certainly less breathtaking, but much more affordable, with the unflattering name of “Poor man’s Galapagos”.
Its turtles, its iguanas, its colorful birds… Yes, the Galapagos sanctuary is worth the trip. For those who can afford it. Between the cost of the plane, the nights on a cruise and the activities, the bill quickly explodes.
Fortunately, for visitors who are broke or in a hurry, a much less expensive option exists, ironically named Isla de la Plata (“Silver Island”, where explorer Francis Drake is said to have buried treasure, but that’s another history…). The place is very similar to one of the Galapagos islands, with amazing, although less diverse, wildlife, and is located off the coast of Puerto López, a rather party (in the pejorative sense of the term) coastal town in the heart of a national park.
Along the port there are two types of boats: those of fishermen, leaving from morning to evening in the hope of returning with impressive catches, and those of tourists, heading for the famous island, in anticipation to collect breathtaking photographs.
Guided tours can only be organized by agencies, for a reasonable US$50 (add two zeros to that figure for a high-end Galapagos stay). We recommend using Machalilla Tours, very serious.
Departure is given in the morning, aboard a small ship carrying around fifteen tourists. Let’s be clear: anyone who suffers from seasickness should bring a barrel of Gravol. Because even in good weather, it rocks badly for more than an hour and a half. It would be a shame not to enjoy the ballet of whales along the way – present from June to October only. A little advice from the gang: Micha, our Airbnb host, advised us not to take a tour dedicated solely to large cetaceans, where we won’t see anything else.
The guides, ensuring that the fauna and flora are not disturbed by our passage, point out the first discoveries, including a blue-footed booby. Cameras crackle, their owners still unaware at this stage that they will see hundreds of them. “The couples choose a specific place on the island and settle there for laying eggs,” says Carlos, one of the guides. Some, half-hidden on the edge of the paths, emit clucking sounds when you approach them too closely. “It’s a sign that we’re bothering them. Step back, ma’am, it’s a minimum distance of one meter,” says the guide to a tourist snapping dozens of selfies with a madman who has gone mad with rage.
Speaking of spats, we suddenly come across a fight between a blue-footed booby and two Nazca boobies, the female of which is incubating two eggs with azure shells. “Gosh, this is the first time I’ve seen this! Carlos is surprised. Usually, both species stay in their respective areas. There, both have chosen to nest in the same place and are fighting to settle there. »
The visit also presents local plants, including the famous sandalwood, with its distinctive incense scent, while new wings flap in the sky. Those of majestic frigate birds, with their forked tails, their irregular flight and their black plumage, contrasting with the white of the strawberries. The island is also frequented by albatrosses during the breeding season.
The tour takes us above magnificently jagged cliffs, over which the sea rages. This will also be the next step, since a few hours later, we get back on the ship to reach a dive site at the foot of the island.
By mid-afternoon the tour comes to an end and it’s time for another pint of Gravol, as the return to Puerto López will be no less hectic than the outward journey, but still punctuated by the greeting of whales jumping unexpectedly in the distance.
Yes, the Galapagos remain an irreplaceable destination, with their much more extensive bestiary. But for those who cannot afford such a stay, the island of La Plata gives an excellent taste of the place. Especially since the surroundings of Puerto López offer great options!