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San Cristobal Galapagos Ultimate Guide

Everything you need to know about visiting San Cristobal Galapagos. 

view from cerro tijeratas

View from Cerro Tijeretas, San Cristobal

If you are considering a trip to the Galapagos, then you likely want to learn about San Cristobal. 

It is the easternmost island in the archipelago and is considered the gateway to the Galapagos.

Here’s everything you need to know about visiting San Cristobal, nicknamed “The Cute Island”!

Is it worth going to San Cristobal Galapagos?

Sea lion at Cerro Brujo San Cristobal

Cerro Brujo on San Cristobal

First, the answer to “Is it worth going to San Cristobal, Galapagos?” is a resounding YES.

San Cristobal is our favorite inhabited island.

The town (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno) is big enough to have lots of choices in restaurants and places to stay, without feeling chaotic like Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz. 

San cristobal galapagos malecon

San Cristobal Malecon

The Malecon (waterfront area) is charming and has many cafes and restaurants. It also has a great convenience store (Mini Market 2000) which we visited every day.

There are lots of things to do and see on the island. The day tours aren’t as diverse as those from Santa Cruz, but the Kicker Rock tour was our favorite of the whole trip.

sea lion on san cristobal galapagos

And probably our favorite thing about San Cristobal is that there are sea lions everywhere! You sometimes have to literally step over them. 

Since sea lions are our favorite Galapagos animal, we loved all of the close encounters with them on San Cristobal.

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How to get to San Cristobal

avianca airplane

If you are planning a land-based Galapagos itinerary, then you should plan to fly into or out of San Cristobal (airport code SCY). 

It has one of only two airports in the Galapagos with flights to mainland Ecuador. 

It makes for a MUCH easier trip to fly into one and out of another to limit inter-island travel.

premium seats on avianca airlines

We flew into San Cristobal on Avianca Airlines and had a great experience. Our flight was affordable, comfortable, and on time. 

In fact, we flew for free using points I transferred to Avianca LifeMiles from my Capital One Venture card – click here to learn how to do this yourself.

Currently, Avianca only flies non-stop to SCY from Guayaquil (GYE). So we arranged to fly from GYE to limit connections.

LATAM also flies to San Cristobal from mainland Ecuador. 

The other gateway city to the Galapagos is Quito. Click here for some things to know before visiting Quito.

You can also book inter-islands flights from SCY to Isabela and Santa Cruz (via Baltra) on Emetebe Airlines

ferry from san cristobal to santa cruz

The fast ferry

The other way to get to San Cristobal is via a “fast ferry” from Santa Cruz.

I had heard horror stories about the rough ride, but we didn’t think it was too bad. We took motion sickness medication but wished we hadn’t because it made us sleepy the rest of the day.

Keep in mind your mileage may vary with this – we were heading east to west (which tends to be less rough) and it was a calm day!

We also were on a newer boat – the Angel Kelly. Tickets are $30 each and I recommend buying them in person at the Via Mar office (just ask for directions from anyone in town) at least 2 days early so this preferred boat doesn’t sell out. 

What is San Cristobal Galapagos known for?

mural in san cristobal galapagos

San Cristobal, like the rest of the Galapagos Islands, is known for its incredible wildlife. 

But some special opportunities in and around San Cristobal make it unique. 

blue footed booby

Blue-footed booby

First, it provides the best access to Espanola, an uninhabited island that is home to blue-footed boobies as well as its most famous resident, the Waved Albatross. 

You can view the largest colony of them in the world on Espanola from April to December (they migrate away during the other months). 

Another unique site is Punta Pitt, located on the northeast coast of San Cristobal. 

It is the only place in the Galapagos where you can see all three species of boobies together in the same place.

woman on boat with kicker rock in distance

Kicker Rock

San Cristobal is also known for Kicker Rock, aka Leon Dormido, a rock formation off the western coast. 

It is a popular day tour from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno for snorkeling and scuba diving

We visited it along with a stop at Cerro Brujo, the most beautiful beach we saw in the Galapagos. 

marine iguana on lava rocks

You’ll see lots of sea lions (of course), marine iguanas, and Sally Lightfoot crabs at the beach. 

Snorkeling at Kicker Rock we saw Blacktip reef sharks, sea turtles, tons of fish (I mean thousands in a school right below us), and spotted eagle rays. 

It is also a common place to see schools of hammerhead sharks, though that usually requires a scuba diving trip. 

I highly recommend Blue Evolution for a Kicker Rock tour and recommend contacting them before you arrive to arrange your trip. 

How long to stay in San Cristobal Galapagos?

restaurant with view of harbor

Waterfront dining on San Cristobal

There is no easy answer to the question of how long to stay in San Cristobal!

We stayed three nights/four days and thought it was perfect. However, I think you could stay WAY longer and have an incredible time.

There is a lot to see and do here, and the general vibe on the island is very relaxed. I can see spending up to a week here and loving every minute. 

