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Detailed Guide to Visiting the Poor Man’s Galapagos, Ecuador

Detailed Guide to Visiting the Poor Man’s Galapagos, Ecuador

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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 2023) includes everything you need to know about visiting the Poor Man’s Galapagos on a day trip from Montanita or Puerto Lopez, 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. And the next best thing to visiting the real Galapagos Islands is the Poor Man’s Galapagos in Ecuador (also known as Isla de la Plata).

Visiting the Poor Man’s Galapagos on a day trip turned out to be one of our most exciting and memorable experiences in South America. We saw tons of wildlife including the famous Blue-footed boobies and whales!

So, if you’re contemplating visiting the Poor Man’s Galapagos for yourself, here’s everything you need to know before you go including getting there, what wildlife you can expect to see, and other important tips!

Related Read: Heading to Peru? Be sure to book a couple of the best tours in Lima!

About the Poor Man’s Galapagos in Ecuador

An adult and baby whale breach near Isla de la Plata, Ecuador
An adult and baby whale breach near Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

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

As part of the Machalilla National Park, the island is a nature lover’s paradise. It’s known for its many birds, like the famous Blue-footed boobies and Galapagos albatrosses, however, the island also boasts massive sea turtles, a wide variety of fish, Frigate birds, and at the right time of year (June to September) Humpback whales!

Our Experience on a Tour to Poor Man’s Galapagos

A Blue-footed Booby looks at the camera on Isla de la Plata, Ecuador
A Blue-footed Booby looks at the camera on Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

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

This means that you must book a tour to be able to visit the Poor Man’s Galapagos. Below is more information about booking the tour and what you can expect based on our own personal experience on a Poor Man’s Galapagos tour.

Related Read: There are some incredible hikes in South America that you might want to add to your bucket list!

Getting to the Poor Man’s Galapagos

Our boat that took us to the poor mans Galapagos
The boat that took us to the Poor Man’s Galapagos

Tours to the Poor Man’s Galapagos typically start in either Montanita or Puerto Lopez in Ecuador. They are operated as only a day trip as there is no accommodation on the island.

We met at our chosen company’s tour office in Montanita at 8 am and began the 30-minute 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 42 km (26 mi) 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.

If you want to book ahead online to reserve a spot you can book a similar tour as ours here with Tangalo. It costs $92 USD and lasts for 8 hours.

Arriving at the island

Bailey on Isla de la Plata, Ecuador
Bailey on Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

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 learned about the history of the island, the reasons why the island is so special, and the factors that threaten this spectacular ecosystem.

The birds – Blue-footed boobies and Frigatebirds

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 see wild Blue-footed booby birds!

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.

Male Frigatebirds puff up their chests on Isla de la Plata, Ecuador
Male Frigatebirds puff up their chests on Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

Already so excited by the experience, we continued on to a massive nest of Frigatebirds. We were lucky enough to be there during the nesting season and even saw a few chicks in the nest. The male Frigatebirds have the strangest red pouch on their necks which is what attracts the females.

Learning from the pros – Humpback whale watching

The tale of a humpback whale breaches the waters off the poor mans Galapagos
The tale of a humpback whale breaches the waters of the Poor Man’s Galapagos

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 (that our chosen 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 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 a respected tour operator such as Go Montanita or Tangol as the information learned through the research team will make your experience that much better!

The Snorkeling near Isla de la Plata

Bailey poses at the front our boat before we went snorkeling near Isla de la Plata
Time for a quick pic before going snorkeling!

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 island. 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.

Humpback whale watching

A whale breaches off the coast of Isla de la Plata, Ecuador
A whale breaches off the coast of Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

The last part of the tour was Humpback whale watching (done between the months of June to October.) We headed out to sea and within not even 10 minutes of looking, we had stumbled across two Humpback whales! These animals are magnificent to watch as they 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, one only meters from the boat. Everyone on our boat was amazed by these beautiful animals and the excitement was electric.

You can have a similar experience as ours by booking your Isla de la Plata tour online in advance here!

Our Chosen Tour Company

The coastline from a viewpoint on Isla de la Plata, Ecuador
The coastline from a viewpoint on Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

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 we did with Go Montanita cost $85 USD and included transport, food and drinks, a guide, and snorkeling equipment. We can see why the island is referred to as the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” due to the low cost of this tour.

If you’d rather book online to make sure you’re going with a trusted company you can book this Isla de la Plata tour here for $92 USD and get a similar experience as us!

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.

Related Read: Dan and I have traveled together for many years! Find out how to survive traveling with your partner!

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 Lopez 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 6 USD. If you want to go to Puerto Lopez, stay on the bus for another 45 minutes or so until it reaches Puerto Lopez.

From Peru

Taking the overnight buses either from Lima or Mancora to Guayaquil (Civa has regular services) and as I described above, there are connecting buses from there to Montanita with the bus company CLP.

Related Read: There are so many amazing things to do in Peru – Ecuador’s neighboring country to the south!

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 or Montanita.

Montanita

The beach in Montinita, Ecuador
The beach in Montinita, Ecuador

We stayed in Montanita as the town offered the same tours to the Poor Man’s Galapagos, but also boasted some fantastic 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 (starting at $22 USD a night), they offer amazing facilities and make an effort to offer extra services and a social atmosphere.

You can check availability and book Selina Montanita on Booking.com or Hostelworld.

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 as a bar and restaurant on-site! We consider it high budget but you only pay about $250 USD for a double room with a sea view and breakfast!

You can check availability and book Nativa Bambu Ecolodge on Booking.com.

Puerto Lopez

The jetty at Puerto Lopez, Ecuador
The jetty at Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

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!

You can check availability and book Hostal Alcabaza on Booking.com.

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, and a balcony, plus, there is a restaurant and bar onsite. They will even organize your Isla de la Plata tour for you! Expect to pay around $86 USD for a night here.

You can check availability and book Mantaray Lodge on Booking.com.

Related Read: While in Ecuador make sure to check out all of the unique things to do in Quito!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey at the beach in Puerto Veijo
Thanks for reading!

Let me begin by saying that the wildlife on and around Isla de la Plata (Poor Man’s Galapagos) 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 it!

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

Things to do in Banos

12 BEST Day Trips from Quito, Ecuador

Best Latin American Cities

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Oliver Hembury-Gunn

Sunday 28th of November 2021

Hey super useful. Did you do any diving? And any idea if there is interesting things to see in January?

destinationlesstravel

Friday 3rd of December 2021

Hey Oliver,

Thanks!

We did not do any diving, sorry.

In January you'll see lots of wildlife except whales.

Thanks Daniel

karen

Sunday 25th of August 2019

weather? clothing? footwear?

destinationlesstravel

Monday 26th of August 2019

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!

Thanks Daniel