In this post, I will walk you through all the amazing free things to do in San Cristobal Galapagos Island, my favorite of all. But I will also share all the options you have on San Cristobal Island and the amazing tours and diving sites.
If you wish to have more practical tips on the Galapagos Islands in general, you should check my massive Galapagos Islands Vacation guide first.
ECUADOR ENTRY REQUIREMENTS AND COVID PROCEDURES
Mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, have officially reopened! So If the Galapagos were on your bucket list you should take advantage of these weird and difficult times and take a break from stress and uncertainty, while enjoying this wildlife sanctuary.
The local authorities and operators are going beyond their ways to create a safe environment for locals and visitors alike, and protocols are in place and strictly followed.
Now, the Mainland and the Galapagos islands have slightly different entry requirements, which am explaining here below.
MAINLAND ECUADOR ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:
As of mid-July Ecuador’s international airports reopened, and flights have resumed with the following requirements:
- Proof of a negative COVID PCR (PCR test only) test within 10 days of arriving in Ecuador,
- Not presenting any symptoms of COVID on arrival
- If the above conditions are met there is no need for self-quarantine, on the contrary, passengers must self-quarantine in a designated hotel at their expense for 14 days and then take the test again.
GALAPAGOS ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:
- For the Galapagos islands, policies are a little stricter, as follow:
- A negative COVID PCR test within 96 hours of arrival in the islands (please note only PCR tests are accepted)
- Proof of Travel Insurance, including medical coverage for COVID-19,
- Proof of confirmed itinerary in the islands.
- Entrance requirements for Ecuador and Galapagos are subject to change.
TEST TIMING AND LOGISTIC
Please note the timing difference. That means that if you don’t want to take the test twice you need to make sure to enter the Galapagos Islands within 96 hours from when you took the test before coming to Ecuador. So make sure you do the maths.
Timing can be stressful. I had a similar situation when I crossed the border to Guatemala from Mexico. If you want to avoid stress, you can just take your time and arrange another test in Quito before getting to Galapagos. There are around 20 clinics in Quito where you can take it, and the cost is around 85 to 105 USD. You will have your results in 12 hours.
SECURITY PROTOCOLS IN ECUADOR
Both on the mainland, and in the islands, in all public spaces, including hotels, airports, yachts, and transportation, there are social distancing measures in place and new sanitation procedures.
Now, let’s go and explore San Cristobal Island.
San Cristobal is the most interesting among the Galapagos Islands with the best variety of amazing free things to do but also the best tours.
The small quaint village develops around the Malecon (seafront promenade), populated by the funny sea lions that hang out there undisturbed by the human presence, just like everywhere else in the Galapagos Islands. For a few blocks from the seaside, you will find the heart of the main town, where shops, travel agents, bars, and hotels are located.
On the sides, you will walk to the various points of interest as I will explain here below.
There are 3 cash machines and one bank, Banco del Pacifico, a few fancy hotels and apartments and restaurants on which I am afraid I cannot give you advice as we have never eaten out here.
Free things to do in San Cristobal Galapagos – No tour guide needed
Bask in the sun at Playa Mann
This is actually a nice walk from Puerto Baquerizo on your right. You will pass by Playa de Oro where a colony of Sea Lions lay down undisturbed, you might feel it in your nostrils as well, but they are so much fun to watch, I never get tired.
After about a 1 km walk and you will arrive at Playa Mann. You also have bathroom and bar services. Here you can relax and snorkel. It’s a little more crowded than the next one, Punta Carola, but you also get a great sunset from here as well. And of course, you can snorkel, and maybe a few sea lions will keep you company.
Visit the Interpretation Center
Right after Playa Mann, just before reaching Punta Carola, you can make a little deviation to discover the Interpretation center, and even if you are longing for jumping in the water, I suggest you pay a visit. It is free and doesn’t take long, depending on how strong is your interest in understanding the Galapagos islands.
It’s one of the best sources of information you can find, a concise yet explanatory overview of natural and human history, geology, and conservation. It is displayed in easy-to-read panels in English and Spanish. There is also as well small exhibits and old photographs. It’s definitely worth passing through. The path will take you back on the way to Playa Punta Carola, or, if you prefer, you can go straight to the Mirador (sea view) Las Tijeretas, the snorkeling and then back to Playa Punta Carola (see below)
Visit Playa Punta Carola (the best Sunset Spot)
Among the free things to do in San Cristobal Galapagos, Playa Punta Carola was my favorite. Especially at sunset, it’s the best place for photography, both for the spectacular views and the huge amount of Sea Lions hanging out. We were there when the little ones were just born, a couple of months before, and they were the cutest things to watch. We spent hours looking at them and watching their behavior.
