Along with Isabela and Santa Cruz, further east, San Cristóbal is another popular destination in the Galapagos Islands. It has a very relaxed vibe and it is an island for everyone. Whether you are interested in history, adventure trails, the ocean or just a laid-back time at the beach, San Cristóbal is your destination!
San Cristóbal gets its name from St. Christopher, who is the patron of seafarers. However, this island is also known as Chatham Island (in English) named after the prime minister of England William Pitt of Chatham.
San Cristóbal was the first island to be visited (on land) by Charles Darwin during his expedition to the Archipelago in 1835. Its main port Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is the capital of the Galápagos.
Nowadays it is widely recognized for its varied attractions which include snorkeling, diving, hiking, walking through the highlands, and a visit to the Interpretation Center that tells of the history of the islands.
Coordinated by the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation, the interpretation center informs us about the history of the archipelago. Exhibits demonstrate the natural and human history of the islands and the conservation programs that have been enforced.
You will be amazed at the volcanic origin of the Galapagos and the evolution of the species in the islands from the beginning of their time. Then the later colonization and the introduction of species will explain why there were behavioral changes in certain species. The interpretation center is also a great place for us to be aware of the struggles and obstacles of conservation and the efforts that have been made by park rangers and locals to protect this natural paradise, “The Enchanted Islands.”
Very close to the port, a 25 min walk takes you to a beach full of sea lions, where you can also find turtles, iguanas and frigate birds. You can also find trails that take you to the cliffs!
A 45 min walk (through well preserved trails) up to a lookout point with a panoramic view of Shipwreck bay / Leon Dormido. This place is also known for the 2 species of frigate birds you can find in Galapagos, that inhabit the area. You can also snorkel by the beach and if you’re a hiker then you can attempt the walk to the next beach Playa Baquerizo (it is a bit harder because the path has no pavement).
El Junco Lagoon
In the highlands you can find a crater lake with a surface of 60.000 m2. This site has a trail surrounding the lake, with views of the coastline and the sea. The only inflow that the lake has is rainfall, so depending on the season (rainy or dry) the level of water changes dramatically. This makes for a great hike, and don’t worry, this caldera is know an extinct volcano.
Also in the highlands, a breeding center for giant tortoises is a visit you can’t miss. You can walk around the area next to these fantastic creatures. This 5 km hike where you encounter giant tortoises in their natural habitat is a better experience if you hire a naturalist guide.
Or sleeping lion. Two volcanic rocks ressemble a sleeping lion, also known as Kicker Rock because of its boot-like shape. This is one of the best spots in the archipelago for scuba diving! Besides colorful fish, you will encounter sharks and could even find a whale shark when in season. You can also snorkel, and birdwatch. Animals you’ll encounter: frigates, pelicans, blue footed and masked boobies, sea lions, Galapagos sharks, hammerhead sharks, marine turtles, eagles and tropical fish.
Only 25 min by boat from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, a trail (1h) takes you across an island full of blue footed boobies and frigate birds. But the main attraction are the sea lions, which are abundant. These playful animals will be playing in the waters, interacting with humans, turtles and other marine creatures. Get ready to hike, and don’t forget a snorkeling mask.
A calm beach where you can bathe in the water and swim next to sea lions! 30 km away from the Main Port, a path takes you to the beach through volcanic rocks and lots of boobies. The waves in this white sand beach are very small so it is ideal for swimming.
Opuntia cactuses all around. Walkthrough a trail that takes you across the dry, desert-like environment where these trees grow. Opuntia cacti are tall, some may even reach 4 m! Also, the fruit that grows on their branches attracts finches.
Besides cacti, you’ll also observe mangroves, palo santo, and a variety of finches (these small creatures are the inspiration behind the genius work of the Origin of the Species and the theory of natural selection by Charles Darwin.)
For this site, it is necessary that you contact a local tourism operator or ask your hotel for a tour. The beach that surrounds the Opuntia Garden is another good place to snorkel!
Punta Pucuna Beach
A small bay and three beaches where lava is the main setting behind the sandy beaches. From here you can observe both Cerro Brujo and emblematic Kicker Rock. You can go hiking through the volcanic surface and take amazing photographs.
Or Whitch Hill. You access this hill by boat, and once you arrive you will find a trail that takes approximately 3 hours. The coral sand beach, amazing views of kicker rock, and diverse flora and make it a great spot for hiking, snorkeling, and swimming.
White sands, shells and turquoise water! Visit snorkeling paradise and have a relaxing day by the beach. Mann is also close to town and it is one of our favorite beaches to watch the sunset.
Manglecito means little mangrove, and this site is covered by mangroves and a beautiful beach. In the mangroves, you can observe various birds, and in the nearby lagoon, you can see Galapagos ducks, among other species. Also, the beach is known for its surfing, since the rocky reef creates great waves.
West of the island a white sand beach has a cave with shallow waters, perfect for snorkeling! You will encounter sea lions, boobies and frigate birds. You can hire kayaks or get to the cave by boat, remember the access is by the sea!
Puerto Grande Beach
Near Leon Dormido or Kicker Rock, there is a bay where it is said that treasures were buried centuries ago. Besides this mystery, the beach is known for having amazing sites, including the beach, the dunes, and varied plants. The range of activities here encompasses surfing, camping, hiking, birdwatching, and snorkeling.
*Remember that in order to camp you have to arrange it in advance and ask the Galapagos National Park ranger for permission.
If you have more time, then definitely plan a day trip to Española Island, a volcanic paradise where birds can be seen everywhere you look.
How to get there: San Cristóbal has an airport and three airlines cover this flight (Avianca, Latam, and Tame). You can get flights to the island from both Quito and Guayaquil and they last approximately 2h from Quito and 1h50 from Guayaquil.