To us, San Cristóbal was ‘sea lion island’ – there were more of the pinnipeds living here, cheek by jowl with humans, than anywhere else we’d seen. The third stop on our Galápagos itinerary is home to both its second largest settlement and its administrative centre, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. It’s a nice wee place, smaller than Puerto Ayora but not as ‘end-of-the-line’ as Puerto Villamil.
We had a grand total of one and a half days in San Cristóbal, so more than the other islands I felt like we didn’t even begin to scratch the surface; but the things we did do and see, listed below, would all come highly recommended.
Playa Mann was listed in our guide as somewhere to while away a nice afternoon. I feel like this was a bit of an undersell- I’ll concede that the beach wasn’t the white sand idyl we’d seen in Isabela, but the afternoon we spent there was genuinely one of the most memorable and surreal we spent on the Galápagos. It’s about a 15 minute walk away from the main town, and we ambled over after getting the ferry to San Cristóbal at a ridiculous hour that morning. Walking onto the sand we quickly got a whiff of its distinctive aroma, quickly seeing the reason the beach is so famous- its beach goer ratio is around 50% people, 50% sea lions. The best bit, though, is that even though we’re separated by thousands of years of evolution, it appears that humans and sea lions use Playa Mann for exactly the same thing.
After laying down our towels to soak up the afternoon sun, we were joined by a few young sea lions who had had exactly the same idea (I would rate them 6/10 as sunbathing companions- they’re magical and all that, but they are a bit smelly and had a habit of shimmying along the beach and forcing us to move our towels out of our prime spot (RUDE)). Other sea lions had joined people swimming at the beach, jumping the waves and letting themselves get thrown about by the surf. We all had the same problem of getting covered in sand whenever we got out of the water, and we all headed to the shady bits of the beach to get away from the beating sun. The sunsets at Playa Mann were particularly good- and experiencing it with the sea lions was one of my best memories of that week.
The most expensive thing that we did on the Galápagos, the 360 tour took us on a full day trip around the circumference of San Cristóbal. The trip was, to quote the guides and tour operators, ‘full snorkel’, stopping at four different places to see sharks, green turtles, and blue and red-footed boobies.
Our first stop took us 20 minutes out to sea from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno to the iconic Kicker Rock, which is known as one of the best diving and snorkelling sites on the Galápagos. The star species here are hammerheads, but on the day we visited visibility was pretty poor and, if they were there, we didn’t see them. Still, having Galápagos sharks materialise seemingly out of nowhere and swim right past you was totally exhilarating, and we saw a mind blowing number of fish. At one point I was swimming through an enormous shoal of small, silvery ones, who would catch the light and flash brightly for a second before turning and dulling their colour- it was like swimming through a glittery night sky. The walls below the water were covered with bright red and orange colours and sponges, and patrolled by colourful reef fish. It was my first snorkel in what was relatively open ocean; but any feelings of apprehension quickly melted away upon seeing how astounding the place was under the water.
We also visited a couple of more sheltered spots, swimming with black tip reef sharks up to 5ft long, and pulling up to tiny rocky islands surrounded by thousands of swirling sea birds. Because our time of San Cristóbal was so limited, getting to circumnavigate the coast was a great way of getting a feel for the island. Some of the bays we visited were so quiet that it truly felt like we’d travelled to the end of the world. It was a fitting end to our time on the Galápagos.
Ferries between Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal cost $30 (you might be able to get a discount for a return ticket). Although our travel guide said there were no boats between Isabela and San Cristóbal we did see them advertised for $30, though I can’t comment on their frequency. Remember the boat can get windy and cold, so bring a few layers (I also found a scarf really useful for my hair).
Although it’s the second largest settlement, only a minority of day tours leave from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. If you can only base yourself on one island, Santa Cruz and Puerto Ayora have a wider range of options. My personal recommendation would be to stay in both islands, and get an open jaw ticket where you fly into one island and out of another.
San Cristóbal’s airport is a 10 minute taxi ride from the main town – much easier to get to than Baltra!
If you do the 360 tour, it’s worth bearing in mind that once you move from the sheltered bit of the island where Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is to the more open parts, the sea gets decidedly choppier. Plan travel sickness tablets accordingly.
And that’s it! All the things we did/saw/gazed at in amazement at on the Galápagos. I got a notification through to say that the Isabela post was the 50th that I’ve posted on Stripy Tapir, and it felt appropriate that it should feature such an incredible place. I’m back in Norfolk at the minute, enjoying the chilly mornings and the starling roost at Strumpshaw. There’s still a few posts from Colombia to go up, but I thought I’d take a break from sunnier climes for a bit and let the blog get a bit more wintry. Happy mulling everyone.