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A Guide to San Cristobal Island

by Kat
San Cristobal Island has the highest population of sea lions in the Galapagos Islands. The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is the perfect place to spot sleepy sea lions

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is the capital of the province of Galapagos and the government center. San Cristobal Island has a population of around 6000.

It is the best place to see sea lions in the Galapagos as many sea lions hang around the beaches in town. At night, hundreds come onto the beaches to rest. You can often hear loud roars and groans from the sea lions, especially at night.

The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island has a more relaxed atmosphere than Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island and is less touristy. It is also significantly cleaner.

A sea lion pup on the beach on San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos

HOW TO GET TO SAN CRISTOBAL ISLAND

Ferries depart Santa Cruz for San Cristobal daily at 7am and 2pm. Return trips are available at the same time. A ferry ride costs $30 each way. There are no direct ferries from San Cristobal to Isabela so you would have to transfer in Santa Cruz.

Flights to San Cristobal are available from the cities of Quito and Guayaquil in mainland Ecuador. You can also fly to San Cristobal from Isabela or Santa Cruz on Emetebe airlines, which has 8-seater planes, but a one-way flight will cost you more than $150.

From the airport on San Cristobal, you can take a cheap taxi ride to the main town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno for less than $2, or even walk if you don’t have much luggage.

WHAT TO DO ON SAN CRISTOBAL ISLAND

CERRO TIJERETAS

The view from FrigateBird Hill, also called Cerro Tijeretas on San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos

View of Kicker Rock and the ocean from Mirador Cerro Tijeretas on San Cristobal Island

Also known as Frigate Bird Hill, Cerro Tijeretas has spectacular views of Shipwreck Bay and Kicker Rock. You can find the path to the top of the hill behind the San Cristobal Interpretation Centre. The walk takes about 45-60 minutes.

 

SNORKEL AT TIJERETAS BAY

Tourists snorkel at Las Tijeretas on San Cristobal. It is an excellent spot to snorkel with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands

If you are feeling hot and sweaty after the hike you can go snorkeling or swimming at Tijeretas Bay if the waves are not too strong. Be careful of the rocks when getting into the water. Here you will have the chance to swim with sea lions for free!

 

CHARLES DARWIN STATUE

A statue of the naturalist Charles Darwin near Frigatebird Hill on San Cristobal Island in the GalapagosNear the path to Tijeretas Bay is another path that leads to a statue of Charles Darwin and a platform overlooking the bay.

 

CENTRO DE INTERPRETACION

An illustrated map of the Galapagos Islands at the Interpretation Center on San Cristobal Island

This is a free museum about the history of the Galapagos, and is divided into three parts: formation, settlement, and conservation. You can learn a lot about the early settlers and prison colonies.

 

PUNTA CAROLA

Punta Carola is a beach that can be reached by following the trail from the Interpretation Center on San Cristobal Island

Punta Carola is a beach with big waves near the Interpretation Center on San Cristobal Island in the GalapagosPunta Carola is a beach where you can see sea lions and go snorkeling at high tide. At the end of the beach there is a lighthouse.

 

LA LOBERIA BEACH

La Loberia is a beach near town on San Cristobal where you can spot sea lions and marine iguanasLa Loberia beach is about a 20-30 minute walk from town and is another great place to see sleepy sea lions. You can snorkel there but be careful as the current is often strong. You can also get there by bike or taxi. As the beach is rather isolated, you may want to arrange for a taxi to wait for you or pick you up.

 

SAN CRISTOBAL HIGHLANDS TOUR

You can hire a taxi or book a guided tour of San Cristobal’s highlands. A taxi tour costs about $50 per vehicle so if you share with others you can split the cost. A private guided tour would cost around $150. Usually, the taxi stops at El Junco Lagoon, the Galapaguera Tortoise Breeding Centre and Puerto Chino Beach.

PUERTO CHINO

Puerto Chino is a gorgeous white sand beach on San Cristobal Island

Puerto Chino is a sandy white beach. The current here is often very strong so stay out of the water if the red or even yellow flag is up.

If you climb up a rocky path, you will reach a viewpoint where you can see a fantastic view of the beach and sometimes even spot frigatebirds and blue-footed boobies.

 

EL JUNCO LAGOON

El Junco Lagoon is a crater lake located in the highlands of San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos. It is a source of freshwater for residentsEl Junco Lagoon is a freshwater crater lake in the caldera of a volcano. If it has rained recently, the trail around the lagoon will be muddy so don’t wear nice shoes.

