Hiking active volcano Sierra Negra on Isabela
Have you ever considered climbing an active volcano? Well, let me tell you it might not be as nerve wrecking as it sounds. We did exactly that on Isabela and climbed the most active volcano on the Galapagos Islands. Its last eruption was in 2018. It was an incredible journey and a unique experience.
On top of the crater rim of Sierra Negra which is the second largest caldera in the world you see lava fields and smoke. Along the way to volcano Chico you walk through a spectacular moon-like landscape and finally, you are rewarded with stunning views over Isabela.
Volcano Sierra Negra and volcano Chico should definitely be on your itinerary. This is a memorable and unique experience you can have almost nowhere else in the world. The views will surely impress you and take your breath away. Or was that the exhausting hike?
How to get there?
As the volcanos are located in a national park you have to book a tour because even though the trail isn't hard to find and you can't really get lost, it is not allowed to go on your own.
Our day started when we were pickup from our hotel in Puerto Villamil at 9 am by a private driver who took us and another couple to hotel nearby. Another family joined us after a little while. We prepared our lunch from small buffet. However, make sure you bring lots of water with you and some snacks. Given the fact that you are hiking for 6 hours in the equator sun (or rain) you need a lot of energy - more than was provided on the buffet.
Afterwards, we drove through the verdant highlands of Isabela on a well paved road for around 30 minute with a small bus. Our driver dropped us and our naturalist guide off at a parking lot at the entrance to the national park.
Exploring volcano Sierra Negra
From here, we started our half-day journey. We followed the wide trail slightly leading uphill. After an hour and roughly 3 kilometers we reached the rim of volcano Sierra Negra. Its caldera is approximately 10 kilometers in diameter and the second largest caldera in the world.
After a few minutes we continued walking around the edge of the caldera until we reached a lookout point from which we had an impressive view over the whole caldera which is surrounded by vividly green hillside. We saw steam being blown out from the inside of the volcano and clouds floating over the edges into the caldera. Furthermore, in the roughly 100 meter deep crater you can spot the areas of the most recent lava flow.
We settled down to have our lunch and rested for a bit at the lookout point. Though, our group consisted of mostly adults there was one family with smaller children. They hiked to the lookout point and didn't join us for the next part of the trail which is actually more exhausting.
Exploring volcano Chico
After spending a bit of time enjoying the view and having lunch we continued hiking downhill on a well paved lava trail. Along the way the landscape changed dramatically. First, we were surrounded by vividly green plants and trees but after a while this turned into a surreal moon-like landscape with rocky lava formation. By the time you reached the lava fields most of the plants have disappeared, only a few cacti are still there – but more and more infrequent.
We walked through the lava fields to volcano Chico. Along the way are lots of bizarre rock formations, huge lava tubes and deep holes where the lava had burst through the earth. We passed by several thermal vents and fumaroles. It was unlike anything we had ever seen before. Hiking further you see the different color of the lava fields from deep black to more colorful shades of orange, red, brown and even slightly golden. This variety in color is due to the different age of the lava flows.
Finally, after an uphill walk in the sun, we reached volcano Chico. We enjoyed incredible and other-worldly views over Isabela. While volcano Chico seems to be a volcano – it is not actually. It is considered a fissure – an offshoot of volcano Sierra Negra.
Before setting off again and leaving these breathtaking views behind we had some snacks and lots of water. We returned to the park entrance on the same trial which led us here. This is arguably the most exhaustive part of the hike as it is most likely very hot because it is around noon or early afternoon and there is no shadow plus you are mostly walking uphill. Just be aware of this and keep some water for this part of the hike.
Puerto Villamil, Isabela
Duration & Distance
7 hours (5-6 hours hiking)
Water and snacks
Use the free restroom at the National Park entrance. There are no amenities available until you return.
Bring lots of food and water. The included meals are very light and there is no water provided.
Bring hiking shoes and a rain jacket.
Bring enough sun screen.
The hike is not feasible for small children (at least not all the way to volcano Chico).