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San Cristobal Island, Galapagos


Look to the east of the Galapagos Islands, and you’ll see San Cristobal Island, a 558-square-kilometer (215-square-mile) landmass home to pristine wildlife-packed  beaches, alien-like lava fields, and lush highlands. It’s made up of three or four extinct volcanoes melded together, creating a diverse landscape that’s the ideal habitat for a stunning array of fearless creatures.

San Cristobal is famous for being the first Galapagos island that Charles Darwin stepped foot on in 1835. Formerly called Chatham Island, it’s the fifth-largest island of the group and home to the oldest human settlement in the archipelago. Today, it’s only one of four inhabited islands in the archipelago.

Serene and laidback, San Cristobal is the idyllic picture of a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The entire coastline is home to large colonies of playful sea lions, and the island boasts impressive numbers of blue- and red-footed boobies, frigatebirds, marine iguanas, and even its own endemic giant tortoise species. Visitor sites range from white-sand beaches to wildlife reserves to world-class dive sites, while activities include hiking, kayaking, surfing, snorkeling, and diving. For adventurers who want an authentic tropical island vacation, few destinations compare to a San Cristobal tour.

San Cristobal (SCY) Airport

One of only two airports receiving flights from the Ecuador mainland, San Cristobal Airport is on the edge of town in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Many Galapagos cruises start or finish here.

Key Visitor Points

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno

On the western tip of the island sits Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galapagos and the port city and traveler’s hub of San Cristobal. Most of the island’s permanent residents live here; it’s the second-largest community in the archipelago. The laidback city is also one of the few places in the Galapagos Islands where travelers can actually spend a few nights. There are plenty of hotels to choose from, as well as dining and nightlife spots.

Ecuadorians and other South Americans hail Puerto Baquerizo Moreno as a fantastic surfing spot. Surfers often head to Tongo Reef and Punta Carola Beach, both within walking distance of the port city. Notable sights include the coral beach of the Sea Lion Rookery (El Malecón Rookery). Visit the Interpretation Center for a complete history of the Galapagos Islands, from its volcanic roots to modern times.

El Progreso

Roughly 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) east of the capital, El Progreso was established in 1869 and is the oldest surviving human settlement in the Galapagos Islands. It sits at the foot of Cerro San Joaquin; while the village used to be a penal colony, it’s now a quiet farming community.

Frigatebird Hill (Tijeretas Hill)

A 45-minute trail from the Interpretation Center, Frigatebird Hill is a birder’s favorite. It’s the only place where the magnificent and great frigatebirds inhabit the same colony.

Punta Carola Beach

Follow the same trail as Frigatebird Hill to Punta Carola, a sandy beach frequented by surfers for perfect waves. With a reef break for beginners and a point break for experienced surfers, this is the ideal spot to hang ten for wave riders of all levels.

La Loberia Beach (Playa Loberia)

A beautiful stretch of beach near Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, La Loberia is named for the sea lions that have made a home on its scenic shores. Besides watching the sea lions frolicking or napping, the beach is a popular spot for swimming and surfing. At low tide, travelers can snorkel with sea lions and turtles in a protected lagoon. Keep an eye out for other animals like iguanas and frigatebirds.

Ochoa Beach

A horse-shaped cove around 30 minutes from the capital by boat, Ochoa Beach is a rocky beach with a thriving colony of Galapagos sea lions. Ghost crabs, hermit crabs, and sea urchins are common on these shores, along with birds like herons, pelicans, and blue-footed boobies. Clear, shallow waters make it an excellent snorkeling site for travelers who prefer exploring underwater.

Lobos Island (Isla Lobos)

Isla Lobos translates to Sea Lion Island, so it’s not surprising that this white-sand islet is teeming with playful sea lions. Snorkeling is a popular activity, with the sea lions joining in the fun and swimming with the travelers. Rays, turtles, and tropical fish are a few of the other marine life snorkelers will glimpse underwater. Travelers may also embark on the 1-kilometer (0.6-mile) walking trail across the island to spot wildlife like blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, and Sally Lightfoot crabs. Lobos Island is an hour-long boat ride from P