16 Nov Hiking the Sierra Negra Volcano in the Galapagos Islands
We were standing on top of the Sierra Negra Volcano with a steady sprinkle of rain falling down. “Let’s take a minute of silence. Close your eyes, absorb the energy of the Galapagos Islands, and feel your surroundings,” Pablo, our naturalist guide, instructed. As we closed our eyes, a cool breeze brushed our cheeks and as though by magic, the rain came to a halt. We were connected to the land and it was powerful.
The Sierra Negra Volcano is one of five active volcanoes located on Isabela Island in the Galapagos Islands. Sierra Negra is the only volcano that visitors are allowed to hike, and it is only accessible with a guide. Hiking the volcano takes around 5-6 hours from start to finish. Even though the incline of the trail is gradual, the hike can be strenuous for some due to the distance and heat of the equatorial sun.
We were excited to see the volcano hike on the itinerary of our 11-day Galapagos Islands adventure tour with Galakiwi. The morning of the hike, we hopped in the group vans and rode 30 minutes or so to the base of the Sierra Negra Volcano. We were welcomed with full cloud coverage and no rain—the hike was definitely getting off to a good start!
During the first portion of our hike, the terrain was very lush and green. We made our way along the dirt paths and occasionally stopped to observe different species of plants and birds. As we walked, Pablo told us stories about the volcano, as well as information about plants and wildlife that make this area their home.
The further we hiked, the more grateful we became for the cloud coverage. It was still quite warm and humid, but not having the scorching sun beat down on us was much appreciated. Eventually, we made it to an opening in the vegetation, and the volcano’s caldera came into view.
I knew the caldera was going to be large, but I didn’t realize just how expansive it would appear. It was massive. The caldera is six miles wide and it is the 2nd largest volcanic crater in the world. We reached the viewpoint just in time—as we soaked up the views, a cloudy fog rolled in and engulfed the landscape before us. After a short break and snack time, it started to rain, and we continued our hike along the rim of the caldera.
The last time the Sierra Negra Volcano erupted was in 2005, and our guide Pablo was there to witness the spectacle firsthand. He told us that while he was in town reading a book, he felt the earth start to shake. At first, he thought nothing of it, but eventually he realized that a volcano was erupting. Pablo made his way to Sierra Negra and watched as lava spewed from the volcano. The eruption lasted around eight days, Pablo was amazed to see the earth change right before his eyes.
Once you reach the top of the volcano, the last portion of the hike brings you over a rocky landscape with little vegetation. You can still see the rocky landscapes that were decimated by lava years prior. It is easy to imagine that this is once what the entire chain of Galapagos Islands looked like. We saw life growing and evolving right in front of our eyes, and we were able to see full circle how the islands came to be.
The views overlooking the caldera and the island from the top of the volcano were spectacular. We could see the entire volcanic crater on one side, and views of the lush island landscape and ocean on the other. After our moment of silence, we explored the rocky landscape before us and found steam rising from thermal vents and signs of life slowly starting to grow up through the rocks.
Eventually, it was time to head back down the volcano. Our next break point was at a picnic shelter. We stopped and dug into the lunch that Galakiwi had sent along with us. Our lunch bags were packed with a bowl full of rice, veggies, and chicken, plus an apple, granola bar, chocolate bar and juice. It was a delicious lunch and it gave us just enough fuel to push through the last portion of the hike.
As we finished our lunch, the rain slowly began to fall again. That was our signal to get moving, and so we quickly packed up and got on our way. The rest of our hike down the volcano was through the rain, and by the time we reached the bottom, we were soaked! Thankfully, the rain worked wonders at cooling us down from a hot morning of hiking. Despite ending the hike with some rain and muddy trails, we had a wonderful time hiking the Sierra Negra Volcano. It ended up being one of our favorite adventures of the trip, and one we won’t be forgetting anytime soon!
Trail Information & Tips:
Distance: Between 5 miles and 7.5 miles depending on route
Starting Point: Sierra Negra Park Entrance in the highlands of Isabela Island
- The trail is only accessible with a guide, so you need to book a tour or hire a guide.
- The trails are open from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily.
- Plan for the hike to take around 5-6 hours roundtrip.
- Be sure to stay on the trail and don’t feed or touch the wildlife–be respectful of the land and animals!
- Make sure to bring snacks and plenty of water as it is a long hike and can get very hot.
- Wear sturdy hiking shoes–the trail is easy, but it can get rocky and muddy.
- Pack rain gear as it often rains on the volcano.
Special thanks to Galakiwi for hosting us on an amazing adventure through the Galapagos Islands! As always, all opinions are our own.