Listening to their cry while they are looking for their mum is breathtaking. We were told that sometimes the mother sea lions would go away for a couple of days to fish for herself to feed their babies. During that time, the babies would feel lost and cry for her mum to go back to them.
You just want to grab the little ones in your arms and cuddle them but you can’t.
INSIDER TIP – You MUST NOT touch the baby sea lions within their 4th year of age because if they still depend on their mum for their nutrition and if you touch them, the mum cannot recognize their odor anymore and would abandon them. It seems cruel, but it’s the way nature works. They recognize each other by the odor, not by their traits. So please don’t.
Snorkel at Las Tijeretas and hike to the viewpoint (Cerro Tijeretas)
San Cristobal island View Point
If you continue either before basking on the sun at Punta Carola or after visiting the Interpretation Center, you can walk up to Cerro Tijereta, from which you have spectacular views over Las Tijeretas, an amazing spot to do Snorkeling. From the viewpoint, you can also admire the elegant Frigates resting on a huge tree, and if you are lucky and are in the breeding seasons, maybe a male will inflate his red neck in front of you.
That would make an amazing shot! Ah Nature, you never stop enchanting me!
SUNSET: the viewpoint is quite high and in a good clear day you can also see the Insta-famous Leon Dormindo rock (Kicker’s Rock) on the horizon.
However, the sun would set on your left side, and you won’t see it disappearing into the sea because trees would cover it. I am sure the sky will still be painted in pinkish-orange colors, and the light will be amazing, but so that you know. As a wannabe photographer, I like to have this kind of information.
Snorkel at Las Tijeretas
Snorkeling at Las Tijeretas is the best snorkeling in San Cristobal Island that you can do on your own. From the viewpoint, you will see the well-protected bay with dark blue transparent water where people are snorkeling already, and soon it will be your turn as well. You just have to make your way down through a well-marked path that leads you there. It’s a short and easy walk. You don’t need any special shoes. Flip-flops will do.
We went twice. The first time was the best one because the water was crystal clear, and although cold, I could really see the blue reflections in the deep rocky bottom, sea lions swimming with you or around you, and other sorts of fishes and coral formation. However, I was not prepared. I didn’t have my wetsuit and, most of all, my fins, and besides the cold, which I could have easily born, it made me uncomfortable.
So we decided to go back the following day, after renting a wetsuit and all the equipment, and enjoy our snorkeling.
Too bad, when we got there after 2 days, it was nothing like what we found the first time.
The water was murky and currents much stronger, nothing enjoyable, to be honest. Bummer! I was so disappointed remembering how beautiful it was just two days before. But hey, you cannot fight nature. She will always win! 🙂
INSIDER TIP So my tip here is when you are making your itinerary, if you can choose when to go snorkeling at Las Tijeretas, possibly chose a day when the moon either full or new, that’s when the tides are high, and you will have a clear and better vision. Here is an interesting article on tides and how the moon influences them.
Snorkel and enjoy the sun at la Loberia Beach (Playa Loberia)
It’s only 2 km from Baquerizo Moreno, opposite to Playa Carola. However, the road is not the nicest and if’ it’s hot, the asphalt will make it hotter, so you can get a cab for 4 USD and go straight there. This is what we did.
Once we arrived there we walked a few 100 mt and we arrived at this stunning bay.
It was a little crowded, but the hilarious thing was seeing a colony of sea lions basking underneath the racks where you are supposed to hang out your stuff not to deteriorate the environment. Well, we tried to do that anyway, but one of those cuties didn’t really agree with us and gave us a mad look plus a scary sound, so we decided to move further. We had a good laugh.
We put on our wetsuit and snorkeling gear, and off we went into the water. We saw lots of turtles and sea lions playing with us, plus other cute tropical fishes.
After resting for a while and eating our homemade sandwiches, we checked Las Tijeretas (see above). It was the day when it was murky. Luckily we had our time in La Loberia, which compensated for the disappointment.
Inland tour and Puerto Chino Beach
(For this tour you should actually pay a taxi to get there the locations are free.)
