Poor Mans Galapagos – Blue Footed Boobies, Humpback Whales, Frigit Birds, and more

Once we had decided it would be far too expensive to visit the Gallapagos Islands on a trip as long as ours, we made a pact to see and do as much as the islands have to offer without actually going there. We started in Lima swimming with the sea lions, then we swam with turtles in Mancora, and last on our list was our trip to Isla de la Plata (aka, the “poor mans galapagos”) to see more wildlife – which should be on your “what to do in Ecuador” list.

The poor mans Gallapagos Islands, Isla de la Plata “Sliver Island” is a small uninhabited island off of Ecuador’s central coast, near the town of Montanita and is great thing to to do in Ecuador. Part of the Machalilla National Park, the island is a nature lover’s paradise. It is known for it’s many birds, like the famous Blue-Footed Boobies and Galapagos Albatrosses, however the island also boasts massive sea turtles, a wide of variety of fish, frigit birds, and at this time of year (June to September) Humpback Whales.

Some say that the Isla de la Plata gets it’s name from the old buried treasure of Sir Francis Drake, others say that “silver” refers to the large deposits of guano that stain its landscape. Visiting the island is only allowed through a registered tour operator, this being the case because of the island’s fragile ecosystems put under strain from human faults.
On Our way

We met at the tour office at 8am and began the drive to the port. Shortly after arriving we met our group and tour guide, boarded our boat and set off on the 42km journey to the island. As we approached the island we were met with sea turtles after a morning feed. Next, we left the boat and headed inland walking along the dirt trails that carve their way through the island. Along the way we were explained to about the history of the island and about the reasons why the island is so special and the factors that threaten this spectacular ecosystem.

First moments on the island

The Birds – Blue Footed Boobies and Frigit Birds

I began this tour with the expectation of seeing wildlife from a distance but not long after we started we were met with a Blue Footed Boobies right on the path in front of us! Amazed at the encounter, I stood in shock wondering why this beautiful bird simply stood in front of us without any fear. I’m not a bird guy, but this was special. Blue Footed Boobies are not intimidated  by humans as they have no predators on the island and the one we saw actually put on a little dance show while we took photos. Already so excited by the experience, we continued on to a massive nest of Frigit Birds. We were lucky enough to be there during nesting season and even saw a few chicks in the nest. The male frigit birds have the strangest red puch on their necks which is what attracts the females.

Blue Footed Boobies
Dancing for the crowd
Male Frigit birds

Learning from the Pros

Isla de la Plata is packed with amazing things to see and apart from birds, lizards and awesome plants to taste and smell, the rocky cliffs make for some breathtaking views. After exploring the island for 2 hours we headed back to the boat for lunch. While we enjoyed our lunch the whale researchers the tour company supports treated us to whale listening with some high-tech equipment used in their research. It was great to listen to these magnificant creatures communicate underwater. The researchers also spent time explaining to us about the whales and the techniques they use to tell them apart. This is one major reason to pick Go Montanita as a tour operator as the information learned through the research team added an amazing touch to the tour.

The Snorkelling

Now it was time to snorkel some of the surrounding reef and enjoy some time relaxing on the boat! The snorkeling was not world class but was a good break after hiking Isla de la Plata and the cool calm waters made for a fun time. If you’re lucky you might even encounter some more turtles!

We also took the chance to soak up some vitamin D and enjoy the views from the front of the boat. This was a good way for the group to get to know each other and share travel stories.

Enjoying the view and the sun!


Humpback Whale Watching

The last part of the tour was Humpback whale watching, (done between the months of June to August) we headed out and not even 10 minutes of looking we had stumbled across 2 humpback whales. These animals are magnificant to watch as the casually swim together sometimes slapping the water with their giant tails before making another dive.

We spent about 2 hours Humpback whale watching and managed to see 7 whales in total, once only meters from the boat. Everyone on our boat was amazed by these beautiful animals and the excitement was electric.

Up for air
Researchers use the tails to identify each whale, similar to a human fingerprint
More close encounters

Go Montanita

If you’re after a professional team to look after you on your tour of Isla de la Plata these guys have everything you’re looking for. With their tours in English and Spanish everyone will enjoy the amazing facts about this valuable ecosystem.

The food (although basic) was nice with two sandwiches, plenty of fruit, and muffins for snacks no one went hungry on our tour. Water is also provided for refills of water bottles although I recommend bringing some of your own.

Snorkelling gear was in good shape and was clean, they provide life jackets for those not confident in the water and we over heard other groups complaining about their gear.

The tour with Go Montanita cost $50usd and includes transport, food and drinks, guide and equipment – we can see why the island is referred to as the poor mans galapagos due to the low cost of this tour. The tour lasted about 10 hours with pick up at 8am and drop off at 6pm, this is longer than usual as whale watching is done on top of the standard tour during the months of June, July and August.

To book check out their website: http://gomontanita.com/

Views of the islands cliffs

Transport

From Quito – Take a overnight buss to the city of Guayquil, from there you can connect to another bus ( bus company CLP) that takes you directly to Montanita for 6usd.

From Peru – Taking the overnight buses either from Lima or Mancora to Guayquil (Civa have regular services) and once again connecting from there to Montanita with CLP.

There are two options for staying on the mainland, Puerto Lopez and Montanita. We stayed in Montanita as the town offered the same tours but also boasted some amazing nightlife and the laid back surfers lifestyle. The towns are only 1 hour apart and the same bus that goes to Montanita continues on to Puerto Lopez.

What to Bring

1. A camera is a must as the opportunities to photograph wildlife are endless.

2. Sunscreen, hat and plenty of water are very important as the day is long.

3. Bathers for swimming and a towel.

4. Extra snacks if you eat a lot like me.


Hostels in Montinita

There are many hostels in Montinita and we chose to stay at Iguana Backpackers. They offer afordable dorms or private rooms and a good breakfast. Since we were visiting during the down seasons, this was one of the few hostels in Montanita that was full and still had a social vibe.
Overview

Let me begin by saying that the wildlife on and around Isla  de la Plata truely is amazing and it really doesn’t matter what time of year you visit you are bound to have a unique and breathtaking experience. Its not quite a Galapagos cruise but this was our favourite nature tour we have done and we loved every minute of it, we saw amazing wildlife and can take some knowledge of the island with us forever…… Highly recommend!

For more travel guides about amazing places in South America click here:

https://destinationlesstravel.com/category/travel-guide/

-Daniel

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