What are the best things to do on San Cristobal?

giant tortoises san cristobal galapagos

Some fun things to do in San Cristobal Galapagos are visiting the giant tortoises, hiking up an extinct volcano, snorkeling in Darwin’s Cove, and hanging out with sea lions in town. 

I highly recommend hiring a taxi driver to take you across the island on what is commonly called a Highlands Tour. It should cost around $80 and take about 4 hours. 

Our Airbnb host helped us arrange this and our taxi driver picked us up at 8:30 am. 

sign for tortoise breeding center

The Giant Tortoise Breeding Center is located in the highlands, about a 30-minute drive from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. 

It is free to enter and consists of a less-than-one-mile trail around the grounds where you can view many giant tortoises. 

baby tortoise and darwin's finch

You’ll see tortoises from babies to full-grown adults. There is a very small museum as well. 

We also saw lots of the famous Darwin’s finches perching in the trees here. 

Expect to spend 45 minutes to an hour at the tortoise center. 

trail up to el junco

Another stop on the Highlands tour is “El Junco“. It is an extinct volcano whose crater is filled with freshwater.

It takes about 10 minutes to hike up to the top from the parking lot.

el junco crater

You’ll likely see Frigate Birds diving into the water for a bath. On a clear day you can see down to the ocean, but it was cloudy the day we visited. 

We thought is was a cool place to visit – it is the only source of fresh water in all of the Galapagos!

puerto chino san cristobal galapagos

The last stop on the Highlands Tour is a nice beach called Puerto Chino. It is a 10-15 minute walk from the parking lot but the path is paved the whole way. 

It wasn’t great for snorkeling but there were sea lions (of course!) and a lovely viewpoint if you hiked to the top of the rock formation on the right side of the beach. 

trail to cerro tijeratas

Walkway to Cerro Tijeratas and Darwin’s Cove

Another great thing to do on San Cristobal Galapagos is to combine a visit to the Interpretation Center with a walk to Cerro Tijeratas and a snorkel in Darwin’s Cove. 

The Interpretation Center is a small museum located just beyond Playa Mann. This is a 10-15 minute walk from the downtown area or a $1-2 taxi ride. 

It has some excellent exhibits on the natural and human history of the Galapagos. 

view from cerro tijeratas

Behind the museum part is a trail that leads to an excellent viewpoint on Cerro Tijeretas or Frigate Bird Hill.

It only takes about 15 minutes to walk here despite that the sign says it is a 2-hour hike.

sea lions on dock

The trail winds down to a small dock from which you can easily enter the water and snorkel around the cove.

We saw lots of beautiful fish and sea lions and heard of others seeing turtles here. 

map of hiking to cerro tijeratas

You can reach a few other points from these trails such as Playa Punta Carola. 

Here is a map to help you plan and navigate. 

I definitely think it is worth a few hours of your time to visit this part of San Cristobal – plus it is a totally free activity!

kicker rock boat tour

I’ve already mentioned the excellent day tours from San Cristobal above, but to recap here are the common boat tours you can take from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno:

  • Kicker Rock Tour
  • 360 Tour (circumnavigates the island with visits to Punta Pitt and Kicker Rock)
  • Espanola Tour

Another thing to do in San Cristobal is to rent bikes and pedal to Lo Loberia, a beach located south of town past the airport. 

We ran out of time and didn’t have time to check it out, but it seems like another nice diversion on the island. 

Where to stay

view from galeodan suites

There aren’t as many options for places to stay in San Cristobal as there are in Santa Cruz. 

I highly recommend Galeodan Suites as the best place to stay in San Cristobal

The two-bedroom apartment we stayed in there was lovely, and our hosts Sean and Maria Elena helped us with arranging tours, taxis, and more. 

san cristobal galapagos harbor at sunset

You couldn’t beat the sunset views from our balcony!

It can make or break your trip to have a great local host to help you make arrangements

There are also plenty of affordable hostels and small hotels in San Cristobal which I recommend reserving on Booking.com. 

There is a fancy new Hotel Indigo right on the Malecon, but I think it is WAY overpriced and not worth the money to stay there. 

Which is better, San Cristobal or Santa Cruz?

sign with map of san cristobal

San Cristobal Galapagos and Santa Cruz are the two most developed islands in the Galapagos.

The port town of Santa Cruz (Puerto Ayora) is much bigger, so it has more choices for where to stay and where to eat. 

There are also many more options for day tours from Santa Cruz. 

Even with those considerations, we enjoyed San Cristobal more for its laid-back vibe and sea lions. 

It is definitely the “cute island” and shouldn’t be missed on any land-based visit to the Galapagos! 

If you like the Galapagos then I think you’ll also like my guide to a Puerto Rico family vacation here

Any questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer. 

Check out my post onhow to find affordable Galapagos cruises as well. 

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