Ok, I have to tell you an anecdote, after which you will think I am dumb and I have a dumb friend. But I take the chance and I hope to make you laugh.
We organized this day trip with a taxi driver who would have to take us to the Treehouse, the Junco lake, and the Garrapatero, the tortoise breeding center, ending up the tour at the beautiful beach of Puerto Chino to lay down and relax on what should have been our last day in San Cristobal. Too bad, on the night before we realized that it was not our last day but exactly the day of our trip back to Santa Cruz.
We had already booked our boat and our hotel for our last night before leaving the Galapagos. If our kind homeowner didn’t let us know that our booking was ending there, we would have missed all our connections and booking.
The funny part is that the two of us were thinking the same. So naive! As soon as we found out we were not sure whether to be more disappointed for having our last day spoiled and missing our tour, or to be happy and relieved that we didn’t miss our boat.
Anyway. It is what it is. Just remember to check the dates of your boats and flights because the Galapagos are really enchanting islands and you never know you might be so spellbound that you might miss your flight. 🙂
If you manage to do this tour let me know how it is, please 🙂
Organized day tours from San Cristobal (at a cost)
In San Cristobal as well the prices of the tours are decided by the boat owners and the number of available boats is fixed. They don’t increase the number of boats according to the demand. This is part of the conservancy program and it makes sense. After “interviewing” different tour agencies we picked the one that gave us more reliability. We went by the vibes.
360º San Cristobal tour of the island (180 USD)
We chose this tour because it would have given us a complete overview of the islands and included also a snorkeling trip around Kicker rock and it was a perfect choice.
We were only 12 in a very comfortable fishing boat. The guide was great very informed and passionate about sharing his knowledge.
We made 3 stops for snorkeling, one at Playa Rosa Blanca where the beach is a white powder and the water is turquoise.
I have never seen such a beautiful contrast of colors. I don’t think even the picture can make justice. We walked for a few mt on volcanic rock formations where we saw a boobie posing for us until we reached a tranquil bay where we did our first snorkeling. It was just spectacular as we saw a lot of sharks, turtles and manta rays and other tropical fishes.
The second stop was on another breathtaking beach, Bahia Sardina, where we had some time on our own, 45 minutes, just enough to appreciate it.
Of course, instead of basking in the sun, I was walking around with my GoPro and camera to take the best shots.
We then cruised around the majestic Cerro Brujo, where, with a lot of imagination, you can see the skyline of the massive rock resembling a witch (Brujo in Spanish).
We finally arrived at the highlight of the tour, the ultra photographed Kicker Rock or Leon Dormido, because, again with a lot of creativity and the right perspective, it can resemble a sleeping sea lion ( Leon Dormido in Spanish)
There we had another amazing snorkel adventure, where we swam by a stunning multicolored coral wall, and we saw sharks, turtles, swimming sea lions, and lots of tropical fishes.
I have tried to put together a video of the entire tour that you can find at the bottom of this section.
It was a hell of a day indeed, worth the money.
Snorkeling at Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido) (100 USD)
This tour lasts just half a day and includes a longer snorkel tour where you will go all around the Leon Dormido, instead of doing half of it as we did on the 360 San Cristobal tour.
To be honest, if you can do both, good for you. But if you have to choose I would do the 360 for the reason I mentioned before.
If you are a diver though, I would rather do the diving at Kicker Rock rather than snorkeling because you will have more chances to see the hammerheads sharks which we hoped to see but didn’t.
Diving at Kicker Rock (200USD)
I went to gather information but decided not to do it because I was already stretching my budget way over any prediction. No regrets, but still…
However, if I could go back in time I would have probably done it. But hey, I have an excuse to go back to Galapagos now, right!?
It’s 2 dives in two different spots around the famous rocks and you have lots of chances to see the hammerhead sharks, besides other marine creatures.
Tour at Española Island (200 USD) (spectacular)
Española Island is another tour that I would recommend. It was just fascinating to look at the Albatros adults and babies at such a close distance, but most of all the Nasca boobies which have become one of my favorite birds, so elegant in their movement and so candid its snow-white plumage. It looks unreal. We had the privilege to have a couple dancing and posing right in front of us and I took a thousand shots.
The landscape was also just incredible, almost surreal. The guide was great and gave us lots of information on the Galapagos wildlife and the service on the boat superb as well.
