Exploring Isla Isabel

Isla Isabel, off the coast of the State of Nayarit in Mexico, is often referred to as the Galapagos of Mexico. It is a national park and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. We sailed from Mazatlan, just short of 90 nautical miles, to behold a wee island in the middle of the sea. There are two anchorages at Isla Isabel. The first is on the east side, near Las Monas, two large rocks that you can't miss, and the other is in the bay on the south side of the island. Excited, we anchored in the main bay. Many an article and guidebook caution about anchoring here. An 'anchor-eater', it's called. 'Not for the novice', says another. After our adventures anchoring in Alaska, we were undaunted, and were actually pleased to find that the clear water made setting the anchor (while avoiding the rock pinnacles) fairly easy. We set the anchor and prepared the dinghy for going ashore.

The island is uninhabited by humans, save for a small fishing camp in the bay. Isla Isabel is an important nesting site for blue-footed boobies, brown boobies, frigate birds, and terns. There are also several species of iguanas that live there. We arrived at the beach near the camp, excited to explore the island. We asked a woman where the booby nesting sites are and she pointed up to what looked like the highest point of the island. We hiked up to the top and were treated to a plethora of birds on nests (or with babies) as well as an incredible view of the entire island and Ardea at anchor below. The birds are unaccustomed to humans, and as such, are not fearful. Those with eggs let us know straight away if they felt like we were too close, but for the most part, we passed through their nesting area with little drama. What an amazing sight! So many beautiful birds – blue-footed and brown boobies and terns were stationed in their nests, while frigate birds circled above. We passed through a frigate bird nesting area on the way back to Ardea. It was fascinating to witness the males in courtship mode, with bright red colors on display.

Our second day included another hike, this time to the north side of the island. We passed by the crater of the volcano that birthed the island, now a tranquil lake. The northern bit of the island is quite remote and wild, the windswept grasses of the volcanic landscape in the foreground of the blue of the sea. We passed through nesting sites for pelicans, as well as another frigate bird nesting area. When we neared the sea, we found ourselves amidst a small colony of boobies. We looped back to the bay and headed back to Ardea for some snorkeling. The visibility was decent, and we enjoyed checking out the fish, lamenting forgetting the spear on the boat. There were some really tasty looking fish, alongside the pretty ones. We dove down and checked out our anchor, which turned out to be beneficial when hauling it back up a couple of days later.

The following day we hiked the remaining trail out to the east side of the island, after observing the local iguana population for a while. We were thrilled to witness the blue-footed booby mating dance. There were numerous nests, and signs of research being conducted in the area. We carefully walked the path and veered off on occasion in order to avoid upsetting a booby family. The view of Las Monas was spectacular, and the sea sparkled in shades of aquamarine.

It was amazing to relax and explore and enjoy our time on Isla Isabel. After living in Mazatlan for three months, it was the perfect spot to stop for rejuvenation and to reconnect with the quiet rhythm of nature. We ended up extending our intended stay by a day, as we had not quite had enough and needed to get in another snorkel adventure. Our stay made us more excited than ever to explore the real Galapagos Islands!


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