The Galapagos are a cast of all-star islands, but San Cristobal is absolutely the MVP. From mind-blowing secluded coves and hikes to an incomprehensible amount of wildlife, San Cristobal has it all. We spent almost a week on San Cristobal as part of our Galapagos Islands land-based itinerary and it was by far the highlight of our trip.
The Best of San Cristobal Galapagos
The ‘tres sesenta tour’ or ‘Old Fisherman Tour’ is probably the most advertised tour on the island with Kicker Rock being the highlight. We were very torn as to whether we should do a scuba dive at Kicker Rock or do the full 360 tour and just snorkel. We ended up doing the 360 tour and, although we did not see hammerheads, I am still so glad we did. The tour takes all day so pack some sunscreen and get ready to see everything San Cristobal has to offer.
Stop 1: Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido)
As I mentioned we were very concerned with having the best experience possible at Kicker Rock. We ended up choosing a tour that went the opposite way of the normal crowd and headed to Kicker Rock first. Our conditions could not have been better. As I snorkeled along I could see groups of scuba divers swimming on the bottom and then I would look up and see the massive rock jutting out of the water above me. We saw Galapagos sharks, sea turtles, sea lions, and so many fish. First, we swam through the gap in the rock which was really cool as there was a decent size swell. It moved us up and down the rock wall for a view of all of the different fish and creatures stuck to the sides. We then swam all the way around kicker rock for a full view.
Stop 2: Cerro Brujo
Cerro Brujo is not exactly a stop as you don’t get out of the boat but it is still worth mentioning. There is a natural arch in the ocean and when the captain positions the boat perfectly you can capture a picture of Kicker Rock from under the arch. As a bonus, our fearless captain drove our boat under the arch and narrowly avoided running into another boat on the other side (see video below).
Stop 3: Bahia Sardina
We were all a bit cold and soggy after the big Kicker Rock swim so Bahia Sardina didn’t end up being a great stop. Had it been warmer or the visibility better I am sure the snorkeling would have been great. But we were ready to get back on the boat and keep the tour going almost as soon as we arrived. I imagine that on tours that go the other direction this is a better stop.
Stop 4: Punta Pitt
Punta Pitt is another stop where you actually stay on the boat. We had lunch and basically snorkeled from above given that the water was so clear we could see fish swimming on the bottom. This is the prime spot for Boobie spotting and just taking in the incredible beauty of the rugged coast. This was also the ‘fishing’ portion of our tour but we didn’t really do any fishing. The captain tossed a line in and we drove around for a few minutes but it was pretty clear that he did not have intentions of actually catching anything. From what I have read fishing is a required part of the tour as fishing boats can visit locations that tourist boats cannot but I would have loved if we actually got some fishing done.
Stop 5: Bahia Rosa Blanca
Bahia Rosa Blanca ended up being our favorite stop of the whole tour. The stop starts with a hike over lava rocks to a huge tide pool. When we arrived it was low tide so the pool was no longer connected to the ocean. To our shock, there were about 20 sharks, a sea turtle and a huge stingray inside of the pool waiting for the tide to come back up. To our further shock, this is where our guide announced that we would be snorkeling! Normally I would be hesitant to jump into a small pool of 20 sharks but our guide assured us they were vegetarian (we later found out this is not true but they are completely harmless).
After the greatest snorkel of all time, we headed to the beach for our last snorkel of the day. We were treated to more sea turtles (they were starting to get old at this point. If that is even possible!) and a few larger fish.
The whole day was then topped off with a relaxing hour on one of the most beautiful beaches in the Galapagos.
We spent a lot of time pricing out, haggling, and determining what the best bang for our buck would be for the 360 Tour while on San Cristobal. In the end, we paid $120 per person for the best day of our trip. I can not recommend this tour enough.
DIY Snorkel and Beach Tour
Some of the best snorkeling on the island is walking distance from the town! If you enjoy snorkeling bringing your own mask to San Cristobal is pretty much mandatory. It is cheap to rent them in town but it seems like a hassle and the crazy amount of wildlife on San Cristobal is going to have you wanting to explore every day you are on the island (we snorkeled 6 out of 6 days we were there). There are literally sea lions EVERYWHERE!