Punta Pit tour – (200 USD)
We wanted to do it so much when we found out that right in Punta Pit it was possible to see the Red-footed Boobies from a close distance. Unfortunately, this is not a much-demanded tour and they didn’t have a sufficient number of people to justify it. It was so unfortunate because it’s the only place where to find this species besides Genovesa Island, that you can only reach if you join a cruise.
If you are so passionate about wildlife I hope you can make it. Please let me know how it goes and send me a picture 😉
Where to stay in San Cristobal
Here we stayed in an apartment that we have found on Airbnb. It was comfortable, clean and very central, close to everything, but nothing fancy.
While there I have spotted a couple of hotels that I haven’t had the chance to explore inside but I am sure they are spectacular from what I have seen. They are right on the front line:
Galapagos Sunset Hotel, located right in front of the pier the hotel boasts modern rooms with elegant furniture and decorations and a spacious terrace from which you can admire breathtaking sunsets.
Hotel Casa Bianca, featuring comfortable cozy rooms, in a laid-back tropical style, this cute little property is located right beside the previously mentioned Galapagos Sunset hotel and has a pretty busy restaurant. Good sign.
Casa Opuntia, also beachfront, it’s an excellent middle-range option. The rooms are minimal but spacious, some of them with great views over the bay and the funny sea lion.
Where to eat in San Cristobal
I have to be honest we have never eaten out in San Cristobal but there are quite a few restaurants either along the seaside road or in the internal streets.
I use TripAdvisor quite often and I always find it quite accurate in general. Here is the link to check the reviews of the available restaurants in San Cristobal Island.
How to move between the Galapagos Islands
There is a boat service that connects the inhabited islands of Santa Cruz with San Cristobal, Isabel, and Florencia which costs around 30 USD per ride per person, or, if you are not fond of boats or you can stand sea motion sickness, you can always check out the inter-island flights with EMETEBE, a local airline. Their prices are around 200 USD per person one way.
Here is what you should know about interisland transportation by boat:
Interisland Boat ticket price
The cost per person per ride is 25 USD to 30 USD. The boat owners decide the price, although the tickets are sold by the various travel agents that you find all around the islands.
It is advisable to book your ride a few days in advance in the high season. In the low season, even one day before is safe, but it’s better to book everything as soon as you know your itinerary, to be on the safe side. As I mentioned before, you must have all your hotel reservations booked ahead of time anyway.
Interisland boat schedule
There are two rides per day one in the morning around 6 or 7 am depending on the island, and one in the afternoon around 2 pm. We thought that the afternoon ride would be choppier but it’s not true, it all depends on the currents and the weather conditions.
All the islands connect via Santa Cruz. You cannot travel from Isabela to San Cristobal directly. So for example, if this is your itinerary you will need to take the boat in the morning from Isabela to Santa Cruz and the one in the afternoon from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal. This is what we did at least.
However, you could be smarter than us and if you are planning to stay on the three islands, you could fly to San Cristobal first, then visit Santa Cruz, then Isabela, and then come back to Santa Cruz on the day before you fly out. This is a suggestion if you don’t want to waste one full day for your island transfer or if you suffer from sea-motion sickness.
Sea motion sickness: tips
I know about it because I realized I love the sea so much as I suffer a lot for the sea-motion. Therefore every time we needed to move from one island to the other I panicked. I don’t want to take medicines whatsoever, let alone for a stupid 2 bumpy hours.
So I found my remedy. I realized if I stayed at the very back of the boat looking at the sea, I had no issue at all, well maybe a little when the sea was particularly choppy but bearable.
So my main worry was not the seasickness but to get on the boat first so that I could choose my seat. I spoke to the captain or the agent at the pier and explained my needs and they have been usually accommodating. At the back, you might smell a little gasoline, but you are in the open air and the wind will relieve you. Although you might get wet sometimes, it’s definitely the best way to travel on a boat if you have any motion-related issues.
Other than that, it’s a beautiful ride:)
For further reading on the Galapagos islands
- Galapagos Islands Vacations: everything you should know before booking
- Galapagos travel Itineraries: how to make the most of your time in the Galapagos
- How to visit Cuicocha lake from Otavalo, Ecuador
- Otavalo Ecuador – Things to do beyond the Market
- Secret Garden Cotopaxi: amazing things to do