Spending time in Puerto Villamil you are constantly being shadowed by the silhouette of Sierra Negra. Thus far I have managed to surpass the urge to hike the volcano, but last week I broke and felt the motivation to climb up the active geological formation which rises to 1,124m above sea level, with its caldera being the second largest in the world at around 6 miles wide.
Jumping on the chiva we made our way up the winding dirt roads for about 45 minutes passing horses and donkeys shading themselves underneath fruit trees. The chiva dropped us off at the end of the hiking trail and the sun is beating down although we are protected by a cluster of clouds we begin to make our way along the path. Within the first few minutes of climbing the trail, the path takes us up and down winding around the edge of the volcano, gradually climbing higher and higher we began to witness some incredible views of Puerto Villamil below us. The clouds melted away and the panoramic views are spectacular. The lush green trees and hills contrast the bright blue ocean and rocky outcrops of Cuatro Hermanos in the Pacific below.
About an hour into the journey we emerged from the trees to the spectacular view of the caldera below. The caldera seemed to appear out of nowhere, and with the little cloud cover now burnt off in the heat we have views of the entire caldera filled with old lava flows and there are view’s of the eruption site from the 2005. Walking along the rim, we stopped for a few photograph opportunities and the chance to enjoy the dramatic landscape before us which is so unexpected when you look up at the vibrant green highlands from the town. The stark contrast of matt black lava rock with the lush humid vegetation adds to the atmosphere. We continued along the caldera across the rocky terrain until we reached a suitable point where we could stop so that students from the University of Miami could take down information for their geology classes.
We stand on the edge of the caldera and admire the magnificent views from our high vantage point and then begin the walk back towards the usual path, from here we begin the descent to Volcan Chico.
Heading to Volcan Chico, a collection of small craters gives you the opportunity to see the fumaroles and impressive volcanic landscape. The climb is straight down meaning the return journey will be tough but the view is worth it. The grass quickly disappears and the remaining plants are cacti shooting straight out of the dried lava. The ground below changed from dirt to red rock and then crystallized black lava within in steps of each other you can feel the contrast from Chico to Sierra Negra. The size of the lava fields are immense and the hollow lava tubes running down the side of the volcano are breathtaking the area seems to be frozen in time as you can see the lava flow rolling over the sides of the cliffs it is possible to imagine the immense scale of the eruption.
Volcan Chico is an incredible site you can see the lava flows right down to the ocean, on the journey down to Volcan Chico we pass by many sulphuric vents with steam rising and ferns growing up inside, waving our hand on the edge you can feel the heat rising. Exploring Volcan Chico is how I imagine it is to walk on the moon the contrast is incredible in comparison to the white sandy beaches in Puerto Villamil or even the luscious highlands, as we sat on the top of the cone enjoying lunch and absorbing the view we could see the clouds moving in fast and it was not long before the views of the ocean had vanished and we were engulfed in clouds and rain. Although usually the rain would be a dampener on the trip this was a welcome break from the heat and humidity we had experience for the earlier part of the expedition. The return trip is along the same path and with the rain ceasing for a few minutes we could see the steam rising from the rocks.
It is the perfect way to see how the Galapagos Islands were formed and the incredible raw, uninhabited beauty of Isabela, truly reflected in the hike up Sierra Negra.