Puerto Lopez in Ecuador is a run down, littered town with very little going for it other than its proximity to Isla de la Plata. So, why visit?
WHAT’S SO GOOD ABOUT ISLA DE LA PLATA?
Isla de la Plata has two main draws. First, the island itself is often referred to as a mini Galapagos thanks to the presence of some of the Galapagos Island wildlife. And second, the waters around it are frequented by humpback whales, which can put on quite a display!
I changed my travel plans to incorporate a whale watching tour after meeting someone in a Quito hostel who showed me videos of them jumping and tail slapping in their dozens.
I booked a day tour including Isla de la Plata and a couple of hours’ whale watching. All in, it was $40. From the tour operator’s main office I was given a lift on the back of someone’s motorbike to the far end of the beach, where they requested I pay another dollar.
The water can be quite rough and the waves have a tendency to splash through. They managed this by covering one side of the boat with thick plastic sheeting. This is good for comfort, but obviously quite a disadvantage if any whales show up. As you might imagine, it’s very frustrating having to remain in your seat (to balance the boat) while the other half of your tour group is whooping in delight at having seen a whale.
By the time we arrived at Isla de la Plata, I still hadn’t seen one.
EXPLORING ISLA DE LA PLATA
We reached the island after about 2 hours. Although the tour group consisted of Spanish, French and English speakers – and the information was delivered in Spanish – one of our guides made a special effort to translate.
He explained that the island is called Isla de la Plata, or Silver Island, because Francis Drake had ‘left some money there’. Also, the sailors use the name because the bird guano on the cliffs reflects the moonlight at night and helps them navigate.
WHY MINI GALAPAGOS?
It soon became apparent that the island’s main avian attraction was the blue-footed booby. You could barely walk along a footpath without accidentally stepping on them. They prefer to nest where the ground is level and they rule the roost on Isla de la Plata, which meant we had to detour through the shrubs.
The females are bigger, their eyes have a larger black circle, and they squark, while the males whistle.
Nazca and red-footed boobies are a reasonably common sight, as well as frigate birds.
FRIGATE BIRD CHICKS
This adorable frigate bird chick was also spotted in its nest.
LUNCH AND SNORKELLING
When we returned to the boat, we were given sandwiches, a cup of coke and slices of melon and pineapple. Five minutes later, we had dropped anchor in a small bay and they handed out snorkelling equipment.
Only four other people said they’d do it and the water temperature almost put me off joining them. But you only live once. The guides helped me climb on to the top of the boat so I could do a running jump into the sea, and this is definitely the best way to get in when it’s chilly.
I soon acclimatised, and there were many more bright and colourful fish than I’d expected to see. Also, just after we’d climbed back on board, two manta rays passed right below us.
MORE WHALE SPOTTING
On the return boat journey, my side of the boat was free from plastic sheeting, but luck wasn’t on my side of the boat. The other half of the tour group had a few glimpses and I just managed to capture one with my zoom to the max before it disappeared beneath the waves.
WHAT I LEARNED
Puerto Lopez is a place you’re unlikely to appreciate unless you’re there for Isla de la Plata or whale watching. If you really want to see the whales and especially if you intend to join a Galapagos cruise, you might as well skip Isla de la Plata and optimise your time on the ocean. Also, research the best time to visit. While animals are never 100% reliable, there are optimum times when they’re most likely to exhibit certain behaviours and I think I’d just missed peak season.