When embarking on your awe-inspiring journey to the Galapagos archipelago, be sure to have this essential San Cristobal Island Guide by your side. It will ensure you don’t miss out on the island’s best and most captivating visitor sites and restaurants. San Cristobal, the enchanting jewel of the Galapagos Islands, is also known as Chatham. As the second-largest island, San Cristobal offers a myriad of activities, making it a true paradise for explorers, especially nature enthusiasts.
Immerse yourself in breathtaking vistas and indulge in thrilling adventures like surfing and snorkeling in the crystalline waters. Alternatively, find solace on the sandy beaches, accompanied by playful sea lions. At the heart of San Cristobal Island lies Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the official capital of the Galapagos Islands, a charming fishing village that serves as the gateway to your extraordinary journey. Explore its tranquil streets, savor the delights of the wonderful local restaurants recommended in our San Cristobal Island guide, experience the warm hospitality of its inhabitants, and simply marvel at the natural beauty that surrounds you.
San Cristobal Island Most Important Information at a Glance
- Population: With around 6,000 residents, San Cristobal Island is a vibrant and welcoming community.
- Size: Spanning 558 square kilometers (215 square miles), San Cristobal is the fifth-largest island in the Galapagos, offering diverse landscapes for exploration.
- Location: Situated in the eastern part of the archipelago, San Cristobal is southeast of Santa Cruz Island and northeast of Floreana Island, making it an ideal starting point for Galapagos adventures.
- Main Town: Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of San Cristobal Island and the Galapagos Archipelago, enchants visitors with its calm atmosphere, waterfront promenade, and diverse culinary options.
- Economic Activities: Tourism, fishing, agriculture, and services drive San Cristobal Island’s economy. Pristine beaches and marine life attract visitors, while local industries contribute to sustainable development.
- Conservation Efforts: San Cristobal Island is committed to preserving the Galapagos ecosystem. The Galapagos National Park Directorate and the Charles Darwin Foundation protect biodiversity and conduct scientific research.
- Wildlife: San Cristobal Island teems with remarkable wildlife, including giant tortoises, sea lions, marine iguanas, frigatebirds, and various seabirds.
- Natural Sites: Cerro Brujo showcases volcanic formations and a white sand beach, while Punta Pitt offers coastal views and encounters with red-footed boobies.
- Transportation: San Cristobal Island is easily accessible by air and sea. The San Cristobal Airport provides domestic flights, and ferries offer inter-island transportation, ensuring seamless exploration of the archipelago.
San Cristobal Island History
The island is the fifth largest and easternmost island in the Galapagos archipelago and holds rich historical and geographical significance. Comprising three fused extinct volcanoes, it derives its name from the Patron Saint of seafarers, St. Christopher, while its former English name, Chatham, pays tribute to John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham. As the oldest permanent settlement in the islands, San Cristobal witnessed Darwin’s first footsteps ashore in 1835.
The island is also home to El Junco, a small lake nestled near its summit, providing the archipelago’s sole source of permanent freshwater. Its fertile soils and the presence of El Junco facilitated early settlement. At the southwestern tip of the island lies Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the tranquil capital of the Galapagos. Known for its seaside promenade and diverse wildlife, it has become a popular surfing destination, with excellent breaks at Tongo Reef to the west. Further east, in the island’s highlands, the small parish of El Progreso stands as the oldest surviving settlement, adding to the island’s historical appeal.
Things To Do in San Cristobal Island – Sites Guide
NOTE: Refer to the map at the end of the San Cristobal Island Guide to locate all the sites.
San Cristobal Interpretation Center
Begin your adventure by visiting the renowned San Cristobal Interpretation Center. Here, you can delve into the rich history of the islands while gaining invaluable insights into the captivating flora and fauna. The visitor center elucidates the natural processes that have shaped the Galapagos Islands into a unique and extraordinary place. It also serves as an educational hub for park personnel and naturalist guides, highlighting ongoing efforts to preserve and protect these pristine islands.
The Interpretation Center, located 2 km southwest of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, offers three captivating exhibits. The Natural History exhibit showcases vivid illustrations and information about the islands’ formation and the arrival of different species. The Human History exhibit explores the discovery and colonization of the Galapagos Islands. The Conservation and Development exhibit sheds light on ongoing preservation efforts and ecosystem challenges. After exploring the exhibits, take a leisurely stroll along winding paths to Playa Punta Carola, a popular surf spot, and continue to Playa Mann for a refreshing swim. Along the way, encounter endemic plants, lava lizards, and other fascinating animals exclusive to the area. The Interpretation Center is a scenic 20 to 25-minute walk from Hotel Galapagos Planet, or a quick 10-minute taxi ride costing a maximum of 2 USD. Frigate Bird Hill, a nesting site for magnificent frigate birds, is also nearby.
