Our Sierra Negra Volcano Hike : A Must-Do Galapagos Tour

Created by Colleen Sims * 29 February 2024

Disclaimer : Every product we recommend is something we’d use, book or would love to own, and all the opinions are our own. This post may contain affiliate links; clicking a link costs you absolutely nothing but we may earn a small commission.

My reason for wanting to visit Isabela Island was because I wanted to hike the Sierra Negra Volcano; one of the few hikes on Galapagos which also involved hiking around a volcanic caldera.

Read on and we’ll share all you need to plan your own Sierra Negra tour, what we saw, the trail conditions and our recommendations for the day.

view across the lava fields on Isabela Island in the Galapagos on our Sierra Negra Volcano Hike

Hiking The Sierra Negra Volcano

The Galapagos Islands are known for their unique and diverse landscapes, and one of the more fascinating places to explore is the Sierra Negra Volcano on Isabela. 

Stretching across a landscape that seems ancient but is surprisingly new, Sierra Negra is one of the most active volcanoes in the Galapagos, having last erupted in 2018.  This means that you get to hike on some of the most recent volcanic land which has helped shape these iconic islands.

At a height of 1,124 metres above sea level, Sierra Negra is one of the largest volcanoes in the Galapagos, and has the second largest volcanic caldera in the world with a staggering diameter of around 9 kilometres. 

On a clear day the views are said to be stunning but sadly for us we only caught fleeting glimpses of this vast lava field through the mist. Regardless of the weather this is an incredible experience and we have no regrets about our choice of hike.

Most tours will take you to the rim of the caldera and after, you continue on Volcano Chico; which for us was an incredible place to see and to walk around. I absolutely love the map image below of the trail; it clearly shows the caldera that you get to hike beside.

Satellite Map showing the Sierra Negra Volcano Hike on Isabela Island in the Galapagos
Satellite Map showing the Sierra Negra Hike on Isabela Island

★★★★★

WE LOVED OUR SIERRA NEGRA HIKE

  • Hotel pickup
  • Excellent guide
  • Able to change date after booking

How difficult is the Sierra Negra Volcano Hike?

The hike is classified as moderate, but weather conditions can add to that difficulty. This isn’t technically difficult, but you’ll will need some hiking experience or certainly a moderate level of fitness.

I would not class this as a beginners hike; unless you are in very good health and you have the appropriate hiking gear; remember that this is a 16-17 kilometre hike.

The weather was pretty bad when we hiked which meant wet weather gear and appropriate shoes were essential.  I can imagine walking in hot sun would be equally challenging as the route is very exposed with virtually no shade.

Initially the trail is easy, but with a gentle constant incline and it does change as you progress.  After a few kilometres of trail the terrain underfoot becomes more difficult.  You will be walking in and around old lava fields so do expect some uneven and rocky paths.

After so much rain on our walk, the trail was pretty muddy when returning to our vehicles.

How Long is the Hike to Sierra Negra Volcano?

The trail is roughly 8 kilometres long. You hike to Chico Volcano and back, making the full loop around 16 kilometres. 

Over the course of the day you’ll also gain around 340 metres of elevation.

Elevation map of the Sierra Negra hike on Isabela

How to Get to The Sierra Negra Volcano?

The starting point for the day tour is from the small town of Puerto Villamil.  If you’re staying on Isabela Island this is the largest settlement and most, if not all, of the accommodation is centred around this town.

Vehicles will collect you and drive you to the trail head to join your group tour.

Sierra Negra Volcano Hike Tours

You can only undertake this hike if you join a guided tour.  We felt this hike offered good value for money, especially considering the expert guides, transport and lunch.

There are numerous local tour companies offering this tour.  Most of them are pretty much providing exactly the same hike so we recommend that you choose the tour with the highest number of positive recommendations and the best price (which is what we did!)

The tour costs around 65€ each and this includes :

  • Expert Galapagos guide
  • Transport to and from your hotel
  • Lunch box (they catered for special diets and my lunch was gluten free)

If you book the same tour as us you are also able to cancel up to 24 hours before or switch date; which we did because of the stormy weather.

Tours start in the morning so if you wish to do this hike you will need to spend at least one night on Isabela; which we do thoroughly recommend you do as part of your DIY island-hopping adventure.