No matter where you get in at you are sure to have plenty of sea lions and turtles swimming alongside you. I am not sure what it is about the Galapagos but the animals are completely unafraid of humans. In fact, we think one of the sea lions might have had a crush on Rachel. On two or three separate occasions we went for a swim and the same sea lion came speeding over to investigate. I am not going to lie having a full-grown sea lion come to check you out is a bit scary! But fortunately we never saw or heard of anyone having any issues with getting hurt by them.
Right outside of town and across the street from the university is one of the most popular beaches and snorkeling spots on the island. There are food stalls to get delicious and cheap comida tipica or cheap beer, and there are plenty of people and sea lions out sunbathing. We ended up eating here a lot and snorkeled a few times before realizing there were better spots further down the road.
This is our second favorite place on the island to snorkel and where Rachel’s boyfriend (sea lion) hangs out. We had so much fun swimming with the sea lion pups and sea turtles at this beach. They are so playful! It is way less crowded than Playa Mann. Plus it has the advantage of being on the west side of the island so you get amazing sunsets! There is a lighthouse you can walk over to and even climb inside of if you want the perfect picture of the sunset.
Muelle Tijeretas, or ‘the grotto’ as we call it, is my favorite place to snorkel on San Cristobal. And maybe the world! The water is crazy blue and the visibility was insane every time we went. There is a cool path that runs along the cliffs so you can get spectacular views including Kicker Rock. There are also some fun photo-ops along the trail, such as a Charles Darwin statue and a huge military gun! Once in the water, the sea lions and turtles definitely outnumber the people. You almost step on them getting into the water! If I could pick one spot that offers a best of the Galapagos experience this would be it.
Lobo marino is the Spanish name for sea lion so we expected to see dozens at Playa Loberia. However, there were only a few sleeping on the beach. It is still a super cool spot though. The cove is perfect for a snorkel and we saw two very interactive sea turtles. There is also a nice hike up the rocks. The cliffs and ocean views are dramatic and you may even spot a blue-footed boobie!
Check out our video from San Cristobal
Where to Stay on San Cristobal
Rachel and I are planners. We like to book our accommodations in advance and know what we are doing ahead of time. But after hearing countless backpackers say the best way to do it is to just show up we decided to give it a try.
The result? We quickly found the nicest lady in the world that said she had a room for about 1/3 of the price that we had been paying. Then we gave ourselves a pat on the back thankful that we had stepped out of our comfort zone. After we followed the lady inside the hotel, our smiles quickly turned to looks of concern. As we made our way up the stairs to our room we took one look inside and knew we had made a mistake. The room was barely big enough for our bed, smelled interesting and was super dirty. We eventually agreed to put our bags down while we went out to search for a new spot.
After a few hours of going door to door and looking for a place to stay we eventually found Cattelya Hostel. We ended up LOVING this hotel and extended our stay multiple times. The host was so nice, there is a beautiful terrace, and the included breakfast was great. I highly recommend staying here. As for waiting until we arrive to book accommodations, we have not done that again this trip. There are just too many great options on Airbnb when you book in advance. Haven’t tried out Airbnb yet? Click here to get a $40 travel credit.
Where to Eat on San Cristobal
I could eat comida tipica all day every day. Rachel, on the other hand, likes a little variety and can’t go too long without her fix of Asian food. That is why we were over the moon when we found Midori Sushi. They actually had some great rolls, decent prices, and a super nice atmosphere. We ended up eating here a few times during our stay. The wait can be a bit long (especially on Mondays for ‘all you can eat’) but it is worth it. I know the idea of an all you can eat sushi experience will turn some people off but trust me, this place is great. If you’re looking for a nice cocktail and beach vibe head to the Golden Bay Hotel around sunset.
If you have to pick just one island in the Galapagos to visit, make it San Cristobal. This island has everything that you could want in a Galapagos experience and more. The town is laidback but has enough activities and restaurants to keep you busy and the natural beauty is the best we found in Galapagos.
Want more information to plan your trip to San Cristobal? Check out the Galapagos Lonely Planet here.
PACK YOUR SNORKEL!