The Galapagos Islands are one of the world’s most iconic natural wonders. Located in the pacific ocean off the coast of Ecuador, the archipelago is known for its rare wildlife and the famous location where Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution. I visited the Galapagos Islands as part of a 10 Day Trip to Ecuador. Although you can visit most of the islands by boat, only a few of them have an airport and overnight accommodations. San Cristobal and Santa Cruz are your two main options if you are flying to the islands from mainland Ecuador. San Cristobal is a great choice to explore the Galapagos Islands and below are the best things to do on San Cristobal.
1. La Galapaguera - The Giant Galapagos Tortoise Reserve
The Giant Galapagos Tortoise Reserve was my favorite thing to do on San Cristobal Island because it was a very unique experience and made me feel like I was walking with dinosaurs. These giant tortoises are… giant. Most of the massive tortoises have been alive longer than me and can live to be over 100 years old. The reserve was created to help grow the population of the tortoises in a safe, natural habitat.
The Reserve is located about 40 minutes from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno in the highlands of San Cristobal. Once in the reserve, you can walk the trails where the giant tortoises wander around freely in their near-natural habitat. The trail leads to a breeding center where you can see baby giant Galapagos tortoises.
2. Cerro Tijeretas - Punta Carola Beach
One of the most fun things you can do on San Cristobal island is walk the trail to Cerro Tijeretas. The trail begins at the Charles Darwin Interpretation Center, which has some information about the history of the island. The Interpretation Center can be reached by walking from the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno past Mann Beach. The hike is very easy and leads to a few different points of interest including Cerro Tijeretas, or Frigate Bird Hill. The views from the top of Cerro Tijeretas look over Darwin’s Cove and out to Kicker Rock.
Another great stop on the hike is Punta Carola Beach. This beach is filled with sea lions and has a nice lighthouse perched out on a rocky stretch. Near the rocks we saw marine iguanas, sally lightfoot crabs, blue footed boobies, and pelicans. Frigate birds were hovering over us, making it truly feel like an open air zoo. Best of all, this experience is completely free and easy to do on your own.
3. Española Island Day Trip
Ok this is actually the best thing to do if you are in San Cristobal, but since it’s another island altogether it felt a little disrespectful to San Cristobal to have it be number one. But holy moly, Española Island is where it’s at. It’s pricey and takes about 2 hours by boat to reach the island, but this was the true Galapagos experience I came for.
The Island is uninhabited and full of wildlife. Upon arrival we were greeted by barking sea lions, marine iguanas, and frigate birds. Nazca Boobies, Blue Footed Boobies, and the rare Waved Albatross are all over the island. We also went snorkeling with some very playful sea lions as they swam within inches of us, jumping in and out of the water. playing with us. It was my most memorable moment in the Galapagos and you can read more about my experience in this Guide to Visiting Española Island.
4. Kicker Rock Day Trip
Ok since the door has been opened to day trips from San Cristobal, Kicker Rock should definitely be near the top of the list. If you want to experience some of the best snorkeling (or scuba diving) in the Galapagos islands, a Kicker Rock day trip is a must. Kicker Rock is visible from San Cristobal island and is made from volcanic ash, jutting out nearly 500 feet above sea level. It takes about 2 hours to get out to the snorkeling area where you have a chance to see sea turtles, Galapagos sharks, tropical fish, ays, and hammerhead sharks.
5. Puerto Chino Beach
A picturesque white sandy beach with crystal turquoise waters, Puerto Chino is a great spot to visit while staying on San Cristobal Island. The beach is often filled with sea lions basking in the sun near the giant black volcanic rocks. Sunbathe, have a picnic, snorkel, or take a little hike up the hill where you can get a panoramic view of the area and look out over the ocean. Blue footed boobies and sally lightfoot crabs are frequently seen on the rocks. Puerto Chino is a beautiful beach to relax on and feel one with nature.
6. La Loberia Beach
La Loberia is another beautiful Galapagos beach where you can sunbathe with the sea lions. The white sandy beach provides a nice place to hangout while taking in the wildlife. Wade out in the water or pop on a snorkel and swim with tropical fish, sea turtles and sea lions. When I went snorkeling there, I saw all of those along with two stingrays laying in the shallow sand. So watch your step and shuffle your feet! Although I still saw some wildlife here, I preferred the other beaches of Punta Carola and Puerto China. Having said that, La Loberia provides a great free option to see some Galapagos wildlife.
7. Puerto Baquerizo Moreno
The little port town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is located right on the water and will most likely be one of the first places you see on your trip to San Cristobal. Boats depart from the quaint harbor, where it is common to see sea lions basking in the sun. You will notice right away that sea lions are everywhere. Make sure to keep a distance from them as they are wild, but they most certainly aren’t afraid of you here on the Galapagos islands. The main street in town follows the coast where you can take a stroll and find many restaurants, hotels, tour guide companies, and souvenir shops. The town is the perfect place to have dinner and drinks after a long day of exploring.
I greatly enjoyed my time on San Cristobal Island and found it had several great wildlife watching spots. In addition, it is the jumping off spot to other great experiences like snorkeling at Kicker Rock or taking a day trip to Española Island. With so many options of places to visit in the Galapagos, it can be hard to narrow down where to explore, but San Cristobal is a great starting off point to start exploring the magical islands.