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Ecuador

Isla de la Plata

This small uninhabited island offers Galapagos-like biodiversity. 

The Galapagos Islands are an obvious destination for any explorer who’s wild about biological diversity. But for those who can’t afford to visit the famed epicenter of evolution evidence, there’s a smaller, cheaper option.

Isla de la Plata (Silver Island) is an uninhabited island that’s part of Parque Nacional Machalilla. It’s about 25 miles off Puerto Lopez, Ecuador. The root of its name is uncertain: It may refer to the treasure allegedly buried there by Sir Francis Drake, or it may refer to the reservoir of guano (bird droppings) that glints in the sun from atop the cliffs.

The two-square mile island is a hotbed of biological diversity. It’s packed with a plethora of birds, including different types of boobies, frigatebirds, tropicbirds, albatrosses, and pelicans. Honorable non-avian mentions include its many lizards, iguanas, turtles, crabs, and sea lions, all of which can be seen with relative ease.

Upon setting foot on the island, most people experience the feeling of stepping onto another world, as curiosity prompts blue-footed boobies to wobble toward the human visitors. At arm’s length, the birds simply stare at people or dismissively pass by them. And just to dispel any doubt, no, “blue booby” is not a misnomer—their feet (and beak) are indeed blue!

If you visit between June and September, you’ll likely see whales and dolphins popping out of the waves that ripple across the ocean separating the island from the mainland. Snorkeling will let you catch a peek of the fish and turtles that frequent the island’s coastal waters.

Know Before You Go

GPS coordinates lead to the tourist information center. There are walking trails throughout the island.