The great thing about San Cristóbal is that there are so many sights within walking distance of the main town, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Many of these offer abundant wildlife opportunities that (usually) don’t cost a penny. We spent three days exploring the island’s many natural wonders and didn’t break the bank. If you’re lucky enough to visit The Galápagos, take the time to head over to San Cristóbal and visit these lesser-known but never underwhelming sights.
1. Centro de Interpretación
This is the best information centre in the Galápagos and far exceeds the more popular Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz. Just a 15-minute walk from our hotel, Casa Opuntia, the displays focus on conservation, climate and geology as well as the thought-provoking history of the Galápagos.
2. Cerro Tijeretas
Continue walking from the Centro de Interpretación along a small path leading upwards. This will bring you to one of the best views in The Galápagos. There is a network of paths around the viewpoint including one that leads down to Tijeretas Cove where you can snorkel in crystal clear turquoise waters.
3. Punto Carola and Playa Cabo de Horno
These two idyllic beaches are exactly what you expect of The Galápagos. Pristine white sands meet a calm Pacific surf. Sea lions play in the water while marine iguanas catch rays further back from the beach.
4. La Lobería
A 30-minute walk in the other direction will bring you to La Lobería, a small beach frequented by surfers due to the bigger waves that break on this side of the island. There’s not much to see in the way of snorkeling, but keep walking until the beach turns to rocky black lava and start counting the marine iguanas. There seem to be hundreds.
5. El Junco Lake
You’ll have to get some wheels for this one – at least two. About 16km from town is Laguna El Junco. The small lake is located in a crater up in the highlands of the island. The lake provides shelter for a large population of birdlife. Reaching the lake requires a short uphill walk from the road and offers rewarding panoramic views of the island.
6. La Galapaguera tortoise habitat
A little further along the main cross-island road is the most natural feeling of the giant tortoise sanctuaries in The Galápagos. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to see any adult tortoises here as they’re left to freely roam the thickets of the sanctuary. However, this is also a breeding centre so you’ll definitely get to see the younger and more “middle-aged” tortoises – if up to 100 years old can be classed as middle-aged!
7. Puerto Chino
Another nine kilometers along the road is a stunning little beach that’s very popular with the locals. If you visit on weekdays you’ll enjoy a more peaceful experience. However, at the weekends you get a glimpse of how the islanders like to unwind. As ever, with The Galápagos, there is much wildlife around including sea lions, marine iguanas and abundant shore birds. I think I let it all go to my head a little when I attempted a David Hasselhoff-esque shot in my Royal Robbins shorts!
8. Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock)
If you do one expensive tour, do this. Take a 1.5-hour boat ride north around the island to a dramatic rocky island known as Leon Dormido. There’s no beach but there is excellent snorkeling and diving offshore. On the dizzying cliffs above you’ll see frigatebirds, red-billed tropicbirds and blue-footed boobies.
9. Isla Lobos
Some companies combine visiting this tiny rocky island and its lava-covered shores with a visit to Leon Dormido above. Isla Lobos is teeming with sea lions and birdlife including blue-footed boobies and frigatebirds. Opposite, on the shore of San Cristóbal, is Playa Ochoa, a great white-sand beach with a tidal lagoon fostering flamingos and Chatham mockingbirds.
10. Puerto Baquerizo Moreno
Don’t ignore the administrative capital of The Galápagos. Wander the town during the day and at night, watch the sea lions lounge on the seafront benches, the marine iguanas catching the rays on the sea wall and the many red rock crabs scuttling across the rocks. Break it up with an ice-cold batido de mora (berry milkshake) and some rich stodgy cake from Mary’s Cakes & Coffee.
What: The Galápagos are 960km west of mainland Ecuador. San Cristóbal is the archipelago’s administrative capital and the only other island than Baltra (Santa Cruz) that has an airport with international connections. From Santa Cruz it’s a choppy 2.5-hour boat ride ($30 per person).
Where: We stayed at Casa Opuntia, located right on the waterfront with fantastic views of the harbour and its glistening turquoise waters. From here it’s easy to access the island’s many nearby attractions on foot.
For sights further afield, ask Alex, the incredibly helpful receptionist-cum-miracle worker, to organise taxis, tours and ferry tickets. There are two pools which are perfect for cooling off after a hot day spent exploring the island. The hotel serves a good breakfast where you’ll be joined by finches on the terrace and there’s tea, coffee and cold water available throughout the day.
When: The Galápagos have two seasons. The islands are relatively dry all year round but between January and June temperatures are hotter (30°C) and there are regular downpours. From July to December temperatures are cooler (22°C) and it is generally drier but the seas are choppier and less ideal for diving.
How: Flying from mainland Ecuador there are two options: Guayaquil or Quito. Flights either land at Baltra Island (Santa Cruz) or on San Cristóbal. Prices fluctuate but we got a return from Guayaquil to Baltra for $400 per person. Most flights from Quito stop at Guayaquil in both directions and flying to San Cristóbal is more expensive than Baltra. Book flights via skyscanner.net.