Isla de la Plata is a small island off Ecuador’s central coast. It is easily accessible by boat from the town of Puerto Lopez. It is part of Machalilla National Park and is home to a range of seabirds including blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, pelicans, and red-billed tropicbirds. The surrounding sea is rich in marine life – being used as a breeding area for humpback whales and attracting manta rays, orcas, dolphins, green sea turtles, eels, and stingrays. The incredible opportunities for close up encounters with marine and birdlife mean it is often (somewhat unfairly) nicknamed the ‘Poor Man’s Galapagos’.
Average rating: 4.6 (very good)
Average spend per person: $87 ($40 – $150)
Number of reports: 5
Best time to visit: June – September
Typical activities: boat trip, hiking, scuba diving, snorkelling, whale watching
Wildlife in isla de la plata
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the species visitors most want to see here are as follows:
Blue-footed booby – 100% of visitors (5/5) reported sightings
Isla de la Plata is home to a large population of blue-footed boobies. They use the island for mating and nesting. They can be found on and around the island all year round. Hence its nickname as the the ‘Poor Man’s Galapagos’. There is a wide range of tours offered from Puerto Lopez (~$40) that typically include a guided walk around the island. These tours offer close-up views of the boobies who have little fear of humans. If you’re there during the breeding season (around May) don’t miss their spectacular mating dance!
Green sea turtle – 100% of visitors (5/5) reported sightings
A large population of green sea turtles is found around Isla de la Plata. The population has increased significantly over the last 5 years. This is due to new approaches to ensuring protection from boat collisions. The turtles are easily visible during tours to the island and swim close to the boats stopping in Drake Bay (the access point to the island). These beautiful, slow-moving creatures can also be seen when snorkelling and diving around the island.
Humpback whale – 100% of visitors (5/5) reported sightings
A population of around 400 humpback whales visit the waters around Isla de la Plata between June and September to mate and calve. Although sightings have been recorded on TripAdvisor from May to October. Views of their spectacular leaping displays are pretty much guaranteed on boat tours from Puerto Lopez during this period. Most tours include a trip to the island itself (~$40) or to dive sites off the island (~$150). WildSide recommends a specialist tour with researchers from the Pacific Whale Foundation. The tour spends more time looking for whales and helps to support their conservation (~$70). Spending the day surrounded by groups of humpbacks leaping out of the water a couple of metres from your boat is an experience you’ll never forget.
Orca – 0% of visitors (0/5) reported sightings
According to the Pacific Whale Foundation, orcas are not uncommon visitors to the area around Isla de la Plata. They are known to attack humpbacks in the area. However, there are very few recorded sightings of orcas around Isla de la Plata by tourists. This is despite them being widely advertised by tour agencies operating in Puerto Lopez. According to TripAdvisor, there was one recorded sighting in October. When we visited we were told by researchers that we had missed a pod of orcas by a day!
Manta ray – 50% of scuba divers (1/2) reported sightings
Giant oceanic manta rays congregate around a cleaning station off Isla de la Plata from July to September. Although sightings have been recorded on TripAdvisor from April to October. Ecuador is home to one of the largest known populations of mantas. Around Isla de la Plata there are an estimated 500+ individuals. During the season this just about the best place to see manta rays in the world. The diving offers an incredible experience with these ocean giants. There are numerous scuba diving outfits in Puerto Lopez that can arrange trips to Isla de la Plata for around $150 (two tanks). Whale watching trips to the island also offer snorkelling and there have been several sightings of manta rays recorded on TripAdvisor by snorkelers. Mantas in the area are known to breach and there are also several sightings on TripAdvisor of mantas seen from the boat tours.