Isla Salango: so close, yet so far

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Photographs: Jorge Vinueza

From our anchor point, I can look out on one of two possible horizons: The first, infinite, or seemingly so, is the Pacific, roughly framed on the left by the rocky banks of the islet; the second offers an inland view, guiding me through a small harbor to the village of Salango.

These shallows along the northern slopes of the rocky Salango Island attract tourists keen to snorkel, and it’s not hard to see why: from the edge of the boat I can already gaze through the crystalline water down to the sandy bottom, teeming with what our naturalist guide calls “peces arcoiris,” rainbow fish. Closer to the shore, a web of coves gives safe haven to dozens more species.

Abel Muñoz, a Salango local, has spent decades taking visitors out on the seas, and knows the ins and outs of each island, including Isla de la Plata and Los Ahorcados. He operates a small tour business in town, Salango Joe, where he has a full set of life jackets, snorkeling masks and fishing rods.

“It’s like our own personal Galapagos,” he says. It’s a comparison that’s more commonly made with Isla de la Plata, a larger island further out to sea, but looking at Salango’s vegetation, its volcanically-shaped shoreline, and the characteristic sea birds perching along the cliffs, I would say Salango has a fair claim at being a Galapagos lookalike.

After a while we swim over to the islet’s secluded white sand beach — which feels more “wild” than “private” — and I trace over the footsteps of that day’s only other visitors: pelicans and blue-footed boobies. I sit to watch the sea birds going about their business as if no one else were around. The frigatebirds seemed to have taken on alternating roles, some sitting high, poised elegantly, others burrowing comfortably into their nests. A group of pelicans splashes playfully in a circle of calm water. (Abel says that they are mating; I think they are at a spa.)

On the way back to shore, Abel spots a duo of blue-footed boobies resting on a buoy and takes us over to get a closer look. I’ve seen hundreds of these birds in my life, and I can never get over the striking color of their feet.

What’s remarkable about Isla Salango is that you can get so close to all of this amazing wildlife without going too far out of your way, without even ever losing sight of the shoreline. Its close proximity to sleepy Salango makes it accessible for young families, people short on time, or anyone who’s wary of seasickness.

The snorkeling trips here usually take about an hour-and-a-half: enough time to get suited up, head out to the islet, and stop for birdwatching at any point along the way. During whale-watching season, Abel offers longer routes that take visitors farther out, to places with a better view of the migratory humpback whales. The southern end of the islet has a few noted spots for diving.

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