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Poor Mans Galapagos – A Detailed Guide

Last updated : January 4th, 2020

blue footed boobies on the poor man's Galapagos

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If you don’t have the time or money to go to the real Galapagos Islands, then consider visiting the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” in Ecuador instead. This blog (updated 2019) includes everything you need about visiting the Poor Man’s Galapagos on a day trip form Montanita or Puerto Lopez.

Poor Man’s Galapagos, Ecuador

Once we had decided it would be far too expensive to visit the Galapagos 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 an Isla de la Plata tour (aka, the “Poor Man’s Galapagos”) to see some more unique wildlife.

Visiting the Poor Mn’s Galapagos on a day trip turned out to be an exciting and memorable experience. We saw tons of wildlife including the famous Blue Footed Boobies and whales! We would recommend visiting h

About the Poor Man’s Galapagos in Ecuador

The Poor Man’s Galapagos, Isla de la Plata “Silver Island”, is a small uninhabited island off of Ecuador’s central coast, near the town of Montanita.

As part of the Machalilla National Park, the island is a nature lover’s paradise. It is known for its 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, frigate birds, and at this time of year (June to September) Humpback Whales!

whale watching on isla de la plata tours
Up for air

Isla de La Plata Tours – Tours to the Poor Man’s Galapagos

Visiting the island is only allowed through a registered tour operator. This is because of the island’s fragile ecosystems put under strain from human faults.

This means you must book a tour to be able to visit the Poor Man’s Galapagos. Below is more information about booking the tour, what to expect on a tour, and how to prepare!

Related Read:   The Best Hikes in South America - My Top 8

Getting to the Poor Man’s Galapagos

We met at our chosen company’s tour office in Montanita at 8 am and began the drive to the port in Puerto Lopez.

Shortly after arriving we met our group and tour guide, boarded our boat, and set off on the 42km journey to the island. We were going to go directly to the island, and on the way back we would take a few detours to try and do some whale watching.

this was our boat to get to the poor man's galapagos
First moments on the island

Arriving at Island de La Plata

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.

Wildlife on the Poor Man’s Galapagos

The Birds – Blue Footed Boobies and Frigatebirds

I began this tour with the expectation of seeing wildlife from a distance but not long after we started our walk we were met with a Blue Footed Booby 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.

isla de la plata tours let you see blue footed boobies up close in the wildlife
Isla de la Plata tours will bring you to the wild Blue Footed Boobies
there are hundreds of blue footed boobies on the poor man's galapagos
Dancing for the crowd

Already so excited by the experience, we continued on to a massive nest of Frigatebirds. 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 pouch on their necks which is what attracts the females.

frigit birds on the poor man's galapagos
Male Frigatebirds
Related Read:   Ecuador Travel Photo Gallery

Learning from the Pros – Humpback Whale Watching

The Poor Man’s Galapagos 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 magnificent creatures to 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 set them apart from all of the other Isla de la Plata tours.

The Snorkeling near Isla de la Plata

Now it was time to snorkel some of the surrounding reefs and enjoy some time relaxing on the boat! The snorkeling was not world class but was a good break after hiking on the Poor Man’s Galapagos 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.

chilling on the boat just off of the poor man's galapagos
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 magnificent 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.

june to august is whale watching so book your isla de la Plata tours
Researchers use the tails to identify each whale, similar to a human fingerprint
Humpback whales near the poor man's galapagos
More close encounters

Tour Company

If you’re after a professional team to look after you for your Isla de la Plata tour then there are plenty of good operators in town.

The tour with Go Montanita (who we went with) cost $60usd and includes transport, food and drinks, guide and equipment – we can see why the island is referred to as the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” due to the low cost of this tour.

You can book your Isla de la Plata tour here!

The tours last about 10 hours with pick up at 8 am and drop off at 6 pm, this is longer than usual as whale watching is done on top of the standard tour during the months of June, July, and August.

we did our isla de la plata tours with go montanita
Views of the island’s cliffs

Getting to the Poor Man’s Galapagos

As I said before, you can only go to the Poor Man’s Galapagos on an organized tour with a certified tour provider. This means that you will have to book a day trip to the island from the mainland towns of Montanita or Puerto Lopez.

Here is how you can get to Montanita or Puerto Lopex by bus:

From Quito

Take an overnight bus to the city of Guayaquil. From there you can connect to another bus ( bus company CLP) that takes you directly to Montanita for 6usd. If you want to go to Puerto Lopez, stay on the bus for another 50 minutes or so until it reaches Puerto Lopez.

You can also do a day trip to Isla de la Plata from Guayaquil. Click here for more info!

From Peru

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

Where to stay near the Poor Man’s Galapagos

There are two options for staying close to the Poor Man’s Galapagos (or Isla de la Plata) since you are not allowed to spend the night on the island itself. You can stay at either  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.

Some great choices for places to stay in Montanita are:

Selina Montanita (low budget)– These guys have hostels all over South and Central America, and for good reason – they do hostels well! Although slightly pricier than other budget hostels they offer amazing facilities and make an effort to offer extra services and a social atmosphere. Click here for prices and availability.

Nativa Bambu Ecolodge (high budget) – This hotel is as eco-friendly as it gets in Ecuador! They have an infinity pool overlooking the beach as well ass have a bar and restaurant on site! We consider it a “high” budget but you only pay about $100 USD for a double room with a sea view and breakfast! Click here for availability and exact prices. 

Puerto Lopez

If you want a little more luxury then consider staying in Puerto Lopez. Here, you’ll find some really nice hotels right on the beach!
Some great choices for places to stay in Puerto Lopez are:

Hostal Alcabaza (low budget) – This is the best value place you will find in Puerto Lopez. While it is located a few minutes walk from the beach it offers comfortable and affordable rooms. You can get a private room for two people for as little as $17 USD! Click here to browse rooms and check availability!

Mantaray Lodge (high budget) – If you want a beautiful hotel with a pool and amazing service then this is the one for you! Rooms offer air conditioning, breakfast, balconies, and there is a restaurant and bar onsite. They will even organize your Isla de la Plata tour for you! Click here to check prices and availability!

Related Read:   Unique Things to do in Quito, Ecuador

Overall Impression of the Poor Man’s Galapagos

Let me begin by saying that the wildlife on and around Isla de la Plata truly is amazing and it really doesn’t matter what time of year you visit you are bound to have a unique and breathtaking experience.

It’s not quite a Galapagos cruise but this was our favorite 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!

Traveling more in Ecuador? Check out our other blog posts here:

If you have any questions or comments please leave them below in the comments! We WILL get back to you!

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About the Author - destinationlesstravel

We are Dan and Bailey, just your typical thrill-seeking travelers! You will likely find us hiking, scuba diving, catching public transport, or just drinking beer at a hostel.

2 Replies to “Poor Mans Galapagos – A Detailed Guide”

    • Hey! For the walk on the island you may want enclosed shoes however I simply went with flip flops. Be sure to bring a towel and swimmers as there is a chance to swim and snorkel if you want! As for the weather, it can get rough in the afternoons on the way back on the boat if you get sick be sure to take some sea sickness pills! The bots won’t go is the weather is too rough!


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