The second-largest volcanic crater in the world is seeing increased activity, causing the Ecuadorian Geographic Institute to advise visitors to the Galapagos Islands to avoid this popular tourist destination. Sierra Negra is located a few kilometers from Puerto Villamil on the Isla Isabela.

Warning from the Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute

In the last few weeks, the Sierra Negra volcano on the Isla Isabela in the Galapagos Archipelago has seen major seismic activity and the floor of the caldera continues to rise. The last two days have seen earthquakes of magnitudes up to 4.1 with epicenters located in the interior of the caldera. This type of activity is often associated with rising magma. According to the Institute, the probability of a volcanic eruption within the next few days to weeks is high.

This warning was posted on the main page of the Instituto Geofísco on January 12, 2018. Follow the Instituto Geofísico de Ecuador on Facebook and on Twitter for up-to-date information in Spanish.

Map highlighting Sierra Negra on Isla Isabela in the Galapagos Archipelago | Instituto Geofíscico de Ecuador |

About the Sierra Negra Volcano

The Sierra Negra Volcano experiences eruptions an average of every 15 years. The last two eruptions took place in 1979 and 2005. Lava flow from the 1979 eruption escaped the crater to the north, flowing away from the populated areas of Puerto Villamil into Elizabeth Bay. The eruption lasted two months.

In 2005, the lava flow from the eruption was primarily contained in the 9 kilometer-wide caldera with only a small amount of lava escaping. Again, the lava flow was to the north, away from the populated areas of Isla Isabela. The eruption lasted only 9 days. Ash fall from both eruptions fell to the east and south of the volcano, causing disruption in Puerto Villamil.

Tourists traveling to the Galapagos Islands may have Isla Isabela included in their itineraries. Very often, hikes to the Sierra Negra Volcano and its closely located sister, the Chico Volcano, are popular activities with tourists staying on the island. The warning from the US Embassy (copied below) says to avoid the popular walking path to the east as it is located on the side of the volcano most likely to experience lava flow.

Though not included in any warnings thus far, a volcanic eruption could possibly affect air travel to the islands. A lot will depend on how much ash is produced by the volcano and the direction of any winds blowing that ash skyward. Travel safe and be prepared for difficulties in getting in and out of the islands if this volcano does erupt.

Volcan Sierra Negra, Isla Isabela, The Galapagos, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake / Not Your Average American
Volcan Chico and Elizabeth Bay, Isla Isabela, The Galapagos, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake / Not Your Average American

Natural Disaster Alert from THE US EMBASSY in Ecuador

Alert from the STEP program in Ecuador:

Natural Disaster Alert – U. S. Mission Ecuador (January 16, 2018)
Location: Sierra Negra Volcano, Isabela Island, Galapagos, Ecuador

Event: According to the Ecuadorian Geographic Institute, greater seismic activity near the Sierra Negra Volcano indicates that an eruption may occur in the near future. The Ecuadorian Geographic Institute has advised visitors to avoid the crater of the Sierra Negra until further notice, specifically the popular tourist walking path known as Volcan Chico.

Actions to Take:

Avoid the area of Isabela Island near the Sierra Negra Volcano.
Monitor local media for updates. The Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute is on Facebook and Twitter.
Contact your loved ones directly and/or update your social media status to inform people you are safe.
Contact the U.S. Embassy in Quito or the U.S. Consulate General Guayaquil if you are a U.S. citizen in need of emergency assistance.

U.S. Embassy Quito, Ecuador
+(593)(2) 398-5000
+(593)(2) 398-5000 (after hours)

U.S. Consulate General Guayaquil, Ecuador
+(593)(4) 371-7000
+(593)(4) 371-7000 (after hours)

State Department – Consular Affairs
888-407-4747 or 202-501-4444