San Cristobal Island with the city Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is the administrative capital of the Galapagos Islands. With its 7,000 inhabitants it isn’t the most populated island though (That’s Santa Cruz). Either San Cristobal (SCY) or Santa Cruz (GPS) will be your starting point of your trip around the Galapagos Islands as planes from Quito and Guayaquil only arrive there.
As I lived the last 2.5 months on San Cristobal working at a tour operator, I want to share my experience with you about everything you are able to see, do, where you get the best food and where to go out in the evening.
Getting there & around
The airport code of San Cristobal is SCY. You can arrive here with LAN, Avianca or Tame from either Quito or Guayaquil. Be aware that you have to pay $10 for the INGALA Migration card in Quito or Guayaquil and $100 entrance fee for the Galapagos Islands National Park when you arrive on the islands. Those fees can be only paid in cash and there is no ATM at the airport of San Cristobal, so get some money out beforehand to avoid trouble.
Speed boats are the cheapest way to get to other islands. They cost $30 each way. The speed boats to Santa Cruz leave at 7 AM and 3 PM on a daily basis. If you want to go to Isabela by boat, you firstly have to go to Santa Cruz and catch the next speed boat there (7 AM or 2 PM).
Getting around in San Cristobal is very simple. You can easily say that everything in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is in walking distance. If you want to go by taxi nonetheless, e.g. to the airport, it’ll cost you only $1.
Places further away from Puerto Baquerizo like El Progreso in the highlands (El Ceibo), can also be reached cheaply by taxi. Always tell the taxi driver to stay or to return to the place, so you can be certain to have a taxi back, as it is probably impossible to find a taxi in the highlands.
Points of interest
Even though San Cristobal is quite a small island, there is much to do, either with guided tours or on your own. The Kicker Rock Tour goes almost everyday, so this is fine to book one day before the tour. Tours to Isla Lobos or Punta Pitt though only depart on certain dates, so you might ask for that before going to the Galapagos Islands or be a bit flexible.
In order to ask for certain tour departures, I recommend you the company Sharksky. I might be a bit biased as I worked there, but my former colleagues do a great job in helping you making your trip unforgettable. You can either have a look at their website or visit them directly on the Malecón (next to the hostels Albatros and San Francisco).
Kicker Rock aka Leon Dormido
The Kicker Rock Tour is the standard tour on San Cristobal Island. This rock looks like a gum boot for foreign people and like a sleeping lion for locals (Leon Dormido) and is one of the most famous attractions of the Galapagos Islands.
It’s a snorkeling or diving tour during which you can see white and black tip reef sharks, sea turtles, rays, fish, sea lions and if you’re really lucky than you are able to see hammerhead sharks. But that’s more likely for divers than snorkelers.
The tour is combined with some beach time at one of the following three beaches: Manglesito, Cerro Brujo or Puerto Grande. The tour includes snorkeling/diving equipment, wetsuit, lunch and towels and is guided by a naturalist guide. It costs $80 for snorkelers and $160 for divers.
Read my complete post about the Kicker Rock Tour.
Book a half-day trip to Isla Lobos for $65. You will do a hike on the lava rocks of the island and spot marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies (if you visit the island during the right time you might be able to see them nesting or see their fluffy babies) and relaxing sea lions. The island’s name is translated Island of sea lions and you will sea heaps of them laying under the trees in the shade or playing in the water.
Part of the excursion is also a snorkel not far away from the island where the sea lions literally play with you and come really close before getting out of your way. I saw some giant sea turtles and a couple of rays there as well.
Before heading back to the port of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, you will stop at Ochoa Beach. A beach which could also be in the Caribean, beautifully white and sandy. You can either relax on the beach, snorkel here again or spot some frigate birds and blue-footed boobies in the area.
Read my complete post about Isla Lobos.
I just published a post about this amazingly beautiful place in the north of San Cristobal. The place surprised me the most and if you have the time and money, you should absolutely visit Punta Pitt. Remember that tours do not go every day, so either plan ahead or be very flexible with your time especially during low season.
Punta Pitt is the only place where you are able to see all three booby-species: Blue-footed, Red-footed and Nazca boobies. But that’s far from everything, the colors of the landscape is what enthused me most. Costs of the trip vary depending on the second place you visit during that day but will be more than $100.
Read my complete post about Punta Pitt.
La Loberia is a beach close to the airport of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. You can either walk there for about 30 minutes each way or catch a taxi for about $2. Tell the taxi driver to come back at a certain time if you want to go back by taxi, as you probably won’t find one there.
At La Loberia Beach you can hike around the lava rocks left of the beach and snorkel close to the shore where the sea lions are sleeping in big groups.
In the water you will hopefully see a lot of sea turtles eating or sliding through the water. I found La Loberia the best place to spot sea turtles.
Read my complete post about La Loberia.
