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Hiking Sierra Negra Volcano: A Lesson in Patience

Updated: Oct 14, 2023

As part of our exploration of the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, we had the unique opportunity to hike up the side of Sierra Negra, a Volcano on Isabela island that rises to an altitude of 1124 meters. It is one of the only volcanos in the Galapagos Islands that is permitted to be hiked, and only with a guide.



The crater of Sierra Negra Volcano, Isabela Island, Galapagos
The crater of Sierra Negra Volcano, Isabela Island, Galapagos

How to Get to Isabela Island to Hike Sierra Negra Volcano:


Hikers can book a tour or hire a guide, visiting Isabela island on a day trip. The long and usual Sierra Negra hike is a gradual incline, extending 15-20km from bottom to peak (depending on the trail) and is usually 4-6 hours in duration. As we were on a Galapagos cruise, we hiked a much shorter and very different route to the top, with our on board Naturalist Guide.


We rode a dingy from our small yacht (The Odyssey) to the island, then hopped on an industrial tractor to carry us 30 minutes uphill to a landing where we could begin the climb. Along the way, we stopped to catch a glimpse of the rare Red and Yellow Flycatchers.



Red Vermilion Flycatcher on Isabela Island, Galapagos
Red Vermilion Flycatcher on Isabela Island, Galapagos

What to Expect Hiking the "Short" Route up Sierra Negra Volcano:


Once we arrived at the landing, one small cabin appeared, our last rest stop before we began the hike. The route was a relatively straight path, angled approximately 30-40 degrees. The terrain was grassy yet rocky and at times muddy, so careful footing was a necessity. The incline on the hike felt at times very steep, with small landings appearing every so often where it evened out enough to rest.


On either side grew plenty of low bush, that albeit lush with beautiful white flowers and finches, provided little to no shade or protection from the sun. Depending on the weather, the hike could vary in difficulty. Wet weather would make the terrain much harder to navigate, but cloudy skies would provide much needed respite from the hot sun.



View from the Tractor, Isabela Island, Galapagos
View from the Tractor, Isabela Island, Galapagos

 

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Our Naturalist Guide was clearly accustomed to the altitude and the physical demands of hiking Sierra Negra, expecting us to hike up and back down in a mere 45 minutes. In reality, it took most 45 minutes to reach the top.


The group was comprised of sixteen people, ages ranging from 30-80, each in good shape but with varying abilities. Most wore shorts or breathable capri pants with tank tops/t-shirts and casual runners or even flip flops. We would recommend good sneakers with grip or hiking shoes for the best experience. A hat would be a must in sunny weather.


Darwin Finch, Isabela Island, Galapagos
Darwin Finch, Isabela Island, Galapagos

Battling an outrageously hot sun with little breeze, some had a particularly rough hike. Suffering from a mixture of heat exhaustion, altitude sickness and an asthma-induced increased heart-rate, I stopped frequently to catch my breath and allow my heart to stop racing.


Unfortunately for our group, our Naturalist Guide was not overly concerned about his guests and continued on without checking on those having difficulty. Luckily, the group looked after each other and we all made it to the top to enjoy the view.



Detail of Flowers, Isabela Island, Galapagos
Detail of Flowers, Isabela Island, Galapagos

The View from the Crater of Sierra Nera Volcano is Spectacular:


The view from the craters edge is magnificent. The second largest crater in the world opens up, spreading its vast beauty almost 10 km wide. The difficulty of the hike melted away as we stood awestruck at its vast, natural beauty. The spectacular colours inside of the crater of Sierra Negra volcano tempted us to get closer, but we sat on the edge, relaxing in the cool grass in calm silence. That view was worth every excruciating step.




Into the crater of Sierra Negra Volcano, Isabela Island, Galapagos
Into the crater of Sierra Negra Volcano, Isabela Island, Galapagos

After only minutes at the top, we made our way back from whence we came. We had no issues on the hike down Sierra Negra volcano, the breathing was much easier and the footing simpler to navigate between the rocks. At the landing, we all hopped back onto the tractor and headed back down to where our dinghies awaited to return us to the yacht.



The crater of Sierra Negra volcano, Isabela Island, Galapagos
Walking along the crater edge of Sierra Negra Volcano, Isabela Island, Galapagos

Is Hiking Sierra Negra Volcano Worth it?


If you have the opportunity to visit, hiking Sierra Negra volcano is highly recommend it. Take your time, know your limits and move at your own pace. No matter the expectations or comparable achievements of others, heat and altitude affect different people in different ways, so be sure to listen to your body and take breaks as needed. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to reach the top, the beauty of Sierra Negra awaits.

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