Isabela Island, your home for most of the UGalapagos semester, is the largest island of the Galapagos archipelago, with more land mass than all the other islands combined. The total land area is approximately 1770 square miles, which makes it just larger than Rhode Island. The island’s name comes from Queen Isabela of Spain (1451-1504) though on older maps it is often listed as Albemarle, a name originally bestowed by English explorers. Isabela Island is the product of five volcanoes – two of them still active – which have coalesced as they have grown to form a single island. These volcanoes are, from north to south, Wolf, Darwin, Alcedo, Sierra Negra and Cerro Azul. Fernandina Island and its single volcano, La Cumbre, can be seen just to the west of Isabela. Volcan Wolf marks the highest point in the Galapagos Islands (5,600 feet) and physically straddles the equator. Volcan Alcedo is the second largest volcano on Isabela, while Cerro Azul is the smallest but also the most active. It should come as no surprise that Volcan Darwin was named to honor the Galapagos’ most famous visitor.
Sierra Negra is the dominant feature of the southern half of Isabela Island. This impressive volcano has the world’s second largest caldera (crater) after Ngorogoro in Africa, measuring some 6 miles wide by 4.5 miles across. Puerto Villamil, the location of IOI, is the main settlement on the island, with about 2000 people.