 

GALAPAGUERA DE CERRO COLORADO 

A giant Galapagos Tortoise at Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado on San Cristobal Island

La Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado is a tortoise reserve in the highlands of San Cristobal. To protect the population of tortoises in the northeastern part of the island from non-native predators, baby tortoises are bred in captivity at the reserve before being released back into the wild. The young hatchlings live in growing pens for two years before returning to their natural habitat.

La Galapaguera is different from the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island because the older tortoises can roam more freely without fences separating them from tourists.

Male tortoises on San Cristobal have saddle-backed shaped shells while females have more of a domed shaped shell

Giant tortoises at the Galapaguera Tortoise Reserve on San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos

Tortoises eating at Galapaguera tortoise reserve on San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos

PLAYA MANN

Playa Mann is a very short walk from town. It is right across from the local university, a branch of Universidad San Francisco de Quito, so students like to relax there. There are food kiosks where you can buy cheap snacks.

 

PLAYA DE ORO

Playa de Oro is a beach on San Cristobal Island that is popular with sea lions

Located just outside Golden Bay Galapagos Hotel & Spa is Playa de Oro, a beach that is popular with sea lions. It is also where a lot of people doing stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) enter and exit the water. If you are doing SUP, be careful not to disturb the sea lions as you enter the water. There is a gate to this beach that is usually kept closed so as to separate the sea lions from the humans.

 

CASA DEL CEIBO

A short cab ride away from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno in the village of El Progreso is a treehouse. You can rappel up the side using a rope or just relax in a hammock downstairs and enjoy some coffee and cake.

 

WATCH THE SUNSET FROM THE MALECON

San Cristobal Island has one of the most amazing sunsets in the world. Walk along the boardwalk and enjoy the sight of sea lions playing in the water as the sun sets.San Cristobal Island has one of the most amazing sunsets in the world. Walk along the waterfront boardwalk and enjoy the sight of sea lions playing in the water as the sun sets.

 

DAY TRIPS FROM SAN CRISTOBAL ISLAND

KICKER ROCK

Kicker Rock, also known as Leon Dormido, is considered one of the best snorkeling and diving sites in the Galapagos. You can see sea lions, hammerhead sharks, white-tipped reef sharks, rays, sea turtles, fish and more!

Kicker Rock (also known as Leon Dormido, or Sleeping Lion) is an eroded volcanic cone which towers 140m high. It is one of the best snorkeling and diving sites in the Galapagos because of all the wildlife in the water around it. You can see Galapagos sharks, white-tipped sharks, sea turtles, sea lions, rays and sometimes even hammerhead sharks.

The best time to take this day trip is from December to May when the waters are clearer and calmer. The current can be strong here and the water is very deep so it is better if you are a confident swimmer. But in case you are not, life jackets are available on the boat and the guide drags along a life preserver that you can hold onto. On my tour even the experienced swimmers grabbed onto the life preserver once in a while to take breaks.

I went to Kicker Rock with Scuba Eden and half of us snorkeled while the other half dived. We made two stops near Kicker Rock. After the tour, the guide loaded photos and videos from the tour onto everyone’s flash drives and memory cards. On your Kicker Rock day trip, you will also visit either Manglecito, Puerto Grande or Cerro Brujo beach. The most beautiful of the three is said to be Cerro Brujo.

A sea turtle seen during a snorkeling tour at Kicker Rock near San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos

Photo by Scuba Eden

A tourists swims with a sea turtle at Kicker Rocker near San Cristobal in the Galapagos

A sea turtle and I.

360 TOUR

For visitors who don’t have much time on San Cristobal, the 360 island tour is a great way to see the main sites in one day. It is called the 360 tour because you literally circumnavigate the island. It’s a busy day as you leave around 7:30 am and return at 5pm, visiting Rosa Blanca, Punta Pitt, Sardine Bay, Punta Pucana, Cerro Brujo, and Kicker Rock.

If you have more time on the island, it would be better to take separate day trips to Kicker Rock and Punta Pitt so that you won’t feel rushed.

 

ESPAÑOLA ISLAND

The waved albatross can only be seen on Espanola Island in the Galapagos where it comes to nest between April to December every yearFrom April to December beautiful white waved albatrosses breed on Española, and you can see their big eggs and their cute fluffy chicks. Usually, if the current isn’t strong, you will snorkel at Gardener Bay, which is called one of the most beautiful beaches in the world because of its white sand and turquoise water! The current was strong on the day of my tour so we snorkeled off the boat instead of from the beach. We saw several playful sea lions.

