Travel Talk: Isla de la Plata, Poor Man’s Galapagos

Bucket lists for travellers can be tricky things. Sometimes we can become so fixated on visiting a specific site or destination that we can miss other equally enriching travel experiences.

A friend recently sought my advice on how she could visit the Louvre on a six-hour stop-over in Paris. My response to her: “Skip the Louvre. You won’t be able to do it justice, especially when you have to get from Charles de Gaulle airport  and back again, plus line-ups  and security at the Louvre can take forever.  Mona Lisa will still be smiling the next time you’re in Paris. Go to Musee d’Orsay instead.”

In the end she took my advice, and was over-the-moon with Musee d’Orsay, which is much smaller than the Louvre and manageable in a couple of hours (and much shorter line-ups!). It’s one of the world’s top galleries for Impressionist paintings in my opinion. And it’s not a second-best. It’s simply not the first thing that was on my friend’s radar. It wasn’t on her bucket list.

I had a similar experience recently on a trip to Ecuador. Time and logistics weren’t in my favour to see the Galapagos, but all was not lost. Some creative planning (by our guides) and research pointed me in the direction of Isla de la Plata, which is affectionately known as Poor Man’s Galapagos.

Ancient turtles, Isla de la Plate

Ancient turtles, Isla de la Plata

Isla de la Plata is part of Parque Nacional Machalilla. Also known as Silver Island, it’s a small island off the coast of Manabí, Ecuador, and is easily accessible by boat from the city of Puerto López.

You can find many of the species that thrive in the Galapagos, such as the curiously coloured blue- and red-footed boobies, pelicans, petrals, frigatebirds, terns and albatrosses, not to mention the South American sea lion. And let me not forget those loveable, playful dolphins.

Rocky outcrop, Isla de la Plata: home to exotic fish, birds and wildlife (Photo: Doug O'Neill)

Rocky outcrop, Isla de la Plata: home to exotic fish, birds and wildlife (Photo: Doug O'Neill)

Officials carefully monitor and limit the numbers of people visiting Isla de la Plata. Preservation of the wildlife and plant species comes first. (Photo: Doug O'Neill)

Officials carefully monitor and limit the numbers of people visiting Isla de la Plata. Preservation of the wildlife and plant species comes first. (Photo: Doug O'Neill)

Sure, you can travel on a comfy cruise ship to see the Galapagos Islands, but for Isla de la Plata, I hopped aboard a 10-person boat for the 43-km ride out into the ocean. Sure it was bumpy, but the upside: a school of dolphins playfully followed our boat, and then the awesome spectacle of a humpback whale breached the waters about 30 metres from our vessel.

I fell in love with the blue-footed bobbies!

Blue-footed booby species makes their home on Isla de la Plate (Photo: Doug O'Neill)

Blue-footed booby species makes their home on Isla de la Plate (Photo: Doug O'Neill)

But it was the wildlife on Isla de la Plata that was so enchanting. The number of visitors is tightly controlled on the island and you are joined by a bonafide guide for  a nature hike. I quickly became besotted with the Blue-footed booby. They truly look as if they’ve dipped their feet into indigo ink. The male birds tended to be show-offs, prancing with a high-stepping strut.

Blue-footed booby during morning ablutions (Photo: Doug O'Neill)

Blue-footed booby during morning ablutions (Photo: Doug O'Neill)

Nesting season for the blue-footed booby. Curiously, the male shares nesting and feeding duties with the female, giving her well-deserved time-out of the nest. Now that's feminism at its best! (Photo: Doug O'Neill)

Nesting season for the blue-footed booby. Curiously, the male shares nesting and feeding duties with the female, giving her well-deserved time-out of the nest. Now that's feminism at its best! (Photo: Doug O'Neill)

And in the water…

Whale sightings are common on the boat ride from Puerto Lopez to Isla de la Plate, Ecuador

Whale sightings are common on the boat ride from Puerto Lopez to Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

Snorkelling through schools of multi-colored fish off the shores of Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

Snorkelling through schools of multi-colored fish off the shores of Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

While on the other side of the island…

Frigate birds congregate on Isla de la Plata (Photo: Doug O'Neill)

Frigate birds congregate on Isla de la Plata (Photo: Doug O'Neill)

And on the other side of the island, away from my blue-footed booby friends, were clans of frigate birds. They were vulture-like. Check out these video clip of Isla de la Plata which also shows off the ‘silvery’ surface of the island.

If you’re like me, the shorter days and colder temperatures here in Canada prompt within me thoughts of travel, and invariably I get lost in my ever-growing bucket-list.  I’ve learned a thing or two during this last trip. I didn’t get to the Galapagos, but I did get to experience (close-up) a world of incredible plant, sea and bird life. Maybe you need to put Isla de la Plata on your bucket list. It’s worth the boat trip.

I’m curious: what’s on your bucket list for the coming year?