For an unforgettable snorkeling or surfing experience, head to Punta Carola on San Cristobal Island. This prime location features an iconic lighthouse, breathtaking sunsets, and the opportunity to spot graceful sea turtles without diving beneath the waves. To reach Punta Carola, you have two options. Arrange a boat taxi for a small fee of 1-2 USD or enjoy a leisurely 20-25 minute walk along a paved trail starting at the Interpretation Center, meandering around the bay and through the mangroves. This walk provides the easiest route. The beach itself is a thriving habitat for sea lions and is renowned as a premier surfing spot in the archipelago. Just a 15-minute walk from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and surrounded by a dry forest, Punta Carola offers sightings of fascinating wildlife, including marine iguanas, pelicans, frigate birds, and sea turtles.
When exploring San Cristobal Island, a visit to Las Tijeretas is an absolute must. Easily accessible from the Interpretation Center, this enchanting location offers a designated trail for a captivating hike, where you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of frigatebirds in their natural habitat. To make the most of your experience, it’s advisable to plan your visit during low tide to avoid encountering rough waves. Renowned as one of the finest snorkeling sites on San Cristobal Island, Las Tijeretas lives up to its name. Derived from the Spanish word for “scissors,” the name was coined by Charles Darwin himself, inspired by local tales that likened the appearance of frigatebirds to a pair of scissors.
Starting from the Interpretation Center, simply follow the clearly marked path leading to Punta Carola and Las Tijeretas. The walk takes approximately 20 minutes, and along the way, you’ll encounter a point where the path divides. Here, you have two options: continue the hike up the stairs to the Tijeretas viewpoint, offering magnificent vistas of Kicker Rock and the surrounding island; or descend towards the sea, where you can indulge in snorkeling or swimming, provided the conditions are favorable.
La Loberia Beach
Located just 2 km from Baquerizo Moreno, on the southern side of the port, lies the stunning La Loberia Beach. As you make your way on foot, it takes approximately 20 minutes from the port. However, please note that the road lacks sidewalks, and during sunny days the scorching asphalt can intensify the heat. It’s advisable to take a cab, which will transport you straight to this idyllic spot for a mere 4 USD. From the end of the road, it’s just a short 100 m drive to the beach. Spanning an impressive 2.5 kilometers (1.55 miles), La Loberia Beach not only offers a picturesque stretch of coastline but is also renowned as an ideal destination for surfing enthusiasts. However, what truly sets La Loberia apart is its thriving colony of sea lions. Dive into the crystal-clear waters and embark on a snorkeling adventure to discover a vibrant underwater world.
No visit to San Cristobal Island would be complete without an encounter with its abundant sea lion population. Head to Playa Mann, where you’ll be greeted by countless sea lions. Sometimes, there are even more sea lions than people on this beach. Conveniently located close to the town and adjacent to the main road, Playa Mann is easily accessible. To reach this picturesque destination, simply follow the same road leading to the San Cristobal Interpretation Center. The journey will take approximately 20 minutes on foot.
Puerto Chino Beach
Nestled amidst the breathtaking landscapes of San Cristobal Island, Puerto Chino is a pristine beach that offers a multitude of wonders for nature enthusiasts. This idyllic site is located approximately 24 km from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, which is a 45-minute drive away. It is also conveniently situated near the revered turtle breeding center near Cerro Colorado (mentioned below), adding to its allure for travelers seeking a tranquil ambiance. Consider organizing a day trip with a taxi driver to explore additional locations, such as the enchanting Treehouse and Junco Lake. To reach Puerto Chino, follow the footpath for approximately 15 minutes. It is advisable to talk to the driver in advance to arrange a pick-up time and ensure you bring snacks and water to stay hydrated, as there are no grocery stores nearby.
El Junco Lagoon
One fascinating experience lies in venturing to the Galapagos archipelago’s sole freshwater lagoon: Junco. Nestled 19 kilometers away from the bustling port of San Cristóbal, this extraordinary natural site resides high up on the island, specifically within the El Progreso parish, San Cristobal’s highland area. Perched at an impressive altitude of 650 meters (2,133 feet) above sea level, Junco sprawls across an expansive 60,000 square meters, boasting a diameter of 270 meters. The lagoon’s intriguing name, Junco, derives from its surrounding flora, namely the rush plant, scientifically known as Eleocharis mutataes. Accessing Junco can be done by car, taxi, or bicycle, with a scenic drive of approximately 30 minutes from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno to El Progreso. Stop here on your way to Cerro Colorado’s Tortoise Habitat or Puerto Chino.