You will take a 2-hour walk around Punta Suarez to look at blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies and red & green marine iguanas (also called Christmas iguanas). If you’re lucky enough, you will spot the endemic Española lava lizard and the Española mockingbird. From far away I saw a Galapagos hawk, which is a vulnerable species and difficult to spot! If you have a big camera lens, definitely bring it on this tour in case you see a Galapagos hawk.

I went to Española with Islanders Galapagos and highly recommend it. Jose the guide was very knowledgeable and the crew was helpful.

A blue and yellow lighthouse at Punta Suarez landing site on Española Island in the Galapagos

The scenic coast of Española Island in the Galapagos

A blowhole on Española Island that shoots water into the air every few minutes

PUNTA PITT

A red-footed booby in the Galapagos IslandsOriginal photo credit:  “Red-footed booby” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by vtluvbug79

Punta Pitt is the only place in the Galapagos where you can see all three species of boobies – red-footed boobies, blue-footed boobies and Nazca boobies. On some tours, you stop at Cerro Brujo beach first. From the beach you can see an amazing view of Kicker Rock. Then you will go to Punta Pitt to spot boobies. After the bird-watching excursion you will snorkel in the water in front of Punta Pitt. Unfortunately, my day trip here was cancelled due to lack of interest and strong currents.

ISLA LOBOS

A half-day excursion to Isla Lobos, a small island where you can see marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies and sea lions, is available from San Cristobal. You will also visit the sandy white Ochoa Beach.

WHERE TO EAT ON SAN CRISTOBAL ISLAND

MIDORI

Midori is a sushi pub with excellent views of the malecon from the second-floor balcony. Enjoy some sushi and drinks while you admire the sunset and people-watch. The fish used to make the sushi is fresh from the sea- I saw a truck delivering lots of fresh fish!

Midori Sushi pub on San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos. It has an open air area on the top floor that is great for people watching

DESCANSO DEL MARINERO

A tropical-themed restaurant with quirky decorations. It specializes in seafood. The food is a bit pricey but the portions are huge so it is worth it. They also give you free popcorn to snack on while you wait for your food.

Fish at El Descanso Marinero, a restaurant in San Cristobal, Galapagos

RUSTICA RESTAURANT AT HOTEL CASA BLANCA 

This restaurant faces the waterfront and has a relaxed, casual atmosphere. I ate patacones here, a traditional snack made from fried plantains. The fresh fruit juice was also delicious.

Patacones are fried plantains. Enjoy them at Rustica Restaurant at Hotel Casa Blanca in San Cristobal, Galapagos

The fruit juice in the Galapagos Islands is fresh and delicious

OTOY RESTAURANT ORGANIC FARM 

During my tour of the San Cristobal Island, I ate lunch at Otoy Restaurant Organic Farm in the highlands. I enjoyed a tasty shrimp ceviche and interesting fruity drinks.

A tropical drink at Otoy Restaurant & Organic Farm on San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands

LUCKY’S

The best place in town to get cheap set meals (less than $5).

HOTEL MICONIA

The restaurant at Hotel Miconia has views of the bay from its second floor. Its specialty is Italian food.

Famous for its large population of sea lions, San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos has many activities to offer! Visit the tortoise reserve, hike to a lagoon in the highlands, relax on the sandy white beaches or watch the sunset from the malecon. You can also snorkel with sea lions, turtles and sharks at Kicker Rock or watch nesting waved albatrosses on Espanola Island

San Cristobal Island is the best place to see sea lions in the Galapagos. Enjoy snorkeling, hiking, stand-up paddleboarding, and delicious seafood in this island paradise

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4 comments

Sarah - Borders & Bucket Lists June 30, 2018 - 12:23 am

LOL I love how the sea lions look all passed out! This island looks absolutely magical.

Reply
Leah June 30, 2018 - 6:24 pm

I went to Ecuador for the first time two years ago but sadly didn’t make it to the Galapagos. Saving your guide for when I make it back and get to see San Cristobal Island 🙂

Reply
maggie furr June 4, 2020 - 3:17 pm

Leah, We went to Equador, Santa Cruz and San Cristobal in February of 2019. I honestly hope you are able to go soon. We are 65 and 67 and still talk about that trip. We travel twice a year and this was one of our favorites.

Reply
Guy September 29, 2018 - 8:41 pm

Bonjour,

Merci beaucoup, très intéressant et des conseils judicieux.

Reply

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