★★★★★

WE LOVED OUR SIERRA NEGRA HIKE

  • Hotel pickup
  • Excellent guide
  • Able to change date after booking
views across the old lava fields from the Sierra Negra volcano, taken during our hike

Can You Hike The Sierra Negra Volcano Without A Guide?

A certified guide is mandatory for hiking the Sierra Negra Volcano due to the national park regulations.

I know we say this about all our tours but these knowledgeable individuals will share insights about the unique ecosystems and geological significance of Sierra Negra.  Our guide was a university graduate in Volcanology and was a native of the Galapagos Islands.

You do not need any other permits or permissions as all Galapagos tours are regulated and controlled.

What Equipment Do I Need For The Hike?

We knew that the weather would be poor so we packed accordingly.   I recommend taking a small easy to carry day-bag or rucksack for all your gear and your lunch.

Here’s a list of items we think you should take:

  • Water : Carry plenty of water to stay hydrated throughout the hike. This is a long hike and carrying enough water is essential; there are no opportunities to purchase or refill during the hike.   On a hot day I’d recommend adding an electrolyte tablet to the water, I perspire (sweat!) a lot and these really help prevent cramp for me.  Do avoid any that include added sugar or caffeine as you do not need this on a hike.
  • Snacks : Lunch is provided but I’d also recommend that you take something light and easy such  peanuts or dried fruit or a breakfast bar or banana.
  • Sun Protection : Wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from the strong equatorial sun. I would even consider lightweight, long-sleeved clothing although we saw some folks in bikini tops!  We didn’t worry about the sun on our hike but when we hiked on Bartolome Island a few days earlier the sun had been super hot.
  • Appropriate Footwear : Unlike other island walks, such as the trail around North Seymour, this tour  is a proper hike.  Do wear comfortable hiking shoes with good traction for the uneven terrain.
  • Clothing Layers : Wearing layers will always help to accommodate changes in temperature. The weather on Sierra Negra Volcano is unpredictable, so be prepared for both warm and cooler conditions.
  • Rain Gear: Even on a sunny day I would recommend a lightweight rain jacket, just in case of unexpected showers.
  • Backpack: We always travel with a day-pack.  We purchased a very inexpensive Decathlon foldable pack (not the cheapest one they have as it was a little too flimsy).  Ours is ideal for travel.  It’s not waterproof so I use a dry-bag inside. It’s perfect for carrying essentials on a hike such as this.
  • First Aid Kit: I always travel with a small basic first aid kit containing items that I know I would use.   Only include just one or two items of each of the following; it is only ‘first aid’.  I carry Omnifix dressing, one small bandage, antiseptic wipes or gel, pain relievers and personal medications.  I also carry sheep’s wool for blister prevention, you may prefer other blister prevention methods. 
  • Camera: Even though the weather was poor the scenery and landscape was so incredible that a camera is a must.   This hike is pretty glorious and you’ll want to capture it.
  • Insect Repellent: Protect yourself from biting insects by applying insect repellent before starting your hike.
  • Trash Bag: I always carry a spare bag with me to ensure that every bit of rubbish we bring in is taken away.  It was never more important to Leave No Trace than when exploring these glorious islands.
  • Walking Poles :  I’m not sure if poles would be useful.  Certainly, there are sections where the trail is a standard walking trail but once you hit the lava fields the terrain is uneven and poles could be more of a hinderance. If you take poles then make sure they are collapsable so that you can stow them when not in use.
walking towards Volcano Chico.  Tiny figures can be seen on the horizon at the rim of the volcano
I love this photo; can you see the tiny figures on the rim of the volcano?

What to Expect Hiking the Sierra Negra Volcano

Typical itineraries will start in the morning with a pickup from your hotel.  You will probably be joined by 2 or 4 others and you’ll be driven about 45 minutes to the trailhead.  The truck that collected us also stopped in a local restaurant en-route to collect our lunch boxes.

Groups are no more than 15 people and every group walks a guide.  You meet your guide at  El Cura, where the ‘taxi’ drops you.  There are toilets here and you may wait a short time as groups gather.

Once you’re assigned your guide you will walk first to the crater edge and then onwards to Chico, a second volcano.  Our group spread out over the trail and we naturally fell into smaller groups and chatted with our fellow travellers.

There are several groups walking each day but the trail never felt busy.  You can walk at your own pace but if you do linger you may miss some of the talks the guide offers.  However, you can ask questions at any time, so if you don’t hear something you can catch up later.