Interpretation Center, Tijeretas & Punta Carola
Tijeretas and Punta Carola can be found on the other side of the city. Just go to the end of the Malecón (street at the sea) and follow the signs to Playa Mann. Pass Playa Mann and go to the right to arrive at the Interpretation Center.
The Interpretation Center is a museum about the Galapagos Islands. It’s divided into three parts: Formation, settlement and conservation and is definitely worth a visit. At the end of the Interpretation Center you’ll find a way who leads you to Tijeretas and Punta Carola.
Tijeretas means frigate birds in Spanish and the place got its name as you can spot heaps of them there. There is a hill from which you have the perfect view of the bay below you, Kicker Rock from afar and of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the other side. On another smaller hill, you’ll find a Darwin monument as he landed in this bay when coming to San Cristobal.
Don’t forget to bring your bathing suit and snorkeling equipment as you can go for a snorkel in the bay there. You will see some sea turtles and sea lions there as well.
On your way back stop at Punta Carola, it’s a nice beach with a small lighthouse and a big colony of sea lions.
Read my complete post about Tijeretas & Punta Carola.
El Junco, Galapaguera, Puerto Chino
You want to get to know the Highlands of San Cristobal Island. Then you can simply catch a taxi and explore the area for a day. You pay $60 and the taxi driver accompanies you the whole time as there are no taxis to find in the highlands. You start in the morning at let’s say 9 or 10 AM and will be back at around 2 or 3 PM.
The usual itinerary is
- El Junco: A freshwater lake in a volcano
- Galapaguera seminatural: A breeding station for giant turtoises
- Puerto Chino: A beach
Make sure, you wear hiking boots or at least solid shoes for that. To get to El Junco you have to hike up a quite muddy way up to the volcano. If you like, you can completely walk around the lake.
In Galapaguera I recommend you to ask one of the volunteers there to guide you. They are able to answer all your questions and tell you very interesting facts about the giant tortoises.
Puerto Chino is an incredibly beautiful beach, but do not only go into the water and swim. Walk up the small hill on the right side to see some blue-footed boobies. Puerto Chino is also a great place to go surfing.
Read my complete post about the highlands of San Cristobal.
El Ceibo is a small tree house in the city of El Progreso a few kilometers away from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. You can get there by taxi for only $3 each way.
The entrance fee of the tree house is another $1.5 per person in order to keep the place alive. You walk over a shaky bridge to arrive at this cute little tree house. There is a small room with even two beds above the “living-room area“. If you are adventurous, you can slide down the pole outside the treehouse, but be sure to secure yourself safely.
Don’t miss to get into the tree trunk. There is a ladder guiding you down to another area.
Outside the treehouse there is a small area where you can have some cake and coffee. It’s a nice area for children to play and run around and a very interesting place to see for adults as well. As everything is very alternative and ecological. You sometimes might have a second look to see what it’s made of. The wall inside of the café is completely wrapped with glass bottles for example.
San Cristobal offers a lot to do for the outdoor adventurer and sports enthusiast. During your time on the island, you are able to do the following activities:
- Kayaking: it might be that you have to be accompanied by a naturalist guide
- Stand-Up Paddling: ask in the office of Sharksky right at the Malecón for the boards
- Surfing: Rent a surf board at the shop on the left of the restaurant La Playa (follow the Malecón in the direction to the Military Zone), read further to find out which are the best beaches to surf
- Biking: Again you can rent a bike at Sharksky. The best way is it to do it is to go to Puerto Chino by taxi and then head back to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno by bike.
- Canopy: The canopy place is a bit further in the highlands. Catch a taxi to get there
- Diving: The best diving spot is obviously Kicker Rock. But you can also do wreck diving, dive at Punta Pitt and some other places. Head to the Dive Center Los Mantas and they’ll help you to find a good trip.
- Snorkeling: You can snorkel by participating in one of the tours mentioned above or by simply renting snorkeling gear. Only the mask and the snorkel costs $3 dollars per day, together with fins it’s $5. If you freeze easily and want to get a short wetsuit as well, it’s an additional $5. You can rent all this again in the office of Sharksky. The best places you could go on your own are La Loberia and Tijeretas (see above).
- Spotting wildlife: Sit down on a bench at the Malecón and do nothing but observing the wildlife. You will be amazed by how many different species you see in only a couple of minutes.
Playa Mann is a beach where you are going to hang out with a lot of sea lions. You shouldn’t be afraid of them as they often pass you on your towel very closely. It’s a nice place to refresh from the sun for the while and it even has a small kiosk where you can buy drinks and snacks.
To get to Playa Mann, go to the northern end of the Malecón passing the pier and then stairs on the right hand side. Walk further on a small wooden bridge and pass a couple of houses afterwards. Turn the first street right and follow the signs to the beach.
I mentioned La Loberia further above already as a point of interest. So just short and simple. La Loberia is a great place to snorkel, hike and refresh yourself. Walk 30 minutes to get there or take a taxi for about $2.
