Finally, a close encounter with the famous blue-footed booby – and baby booby too!
Isla de la Plata, also known as “Poor Man’s Galápagos”, is part of Machalilla park, which is Ecuador’s only national coastal park. It’s a small island situated 37 kilometers off the coast of Puerto Lopez and takes about an hour to reach by boat. The cost of our trip was $35 each and well worth it.
We left Puerto Lopez on a rainy morning at 10 a.m. from the new pier at the south end of the malecon. After a totally enjoyable boat ride, which included a fresh fruit snack, we arrived at the island where it was cloudy and relatively cool – a good day for hiking. We waded ashore to the beach in Drake Bay to the park office.
A guide is mandatory when visiting the island. Our guide, Alegria – which translates to “happy” – was very pleasant and knowledgeable, taking the time to answer all our questions. She explained the nesting habits of the various birds that frequent the island, such as magnificent frigate birds, blue-footed, red-footed, and Nazca boobies, waved albatrosses, tropicbirds, and Peruvian pelicans.
We walked several trails, where we saw lots of magnificent frigate birds and blue-footed boobies. Most of us took off our shoes and walked barefoot through the muddy trails.
*Hint: The trails you walk are decided by mutual consent as a group. If you want to see a large portion of the island in the allotted time, try to make sure you go with a fit group, willing to hike.
According to a local legend, as told to us by our guide, Sir Frances Drake was hiding at Isla de la Plata with his booty of stolen silver when the Spaniards found him. He tried to escape, but his boat was too heavily laden with silver, so he dumped it overboard and sailed away – hence the name “Silver Island”.
Another version comes from the local fishermen. The cliffs surrounding the island turn silver-white from droppings of the thousands of seabirds that nest there every year. I’m going with the Sir Frances Drake version…
The blue-footed boobies were a hit with everyone. They’re not scared of people – we walked right up to them. They are comical too – some of them looked like mannequins that were placed in the bushes.
The blue colour of the booby’s feet comes from pigments obtained from its diet of fresh fish. The amount of nutrition determines the health of the booby and the brightness of their feet. The brightness decreases with age, so females tend to mate with younger, healthy males with bright feet.
While nesting, the female covers the eggs with her webbed feet and turns to face the sun throughout the day, so the nest is surrounded by excrement.
After returning to the boat, we were served a tasty snack. Next, we did a bit of snorkeling above a coral reef close to Isla de la Plata. The water was warm and we saw colourful fish, sea turtles – and some really weird-looking creatures on the reef that I didn’t want to get too close to.
We arrived back in Puerto Lopez at 5 p.m. A great day, worth every penny!
Isla de la Plata was a memorable excursion. Getting up close to the Blue-footed boobies, walking in the mud, snorkeling, and the boat ride – a highly recommended trip!
*Tip: While you’re in the Puerto Lopez area, check out Los Frailes beach, also a part of Machalilla Park – a highly recommended trip. You can see the beach while on the boat ride back to Puerto Lopez from Isla de la Plata.