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6 Reasons why you should visit San Cristóbal on your first Galápagos Islands trip

You’ve made up your mind. After playing with the idea for a while you’re ready to move The Galápagos Islands from your dream list to your bucket list. Then you see all these beautiful islands and you start wondering, ”How do I choose the right one?”, “Should I book a cruise?”, "How can I make the most out of this once-in-life-time experience?”

I get it! Visiting such a unique place can leave you feeling like you want to get it 100% right so, after being on this special island twice, here are 6 reasons why I think you should visit San Cristóbal Island on your very first Galápagos Islands trip.

Because let's face it, you’ll want to come back again and again.

Ana Ruiz - Family Travel Coach


It’s the easiest and quickest island to reach

The first thing you should know is that there are two airports on the islands, one in San Cristóbal and one in Baltra, a small island north of Santa Cruz. Frequent flights from Quito and Guayaquil are available to both islands and take roughly the same amount of time. The main difference is that, since Baltra is such a tiny island, it has no accommodations or things to see. When landing in Baltra, you must take additional transportation (a bus and a ferry) to get to Santa Cruz Island, therefore, adding more travelling time to your trip.

San Cristóbal on the other hand is the easiest island to reach from the continent. Although flying times will be quite similar coming from the Ecuadorian mainland, San Cristóbal airport is just 5 minutes away from the island’s main town, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. A quick taxi ride for a couple of bucks will leave you right where the fun starts.

It has the largest sea lion concentration

And when I say the largest, I mean sea lions everywhere! You’ll be able to see them and hear them as soon as you arrive in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. San Cristóbal is home to the largest colony of sea lions in the entire archipelago and quite possibly in the entire world! So, if one of your biggest motivators to visit The Galápagos Islands is living life next to these cuties, THIS is your island.

The first and closest place where you'll find them is at the main pier. Expect to see them lying in the sand, resting on city benches, swimming by the shore, and even flip-walking like regular pedestrians on the street. One of the most unique experiences you’ll have at The Galápagos is spending a day on Playa Mann beach where hundreds of sea lions gather daily. During the early hours, you’ll see most of them in the ocean and as the afternoon sets, you’ll notice more and more coming to shore, making the beach a visual paradise!

It is possible to swim with sea lions anywhere on the islands. But always keep in mind that, although they’re used to human presence and are quite friendly, touching them is forbidden. Male adults can be very protective and if they feel threatened they could bite. While on the islands you’ll see many sea lion pups too, which yes, are 10x cuter and a lot harder to resist but, be very mindful and restrain from petting them. Each one of them has a unique scent that'll be altered by human touch and will cause their mother to reject them.

It's a snorkeling paradise

To be completely transparent, you can do tons of pretty amazing snorkeling all around The Galápagos Islands but something that really stands out about San Cristóbal is that you can snorkel in many places that, not only are breathtakingly beautiful but that are also free to access, walking distance from town and — key point if you’re traveling as a family— very kid friendly!

One of my favourite snorkeling spots with shallow waters is La Lobería. You can easily spend a full afternoon here, swimming with sea turtles and sea lions. For more “advanced” snorkeling, you can hike to Cerro Tijeretas where you’ll have incredible views of turquoise waters from the top of the hill, and a large snorkeling pool at the bottom. The water here is deeper and you’ll feel stronger waves as you go in but once you’re inside, you’ll for sure find an incredible peaceful world right beneath you.

Snorkeling gear is available for rent in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno for a daily fee or you can bring your own and take it with you all around the island.

If you’re looking to have the ultimate snorkeling adventure while on San Cristóbal Island, then look no further than Kicker Rock, which has its own little section below.

To visit Kicker Rock

Kicker Rock, also known as El León Dormido because of its shape, is a rock formation in the middle of the ocean that’s accessible by boat from San Cristóbal Island. It's the home of many sea species like hammerhead sharks, sea turtles, sea lions, corals, and fishes, as well as many bird species like frigates and blue-footed boobies.

In order to visit Kicker Rock, you must pre-book a tour which can easily be done once on the island 1-3 days before. The shorter and most popular tour takes approximately 6 hours and includes lunch, snacks, a quick stop at a beach, snorkeling gear, and the guided snorkel experience at Kicker Rock. Depending on the season, you may be able to spot hammerhead sharks and sea turtles swimming beneath you.

Unlike most of the activities at The Galápagos, visiting Kicker Rock is not free. When you do your booking, you can pay the fee (sometimes negotiable) at your chosen agency. At the time of writing, the short tour costs approximately US$120 - US$150 per person.

You can see plenty in little time

Another great thing about San Cristóbal Island is that you can experience the Galápagos magical world even if you are short on time. Since most places are very close to each other, in 5 days you can see plenty! A lot of spots, like Playa Mann, the main pier, and even Cerro Tijeretas are easily accessible by foot. Other key locations like La Galapaguera, La Lobería, and Puerto Chino can be reached by booking a taxi for a couple of hours.

A good rule of thumb is grouping activities by location. The first afternoon you can explore the town, spend time falling in love with sea lions and watching the sunset in Playa Mann. On day two you can meet the biggest tortoises on earth at la Galapaguera and then head to the beautiful and remote Puerto Chino beach. On day three you could hike up to Cerro Tijeretas for breathtaking views, spend some time snorkeling with sea turtles and then head to Punta Carola for another gorgeous island sunset. Day four can be all about visiting Kicker Rock and having one of the best snorkeling experiences of your life! And finally, right before wrapping up your Galápagos island adventure, on Day five, you can take a quick taxi drive to La Lobería for an opportunity to snorkel with sea lions.

You don't need pricey tours to enjoy it

The truth is, although most people have The Galápagos Islands at the top of their bucket lists, very few make it here. Is it the money? Yes. More specifically, the misconception that you need a lot of it. It is commonly thought that the only way to visit Galápagos is by booking an expensive cruise. The reality is that it’s very possible to self-plan a trip and visit not only San Cristóbal but other islands too.

Believe it or not, most activities inside the islands are free. And if we’re looking at San Cristóbal only, every single place that I’ve mentioned except Kicker Rock is completely free to access. Aside from transportation costs, the National Park Entry Fee ($100/adult), and the Migratory Card ($20/adult), all regular expenses in food and accommodation will be quite flexible. In fact! Our total expense for a 7-day trip to San Cristóbal, as a family of four, was approximately $1680. Including our flights from Guayaquil!

If this doesn’t convince you to pack your bags and head to the fascinating Galápagos Islands right now, I don’t know what will! This is your sign to come and see for yourself, one of the most unique places in the whole world.

As I said, a place that you’ll want to come back to over and over again.


About Ana

Ana is a Certified Family Travel Coach, Travel Writer, Speaker, and Online Business Owner. She’s been to over 50 cities around the world with her 2 mini travelers and now helps other mums see the world with their kids. She believes travel is magic and motherhood is magic too. One should not live without the other.

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