The groups are mixed ages and abilities and some folks will be faster and some slower.  We were somewhere in the middle and we never felt rushed or hurried.

The weather wasn’t great for our hike and we never really stopped for a proper break until much later in the day.  There were pauses for guide talks but we didn’t eat until much closer to the end of the hike.  Because of this I would recommend that you carry a snack and do ensure that you carry plenty of water.  We always hike with 2 litres; you’ll need this on a hot day.

The trail is ‘there and back’ but don’t let that put you off you because the landscape is so extraordinary that there is a lot to see. 

Do reserve some of your energy for the return journey as you do have a slow but steady increase in elevation.  Quite a few folks really started to feel heavy legs in the last hour of the day.

Overall do expect a hike; which is exactly what we wanted.  Do be prepared for changes in weather and some uneven terrain but also expect to be astounded.  As with all of our Galapagos island tours the landscape will be like nothing you’ve seen before.

very muddy trail and wet hikers on our way back to the vehicles after our Sierra Negra hike

What’s Included in a Sierra Negra Day Tour?

Every tour includes a qualified naturalist guide; make the most of these amazing guides! They really are the font of all things Galapagos.

Also included are all park entrance fees, transport to and from the trail head and your hotel and a packed lunch.

You will need to bring your own hiking equipment, snacks, and water.

Best Time to Hike the Sierra Negra Volcano

I’m not sure there is a best time.  Like all activities in Galapagos, better weather will make the activity easier. 

The dry season typically runs from June to December and the weather is said to be more stable during these days.  Clearer weather makes for a better  likelihood of clear views of the Caldera however we hiked at the beginning of June and had rain and mist. 

The weather is unpredictable.  But I will say that the poor weather did not make for a lesser experience; we still LOVED this hike.

Colleen and Gerry looking a little wet after hiking in the rain  along the Sierra Negra trail

Wildlife At Sierra Negra Volcano

Hiking the Sierra Negra Volcano is perfect for birdwatchers as it is home to Darwin’s finches, bright vermilion flycatcher, mockingbirds, and occasionally, if you’re lucky the Galapagos Gavilan.

But it’s fair to say that today is really much more about geology.

Can You Ride Horseback Along The Sierra Negra Trail?

You can do part of this trail on horseback and it is something that I enquired about.  You cannot do the entire trail on horseback but certainly you could reduce the hike by a few kilometres.

However, when I investigated this option, I read that not all companies offering this tour have the horses’ best interest at heart.  In the end we decided that we wanted to hike but if you are considering this option, please do a lot of research about the animal’s welfare before booking.

Is The Sierra Negra Volcano Active?

Yes, Sierra Negra is still very much an active shield volcano and one of the most challenging to predict due to its unique geology.

The last eruption started on June 26, 2018, and was a remarkable event that captivated the attention of observers, both local and abroad.

Fortunately, the Galapagos National Park system efficiently managed visitor safety during and after the event.

Gerry throwing ultralite volcanic rocks from Chico Volcano in Isabela Island in the Galapagos

Is Hiking The Sierra Negra Volcano Worth it?

Absolutely!  Even though our weather was awful this trip more than lived up to our expectations.

Sierra Negra Volcano hike is not only an exhilarating experience and a great hike, it’s also a way to get up close and personal with the primal forces of our planet.

The otherworldly landscapes, the sense of adventure, and the unique flora and fauna make it an unforgettable encounter with nature.

You are led by an expert guide and we really felt that we had experienced something very special.  

Since our Sierra Negra hike, we have hiked volcanos in Iceland and on Java and the lessons we learned on Galapagos have helped us to understand the terrain we hiked elsewhere in the world.

If you are planning a visit to Isabela Island (which we recommend) and you love a good hike then book this tour.  It’s another memorable experience that we took away with us from these incredible, stunning Galapagos islands.

stunning otherworldly landscape of the volcanos on Isabela island in the Galapagos

Are You Visiting The Galapagos Islands?

I have a series of posts that may be of interest to you and help with your Galapagos Island planning :

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Whenever you travel overseas it’s imperative to travel with a good travel and medical insurance policy.  None of us expect anything bad to happen, but in the event of an incident, you want to be sure that your insurance will be there for you.

I’ve had the mis-fortune to end up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal and Ireland; every time my insurance took care of everything. I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.

Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.

TrueTraveller : We have this policy now for an extended global trip and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions

Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.

Scroll to Top