On Isabela Island, there are six shield volcanoes, five of which are still active. In fact, Volcan Wolf just erupted last year (magma, pyroclasts, smoke, the works), so it was off limits during our trip. One of the big highlights of our tour was to visit Sierra Negra, which last erupted in 2005. It’s the second largest volcanic caldera in the world according to the Parque Nacionale Galápagos. It is truly impressive, in size and stark beauty. We stopped several times as we rode along its rim to just stare.
Volcán Chico lies just beyond Sierra Negra and is an active volcano with steaming fumaroles, lava tunnels, and multiple kinds of volcanic rock from repeated eruptions.
From one part of the trail winding across the volcano’s surface, the lava changes dramatically, based on what kind of eruption brought it to the surface and how long ago it happened. The simplest way to describe it is that It looks like the surface of Mars, but that doesn’t even come close to what it was really like to walk across it and look towards the north end of the island from the highest point.
The hike to Volcan Chico and back to where the vehicle-accessible road ends is about 8 miles total, with a not-so-drastic incline. We elected to rent horses for the first few miles, then hike the rest (there’s a point where horses can no longer walk safely on the lava rock). This seemed like a good idea, since we knew Volcan Chico was going to be extremely hot (100+ temperatures, full sun above and steaming fumaroles below us) and a challenge for us to do, physically, and enjoy the experience. I wish we hadn’t chosen horses, because it was not a good experience for either of us. They were somewhere in size between ponies and North American horses, ignored all verbal and non-verbal commands except being hit by the guides’ ropes occasionally, at which time they would begin to really run. Running on a narrow trail up and down the side of a volcanic crater was scary sometimes and painful all the time. About a mile from the end of the trail on the way down, both Rob and I elected to walk, due to the horses’ erratic behavior – spontaneous and unexpected running, stumbling, and stopping to eat. If we hadn’t paid extra for the horseback riding option, the horseback riding might be remembered as just another part of the adventure, but it was definitely not worth the money at all.
This day was one of the days I was most looking forward to, and it was even more astounding than I anticipated. It was challenging and amazing in ways we couldn’t have imagined.