Galapagos Islands: San Cristobal

This is part of a three part series.

So visiting San Cristobal meant our first time getting an inter-island fibra (or fibreglass boat), and BOY was it ROUGH! They mention in the Lonely Planet that it’s ‘a bit choppy’ but that is honestly the understatement of the century!

The seas in the Galapagos are notoriously full-on, as they’re the meeting place of 3 different currents, and before you’ve even left port, you get a sense of just how rocky things might be. But then after 5-10 minutes, things speed up and it gets SERIOUSLY hairy. On our first boat, 3 people were sick and one girl fainted (with National Park marineros, or sailers, helping to revive her), I cried for the first half hour, and Sam sat with his gaze firmly locked on the horizon to stop from being sick. We lucked out in getting seats fairly near the back, because the boat was seriously bumping out of the water at the front-end, and we’d often be bounced fully out of our seats before crashing back down! After a while (and after seeing the girl faint), I got my fear under control and we played a game trying to name as many ‘sea’ songs as we could, to pass the time! On subsequent boats we listened to our music which helped. A tough two hours though, and one we had to repeat 4 times whilst traveling between islands!

On arrival, we went through our usual drill of finding the National Park office to ask about camping, and quelle surprise, the sites were both really far away (one of them being on an offshore island!!) so again we found a bargain hostel (this time we got the owner down to $20 a night!) 

After lying down in a dark room for half an hour post-boat, we headed out for lunch at the delicious, friendly Mockingbird Cafe where I got my first taste of delayed motion sickness, and I felt like the restaurant was rocking the whole time!

Keen to settle ourselves on dry land, we walked to nearby La Loberia beach, strewn with lava rocks, marine iguanas, frigate birds flying overhead and LOTS of sea lions! Our first chance to the cute little guys up close, we marvelled at their ways… rolling around on the sand, flopping across the beach to each other, hugging with their flippers, pups feeding on their mamas, and a few big scary daddy sealions watching over nests and barking at any freeloading stray sealions outside of their families. 

We learnt that if you touch a pup, the mum stops feeding them and we sadly saw a really skinny pup that none of the mamas were feeding… probably a stupid tourist thinking it’s ok to pet them! On a general sealion-related note, they are EVERYWHERE on San Cristobal – from greeting you at the dock, to lazing on benches in town, to beaches, to just wandering down the road. I don’t think we really appreciated this enough, as there aren’t as many on other islands, so if you go to San Cristobal, get your fill!

We also bumped into the sickly girl from the boat, lovely friendly American Tabbie (who we subsequently bumped into every day on the island!) and we shared a cab back to town after a few hours of chatting and sea-lion spying.

After doing some research into day tours (shockingly expensive compared to our blog research!) we found some cheap eats and called it a night. The next day we booked onto our day tour to Kicker Rock/Cerro Brujo and stumped up the $110 each (aaagh!) which was much more than the $65 we’d found quoted online – guess that trip’s got more popular! 

We divided our first full day between Playa Mann beach and Las Tijeretas Cove – and the latter was probably our favourite place in the whole of Galapagos! Playa Mann is a cute little beach with yet more sea lions to ogle, and Sam even snorkelled with one near some rocks. Otherwise lots of cool tropical fish to see…

Las Tijeretas cove is a bay with crystal clear water and giant sea turtles, sea lions and a huge array of fish. It’s dreamy. And in our first snorkel, we saw three huge sea turtles and a sea lion, and me and Sam watched one of the sea turtles for a good 20 minutes as he fed on the algae around the rocks, and swam majestically through the water, coming up every 10 minutes for air (we timed it on Sam’s watch!) Inspired by this, we decided to shell out the $20 island price for a disposable waterproof camera – such a good purchase!

On the way back from Las Tijeretas, we posed with a giant Darwin statue (tourist lols) and strolled home via Playa Carolla (aka Lovers’ Beach) where you can watch more sea lions play, and where we stopped to catch the sunset over the bay, a nearby lighthouse twinkling in the distance.

The next morning we treated ourselves to a cheap breakfast in a cafe (bread and jam wearing thin!) and we were lucky enough to catch a local Navy parade going past the balcony of the restaurant. Turns out it was the Galapagos Navy’s birthday, so there was a day of events happening – from the marching band parade in the morning, to the concerts in the evening that we heard from our hostel! 

On our second day we checked out the Interpretation Centre in the morning: a fantastic museum which details the history, ecology, economy and future of the islands, from shady stories of murder, imprisonment and failed utopias, to the shortage of water and natural resources, the delicate ecosystem, and responsible tourism. We learnt about pirates and castaways that used to call the islands home, coming and snatching away giant tortoises to eat on their boats; about interesting figures who tried to set up businesses there – Dutch groups, Germans, Irishmen.. before the islands eventually gained National Park status in 1959 (surprisingly late!) 

In the afternoon, we bumped into our buddy Tabbie again and returned to Tijeretas for more snorkelling, and had probably one of our top experiences on the islands, when a sealion pup played with us for a good 10-15 minutes underwater, somersaulting, swimming right up to our snorkel masks then rolling backwards, dancing around us and chasing our movements. We were so excited we were screaming into our snorkelling masks with delight! Afterwards we trekked up to a nearby mirador to see frigate birds flying overhead. We ended the evening watching the sunset on Playa Mann with Tabbie, before an early night.

Our final day on the island was our tour day to Kicker Rock and Cerro Brujo beach. At a massive cost of $110 (pretty much the same as the Park entrance) there was a lot of pressure on the day, and unfortunately, it didn’t quite deliver. Having read a ton of gushing reviews on Trip Advisor (always a dangerous pursuit!) we’d heard about the myriad sharks and rays that live around Kicker Rock, and we expected the water to be full of exotic creatures. 

However, the reality was – although the rock itself, the coral formations, the HUGE tropical fish (including cool-looking Grouper fish) were awesome, we only saw a couple of sharks and some sea turtles (other people saw a couple of rays) and after 2 hours of swimming in the rough, freezing water, we felt a little crestfallen. We were there on a Sunday and our guide felt a bit ‘B Team’ – an older, portly guy with little English and his only attempts at guiding were to tell us to follow him, and to hit the water with his flippers to tempt sharks closer!

However, the second part of the tour was fantastic – after a lunch of grilled chicken and rice on the boat, we visited the STUNNING Cerro Brujo beach. And when I say stunning, I mean it looked like the Phillipines or the Carribean. Perfect sugar-soft white sand, warm clear waters… as we pulled up, we could see puffer fish swimming below us, and as we arrived onto the main part of the deserted beach, we dropped everything and ran into the water like little kids!

We met some fun people on the tour, and rode back on the roof of the boat together – a wet and wild experience! In the evening, we took one last sunset stroll around the port, playing on the sealion-shaped climbing frames and watching the Sunday sun fade. We paused on a bench and were admiring the pretty Sally Lightfoot crabs, when we realised there were a few Blue-footed Boobies just sitting on the rocks right there! We’d seen them from a distance on our tour, but now they were sitting, regally, on a rock about a metre away, with their bright blue feet on show. 

We were so excited we took about a million photos, and agreed with each other than seeing stuff for free on the islands always feels more thrilling than on a tour – more unique and personal… And of course, it’s free!

We finished San Cristobal with a couple of beers on our hostel roof-top, discussing our fear about the next day’s TWO boats, necessary to get to our third island, the much-hyped Isabella…. 

This is part of a three part series.