My Top 5 Galapagos Islands Experiences: #5 Exploring Volcanoes

There’s more than just amazing animals in the Galapagos Islands

Right now, the world feels like it has descended into chaos. We’re all being held in limbo by a microscopic invader who’s threatening to destroy life as we know it, and a lot of us are looking for a sense of normalcy as we worry about the future.

In times like these, it’s important to keep planning for what comes next. This planning is different for everyone but, for some of us, it means dreaming of the places we’ll go once we’re free to roam the globe again.

Pinnacle Rock, Bartolomé Island, Galapagos
Where would you go if you could travel right now?

For me, part of this process involves revisiting photos and memories of places I’ve been, and the Galapagos Islands are one of my favourites. I have been fascinated by nature and evolution my entire life and, when I finally had a chance to see the giant tortoises and Darwin’s finches firsthand, I jumped at the chance.

The Galapagos Islands are way more than just tiny finches and 900 lb tortoises though, and I never could have imagined just how special these islands really are without seeing them for myself.

A place like Galapagos will give you a lot of once in a lifetime experiences in a single trip, and this “top experiences” post was supposed to be just that; one post. However things quickly escalated simply because there was so much to talk about.

Sea lion friends Puerto Ayora Galapagos
How do you pick just a few top experiences in a place like Galapagos?

So I’ve broken it down into 5 more manageable mini posts of really personal experiences, instead of one giant 5000 word essay on why the Galapagos Islands are awesome.

So here is my #5 pick for my Top 5 Galapagos Islands experiences, and if you’ve been to the Galapagos I would love to hear what your top experiences were or, if you would like to go, what you would love to see and do!

#5 Exploring Volcanic Landscapes

The Galapagos Islands are a chain of volcanic islands (similar to Hawaii), that are very, very active. This volcanism is part of what makes them unique, and gives the islands their charm.

Just a quick look around this surreal landscape will confirm there is something lurking beneath the calm surface. The black as coal lava fields that stretch all the way into the ocean, and beyond, give the Galapagos Islands an otherworldly feel.

One of the coolest spots I visited during my week here was the Sierra Negra, or ‘Black Mountain’, shield volcano.

Located on Isabela Island, the largest island in the Galapagos, the Sierra Negra volcano is one of the most active in the area, with its last major eruption occurring just a couple years ago in 2018.

Transport coach Galapagos Islands
Cozy coach on Isla Isabela

The day started with me and my travel buddy Adele getting picked up in our ‘private coach’ (a term I use loosely), and transported to the trail head for Sierra Negra along with about 10 other wide-eyed tourists.

From here, we would start our 15 km round trip hike up to the rim of the volcano and the lava fields beyond.

Sierra Negra trail head hike Galapagos
Trail head for Sierra Negra

As we meandered along the rocky path, I began to notice an odd cramping sensation in my abdomen. Of course, I had heard of Traveler’s Diarrhea, but I had been lucky enough to avoid it for the last 3 weeks or so while traveling through Ecuador. I was convinced I had an iron stomach and it hadn’t occurred to me that one day my luck might run out.

I ignored the strange pangs in my belly as we made our way up the gentle slope to the edge of the crater.

In fact, the volcano was so wide, the group hadn’t realized we had reached the top until the guide told us we were there. With the cloud settled in the caldera (the big hole in the middle), it was impossible to see to the other side over 7 km away.

A slight lift in the clouds meant a peek at what lies beneath.

Looking around, it was hard to believe that this peaceful landscape harbored such a dark secret, and at any moment the fires below could ignite and send lava once again spilling over the edge.

As if the volcano could read my mind, the clouds lifted and gave us the view we had been hoping for. The massive black ocean of cooled magma spread out before us, and it was ominous and beautiful all at the same time.

Incredible view of the Sierra Negra volcano

We continued on our hike to see the lava tubes and tunnels, and I was displeased to discover my lower shelf issues were still a thing.

The situation had now become a bit more dire as we had moved on from the lush, green, and (most importantly) tall foliage from the crater rim, to the very open and rocky lunar landscape of the lava fields.

I looked around for an emergency escape route in case it came to that, but there wasn’t much other than sharp lava rocks and open space.

The landscape was really incredible though and, as I wondered what the penalty was for pooping on a UNESCO heritage site, I used all the willpower I had to enjoy this time as much as I could.

Lava tube Isla Isabele Galapagos
Posing for a quick photo with clenched cheeks

Huge fumaroles spewing sulphuric gases, worm-like lava tubes, and rainbow colored rocks all stood as reminders of how active the ground beneath our feet had been in days gone by.

My personal favourite: the lava tube

Finally, our guide said we were heading back towards the coach.

Lucky for me, my friend Adele was more than accommodating of my situation, and agreed to let the rest of the group go on ahead while we hung back, just in case there was a worst case scenario.

Brightly coloured hardened magma from an eruption of Sierra Negra

That trek back to the vehicle has got to be the longest one I have ever endured. It seemed like forever before we made it back to the coach where everyone was waiting for us.

I couldn’t wait to get back to my hotel room and be close to a bathroom for the next few hours, but I was disappointed I was going to miss out on the late afternoon snorkel trip. I knew it wasn’t worth it to push my luck though so that was the end of my adventuring for the day. Besides, there would be greater things to come.

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