Home > Galápagos Islands > Sierra Negra an outstanding Galápagos Volcano (Part 1)

Sierra Negra an outstanding Galápagos Volcano (Part 1)

We have anchored inside the semi-rectangular bay of Villamil, on the south eastern tip of Isabela, the largest of the Galapagos Islands…. The sun is just rising over the eastern horizon, sending a kaleidoscope of golden rays over the bay and the quaint town of Puerto Villamil, with its dazzling white sandy beach, dotted with pretty hostels and beachfront homes…. We disembark on the yacht’s Zodiacs, accompanied by Ramiro and Vanessa, our Naturalist guides.  The bay is dotted with lava shoals which Juan, the boatman, skillfully avoids until we reach the town’s tourist dock….

No time to look around as we must make our way up to Sierra Negra, one of the five massive volcanoes which make the giant island of Isabella.  But, we know that, in the afternoon, we will have the opportunity to visit the village with its wetlands which include flamingos practically in the backyards of some homes and the National Park’s Giant Tortoise Rearing Center.  Now we board a local bus and load up bottles of water and our picnic lunch for today… Ramiro and Vanessa tell us it will take us about one hour to reach the place from which we will start walking to reach the volcano’s caldera…

The narrow road is paved on the first miles and then it turns into plain gravel…. As we start ascending, the view of picturesque Puerto Villamil and the turquoise bay alongside gets prettier by the minute and gives us new and nice angles of this part of Isabella island… The typical lowland vegetation made of drier zone’s shrubbery, cacti and “Palo Santo” trees, soon gives way to the vast farmlands of southeastern Isabella…. Soon we are driving by banana, coffee and cocoa fields….. lots of citrus trees give the area an aspect of rich soil fertility, which indeed it has…. A bit higher there are grasslands where we can observe some cattle ranches and on the higher hills, some feral cattle roaming free..

Now we have arrived at “El Cura”, an esplanade atop a rolling hill which provides us with a breathtaking view of the immensity of this island: to the south the farmlands and cattle ranches, to the east, fading in the distance, the village and the bay and to the north the huge lava flows which testimony centuries of volcanic activity of Sierra Negra and some of its subsidiary cones.  A small control cabin of the National Park Service marks the place where the road ends.  We disembark, take photos of the spectacular scenery below us and then look at the winding dirt trail that awaits for our steps to go by in order to reach the volcano’s caldera rim… It looks steep, but we are eager to accomplish the goal and slowly start making our way up…

The vegetation displays trees covered with ferns and mosses, plenty of bromeliads and a few and rare orchids…. Several Darwin’s finches, mainly of the tree thriving sub species fly and chirp around, as some Galapagos flycatchers perch on lower branches and observe us with amusing curiosity… it should be the other way around… A brightly scarlet and black vermillion flycatcher appears and tries two amazing sky-dives from high elevation to shrub level… trying to impress us or just carrying on with his daily life…??  As we get higher, the flora changes into a low and yellowish grassland…

We can see the rim coming closer but the closer it seems, the greater effort it takes to brave the trail and the steep and a bit slippery terrain… a narrow gorge makes a small group of us on the expedition to rub shoulders with about a dozen feral bulls who look at us, with not too friendly eyes, as we quietly and quickly go past them. The final effort and we are at the rim of Sierra Negra… the world’s second largest caldera, almost ten miles long and close to four miles wide… A refuge for one of the unique sub species of Galapagos giant tortoises… The view is impressive, the giant caldera looks like a humongous oval bowl, its flat floor, more than two hundred feet below us, covered with lava flows mixed with islands of vegetation… Our guides tell us fantastic stories about the geology and natural history of the remote and impressive place we are fortunate to have reached…. From the south, a thin layer of cloud comes from the cooler south and seems to cascade over the interior of Sierra Negra’s rim, giving the place an altogether mysterious aspect…….One of the many magic features of Galapagos is showing off…. But this story will continue next week on a second part……

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