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.
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
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
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
Near 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
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 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 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 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 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
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
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
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 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 (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.
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.
From 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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
The best place in town to get cheap set meals (less than $5).
The restaurant at Hotel Miconia has views of the bay from its second floor. Its specialty is Italian food.