“Both [Isabela and Fernandina] are covered with immense deluges of black naked lava, which have flowed either over the rims of the great caldrons, like pitch over the rim of a pot in which it has been boiled, or have burst forth from smaller orifices on the flanks; in their descent they have spread over miles of the sea-coast.”– Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle
Sitting on lava rock, gazing out at the lava fields and low vegetation on Isabela Island in the Galapagos — this is a view I never thought I’d get to see. I had already seen so much of the spectacular wildlife, but there hadn’t been much focus on the landscape until this point.
On my fourth day in the Galapagos with Lindblad Expeditions, we ended our visit to Isla Isabela — the largest island in the archipelago — with a sunset hike around Darwin Lake and Tagus Cove. It wasn’t a long hike, which is normal around the Galapagos as tourists can only visit a small portion of the archipelago.
Up to this point, the trip around the Galapagos Islands consisted of slow hikes to watch the beauty of nature — the best reason to visit the region. A 1.5-mile hike would average three hours because the group would stop for photography opportunities and the naturalists would explain everything about the particular island, from its history to the wildlife.
In the case of our final trip to Isabela, the plan was for a brisk 1.5-mile hike, partly because the trail wasn’t as open as at other trails. The narrow trail meant that we had to move at a consistent pace to avoid a logjam — we also had to hope that no one was coming in the opposite direction (which they shouldn’t have been because tourists and groups are regulated). But there were some spots to stop and take in the views.
As the plan was for a faster-than-usual hike, we had a dry landing from the Zodiac at the trail, and some people on the ship opted to skip the hike entirely. As many fellow travelers were older, Lindblad Expeditions set precautions on the excursions — this was considered a moderate-to-difficult hike by their standards, but it was an easy hike for me considering what I’m used to.
Along the trail overlooking Darwin Lake, there wasn’t much in the way of wildlife — we encountered plenty of lava lizards, which had become a common sight up to this point, and a few finches.
The lake was named after Charles Darwin’s expedition to the Galapagos in 1835. It’s the only freshwater lake in the Galapagos on the western coast of Isabela.
The area was a popular stop for whalers and pirates in the 17th through 19th centuries — they left plenty of graffiti on the rocks with lead paint. It was an area that the crews could easily catch giant tortoises to eat later on their journeys. And it remains a popular spot for tours. It also introduced rats and goats to the islands — many of the goats have been culled over the years, but conservationists are still trying to eradicate the rats.
As we continued the hike, I saw a sharp peak rising out of the lava rock and joked that we should head up that way. Little did I know that it was our destination.
Our final stop was a bit of a rest with a view of Volcán Darwin. Our naturalist pointed out the geologic history of the area and noted the smoke emitted from a volcano. From here we could gaze out at the expanse of lava field that stretched to the sea toward Fernandina.
It was a cool perch to take some pictures, including attempts at panoramics. Unfortunately, there’s a blurred line in the middle of the best panoramic photo I took, which I couldn’t see on my phone screen. It’s a lesson to know how to steadily move the camera (or get a tripod to help).
The hike back to the landing for our Zodiac back to the ship provided beautiful light with the setting sun. We picked up the pace on the return trek as the sights were the same as before and there weren’t any new wildlife to stop for. We had to make a quick exit as there are no tourists allowed in these areas after 6 pm, which is about sunset at the Equator.
I caught a glimpse of the setting sun from the Zodiac — it was a less bumpy ride than at other days, which made it easier to take pictures.