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Isla de la plata
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2015-02-13 19:08:48 | Puerto Lopez, Manabi, Ecuador
Keywords: nature, UNESCO
On my journey, in between official UNESCO World Heritate Sites, I also visit locations that are on the tentative list of the World Heritage. That way, if they are accepted later on the list, I will have already visited them. There's a park in Ecuador that is on that tentative list (where it was submitted by the country but not yet accepted officially on the list) that I visited a few days ago. The tentative inscription is both for natural and cultural reasons. This park has a mainland component and an island. In this first article of two, I'll tell you about the island.

The island (named 'Isla de la Plata', which translates as 'Silver Island') is located just a few kilometres off the coast of Ecuador. It is often nicknamed the 'Galapagos of the poor', because you can find on that tiny island many of the birds species usually seen only in the Galapagos archipelago, like the famous blue-footed booby... and because it's MUCH cheaper to visit the Silver Island than the Galapagos. The island is part of the Machalilla national park, and it's free to access, but can only go there with tour operators, to limit the impact on the park.

That piece of land was detached from the continent a long time ago and it's surprising on more than one aspect. First, it's not a tiny patch of land shyly emerging from the water, it's a massive piece of rock with high cliffs. There are just a few landing zones all around the island that give access to it. The other major surprise is that it's a desert area! Although it's about 30 km off the coast and surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, the island (as I saw it, at the beginning of the rainy season) is really a patch of desert on rock. It's covered with bushes and most of them are brown and dry and it has cactus trees all over the place. The cliffs must prevent some of the ocean humidity to reach the plants... but also the Sun hits very hard on the island (which is just South of the Equator line). But most of all, the high cliffs often yield dramatic sights with the ocean hitting their base.

That is the perfect conditions apparently for many birds to call this place home. Amongst the species that can be seen on this little island, there are the blue-footed, red-footed and Nazca boobies, which is the only place where they could be found together (in the Galapagos, they are based in different and distant islands). You can also spot the Galapagos albatross and the frigates. The seen species will depend of course of the time of the year, and the luck you have on the day of your visit.

Parents blue-footed bobby just brought back food for their baby.

Around the island, you will see mantas (which is why some areas around the island aren't safe to swim in) and some big tortoises. Of course, the tortoises aren't as big as in the Galapagos, but they still are about one metre long... so that's pretty big.

Once on the island, you will be guided to climb 180 steps to reach the top plateau of the island and rest a bit at the little shade area from where all exploration paths start. Then, depending on the guide's information regarding the location of the various species the group will decide which path they will follow. Each path has a different distance and covers a different part of the island.

All paths are very well maintained and are safe to walk, no need to bring mountain climbing gear, just a good pair of shoes and plenty of water and sunscreen. On the island, the temperature is easily 5 to 10 degrees (C, 10-20 F) more than on the coast. When I was there, it was easily 40 C, of dry heat on a perfect blue sky day.

Despite lunch, you get to do some snorkelling in an area of the island (where it's safe, no mantas)... and get to see some corals and tropical fishes. Isla de la Plata is the number one tourist attraction on the coast of Ecuador and it's a very interesting visit.

After this review of the natural wonders of the isla de la Plata, I'll tell you in my next article about the cultural side of the national park. I already visited some of the forest, but I have yet to visit ruins, I plan to do that next week.

A view of a path across the dry bushes.

Related posts:
La Amistad Park
Belize Reef Barrier
Monarch butterfly biosphere reserve
Ouro Preto
Modern Ensemble of Pampulha


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