La Galapaguera – Tortoise Habitat De Cerro Colorado
Dedicated to the conservation of tortoises on the island, La Galapaguera Tortoise Habitat De Cerro Colorado is a vital sanctuary for these gentle giants. The best time to visit La Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado is on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in the morning when the tortoises are being fed, ensuring a captivating experience. As the afternoon temperatures rise, the tortoises seek shade and remain less active. To reach La Galapaguera, you can hire a cab or take a bus, as it is situated on the other side of the island. The bus journey from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno to Progreso takes approximately 40 minutes.
Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido)
Embark on an exhilarating snorkeling or diving adventure at Kicker Rock, also known as Leon Dormido, and delve into the mesmerizing aquatic wonders of San Cristobal Island. Don’t miss the awe-inspiring sight of the towering weathered volcanic rocks, reaching an impressive height of 148 meters. Consider booking a half-day excursion in advance to make sure you don’t miss this impressive site. Excursions usually take half a day and may include extended snorkel tours or immersive dives around the legendary rocks. Dive into the picturesque channel nestled between the cliffs and prepare to encounter a captivating array of marine life. Get ready to observe Galapagos sharks, hammerhead sharks, sea turtles, eagle rays, and tropical fish. Keep your eyes peeled for blue-footed boobies, masked boobies, frigate birds, pelicans, and playful sea lions gracefully soaring above. For a truly personalized experience, reach out to our Rebecca Adventure Travel experts.
Located just 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of San Cristobal Island, Lobos Island is a captivating visitor site in the Galapagos. Despite its small size and although it may not have the most awe-inspiring landscapes, Lobos Island – often regarded as an islet – offers a wide range of activities.
The island derives its name from the sea lions that have made it their home. After a one-hour boat ride from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, you will have the chance to embark on a snorkeling or diving experience. Playful sea lions will most likely join in the aquatic excitement. Moreover, hiking along its narrow coast, spanning less than 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) in width, offers an excellent opportunity to encounter endemic wildlife. Remember to hire a Naturalist Guide as they are the only ones allowed to take visitors to Isla Lobos.
Restaurant Guide for San Cristobal Island
During your sojourn on San Cristobal Island, take the opportunity to savor the island’s culinary offerings. With free time to explore, you’ll discover delightful Galapagos cuisine either by dining alone, with locals, or alongside your friends. To assist you, Rebecca Adventure Travel has conducted thorough research and compiled a list of the island’s best restaurants.
NOTE: Refer to the map at the end of the San Cristobal Island Guide to locate all the restaurants.
Golden Bay Hotel
One of the standout destinations in San Cristobal is the Golden Bay Hotel. This exclusive establishment boasts a remarkable restaurant called Muyu. Relish a variety of dishes featuring creative combinations, with a focus on locally sourced ingredients from San Cristobal. The main courses at Muyu range from 20 to 30 USD per plate. Muyu offers an exquisite dining experience complemented by breathtaking sea views.
El Descanso Marinero
Nestled close to Playa Mann, El Descanso Marinero is renowned for its cozy surfer ambiance and delectable seafood. The menu revolves around the day’s catch, ensuring the freshest flavors. Main courses typically range from 15 to 25 USD.
When in search of a satisfying lunch, look no further than the Mockingbird Cafe. Priced at approximately 5 USD, their regular lunch menu offers a delightful combination of soup, juice, and a main course.
Cri’s is a hidden gem loved by locals and tourists alike, offering an extensive menu that caters to diverse tastes. While the establishment serves various cuisines, the specialty here lies in their mouth-watering burgers. With reasonable prices compared to other establishments, CRI’s is an excellent option for lunch or dinner.
For an unforgettable culinary experience, Giuseppe’s Restaurant awaits. Although it may come at a slightly higher price, customers praise this establishment for its delectable pizzas, generous portions, and exceptional service.
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and San Cristobal Island Guide Map – Sites and Restaurants
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On behalf of the entire Rebecca Adventure Travel Team, we wish you an extraordinary time on San Cristobal Island. May your journey be filled with happiness and unforgettable moments.