Snorkeling at Los Tuneles on Isabela

April 2019

 

Los Tuneles are lava tunnels and arches between mangroves and the open sea which were created when lava flowed into the sea. Nowadays, these lava tunnels are filled with crystal clear water and huge cactus trees grow on them.

 

This exceptional landscape and snorkeling spot is a truly unique place as there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. Cute Galapagos penguins, playful sea lions, giant sea turtles, small seahorses, impressive rays, clumsy blue footed boobies, stubborn marine and land iguanas call Los Tuneles home.

How to get there?​

Los Tuneles are located on the south side of Isabela, around 60 minutes west of Puerto Villamil. Even though it is a bit further away, it is not really off the beaten path as this is one of the most popular tours on Isabela. However, Los Tuneles are not accessible to the cruise ships.


You need to book a tour to visit Los Tuneles as it is located in a national park. Make sure you book a tour with a good operator (if you are able to) as this determines how much fun your tour will be. But here is the catch. This tour is booked up quickly and we had difficulties getting a seat at all, even though we were on Isabela for four days. In the end we had the chance to find a tour operator with the help of our hotel staff.

 

On the first day on Isabela we went to an agency to book all the tours we wanted to do. They told us that all the tours to Los Tuneles were fully booked. Subsequently, we went to three other agencies which told us the same thing. Finally, we asked our hotel staff if they could help us and they found an agency for us.

 

Therefore, we recommend you book this tour as soon as you arrive on Isabela. If Los Tuneles is on your bucket list consider booking the tour online in advance. It is more expensive but you make sure you get a seat. You can also ask your hotel staff in advance if they can organize the tour for you which may be cheaper. Speaking of prices. We paid 120 USD (in cash) which including wetsuit and snorkeling gear. It's not super cold but the water is a bit chilly, especially considering that you are in the water for a while. Besides, it's also good to prevent sunburn. There are certainly better prices available for this tour, although the tour is generally one of the more expensive tours on Isabela.

 

On the day of the tour, we were picked up from our hotel in Puerto Villamil at around 11 am and stopped at agency's office to pick up our wetsuit and snorkeling gear and waited for the others to show up. From the agency's office they drove us to the main pier where a small speedboat was waiting for us. We started our boat trip which took around 60 minutes.

 

In our bags we had our camera, an underwater a camera, a towel and lots of water.  Since this is a day trip that lasts around 5 hours they provide a meal and some water but bring your own water as well as you need to drink a lot. If you have any special request, most agencies can accommodate that if you let them know in advance. We asked for vegan and vegetarian options which were available.

Explore Roca Union on the way

We drove along the coast with stunning views of Sierra Negra and Chico for about 60 minutes. The sea was very rough, but certainly rougher than the way to Las Tintoreras.

We stopped by Roca Union, a former volcanic cone in the middle of the ocean. It is impressive to see this gigantic rock surrounded by water that is inhabited by so many blue footed boobies and rays. We also saw rays in the water.

 

A few minutes later we reached the outer end of Los Tuneles. Our captain navigated us carefully through the narrow and shallow lava channels.

Exploring the lava arches

On our way we passed a rock where Galapagos penguins and sea lions where sunning themselves undisturbed by our presence. Our captain turned a few times in front of the rock to make sure everyone had a perfect view. We finally continued driving and arrived at Los Tuneles where the water is much calmer and crystal clear.

 

We then stopped in one place and had our lunch. After that, we got off the boat and explored the impressive lava arches, the huge cactus trees and the wildlife. We saw some blue footed boobies and sea lions which for the most part paid little attention to us.

 

We spend around for half an hour walking around on the lava arches and exploring this place. A practical tip: put on shoes and not just flip flops, as it can be a little slippery. Then, we got back on the boat, put on our snorkeling gear and jumped into the water.

Discovering the underwater channels

We started snorkeling and exploring the maze of underwater channels. Our guide led us through different channels and together we snorkeled in and out of stunning rocky coves. However, visibility at Los Tuneles wasn't particularly good. Therefore, we were able to admire the incredible underwater landscape but didn't see much wildlife. The visibility seems to change a little bit during the day as another group that was there earlier had better visibility.

 

There is one thing you should keep in mind. There are more currents than at Las Tintoreras. If you are an inexperienced swimmer we don't recommend snorkeling at Los Tuneles and consider Las Tintoreras instead. After around 45 minutes we got back on board and said goodbye to Los Tuneles.

Exploring the second snorkeling site

However, our tour wasn't over yet. On the way back to Puerto Villamil we stopped at a second snorkeling site. Our captain stopped near a mangrove forest that had grown up around a maze of underwater lava tunnels.

 

We snorkeled with lots of giant sea turtles that seemed to be everywhere. Visibility wasn't particularly good either, but there was a lot more wildlife to see. We stayed in the water for about an hour and then returned to Puerto Villamil.

 

LOGISTICS

Departure

Puerto Villamil, Isabela

8am or 11am

Duration & Distance

5 hours

1,5 hours snorkeling

1 km hiking

Cost

120 USD (better prices available)

Equipment

Shoes (no flip flops)

Swim suit

Sun screen

Towel

Camera (optional)

Underwater camera (optional)

Water

TIPS

Get a wetsuit (if it is not included you can rent it) because the water is a bit chilly. So it will keep you warm and prevent a sunburn.

Bring good shoes. It is slippery on the rocks.

Bring enough (biodegradable) sun screen because normal sun screen will damage the reefs and hurt the wildlife.

Bring your underwater camera and your good camera. You can keep it dry and safe on the boat while you are snorkeling.