Puerto Chino is the beach you go to at the end of your highland trip (read above). The water there has the most beautiful colour. It’s crystal clear and you are able to see the sea lions swimming in the water from above the hill. The beach is also very popular among surfers.
Punta Carola is another beach where you find a huge colony of sea lions. To get there, pass Playa Mann and go through the Interpretation Center, then follow the signs. You can snorkel or swim there or simply take some photos of the sea lions. But always keep the 2m distance.
At the end of the beach, you’ll find a small red-white lighthouse.
Playa Baquerizo is a lesser known beach further away from the city and a more off-the-beaten path beach. To get there you have to pass Playa Mann, go through the Interpretation Center and follow the sign saying Tijeretas. Hike up the biggest hill with the viewing platform at the top and follow the trail from there for about an hour.
Manglesito, Cerro Brujo, Puerto Grande
These three beaches are the beaches you go to during your Kicker Rock Tour. The Kicker Rock Tour is always combined with a beach either Manglesito, Cerro Brujo and Puerto Grande. They are all next to each other with a view of Kicker Rock from afar and beautiful sandy beach. My favorite one is Cerro Brujo Beach.
Playa Ochoa is the beach you go to after your time hiking on and snorkeling around Isla Lobos. Another beautiful sandy beach where you are able to spot blue footed boobies, frigate birds and again a lot of sea lions.
Tongo Reef is the beach for the surfers. Get your board at the shop next to the restaurant La Playa and go to the military zone. Bring your passport or ID as I had to give it to them to enter the zone and was able to pick it back up afterwards. Follow the trail along the ocean and after a quite long walk (passing a small cemetery), you’ll get there.
Restaurants in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno
- Zayapa Ice Cream & Coffee: Offers very good coffee and even iced-coffee, often closed on Sundays
- Tongo Reef: a lot of different breakfast options from typical Ecuadorian breakfasts like Bolón to continental ones starting from $4. It’s also the only restaurant which is open before the speed boat at 7 AM leaves the island
- Mary’s Cakes & Coffee: The people working there are very cute and make sure, you enjoy your breakfast a lot. You can also order Ecuadorian as well as continental breakfast options starting from $3.5.
Cheap eats, Meal deals
- Lucky: Here you get the best deal. Have lunch or dinner here for only $3.5. You’ll get a juice, a soup and a main dish (sometimes you can choose between fish or meat). They also offer vegetarian options.
- Rosita: The same meal deal at Rosita costs $5 including juice, soup and main dish. Here it is only available for dinner from Monday to Friday.
- Cabaña el Grande: A small restaurant which can be easily overseen. In the same street where you’ll find Lucky, you’ll find a small door with steps going up to a small restaurant. The owner is very proud of his place and his visitors and will probably make you write in his guest book. They have some cheap meal deals like a burger, fries and a milkshake. Breakfast is offered here at a low cost as well.
- Bambu Grill: Here you can order incredibly good and fresh fish, sea food or meat. During lobster season, that’s the place to eat lobster in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
- Calypso: A place with more international food. When you have enough of rice, go here and order the best pizza of the city, a salad, pasta or a burger. The desserts are very delicious as well.
- El Descanso Marinero: Another place for great fish and sea food. It’s a bit further away from the Malecón than the other places but still easily accessible. It’s one of the more expensive restaurants but with a great variety of delicious dishes.
- Mockingbird: That place was renovated all the 2.5 months I’ve been on the island unfortunately. But it is always recommended as a great place to eat from the locals and other tourists. It’s a grill restaurant as well.
- Rokas & Cactus: This place is quite far away up on a hill but offers some great dishes. I had dinner there once. It was a bit more expensive than the usual dinner option but very very tasty and due to the location it was very quiet up there.
- Barquero: This place is owned by a couple which is very cute and care a lot for you. The atmosphere of this place is great. You sit in the front garden of their house with good music and some beers. They provide some games like playing cards or yenga, as well as dart and billiard. It’s my favorite bar in the city.
- Casa Blanca: This bar of a hotel is a good place to drink some cocktails. It’s the hotel which seems to not fit in the rest of the architecture with its white and blue colour, right in front of the main pier.
- Iguana Rock: This place is often the place to go before going out to dance. They provide very comfortable couches, a pool table and a small dancing area in the back of the bar. You can get two Pilsener beers for $5 here.
Puerto Baquerizo is not very big, so the two clubs to go to are
- La Isla
Music is quite similar with a lot of reggaeton music. Neptuno is also a karaoke bar.
As I worked in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, I didn’t stay in a hostel or hotel and can only recommend you the places, others talked well about and seemed like a good choice from the outside. Those were:
- Hostel San Francisco
- Leon Dormido
- Casa de Jeimy
- Casa de Laura
- Hotel Katarma
- Casa Blanca
- Hotel Opuntia
So I hope I could answer all your questions about what to do, where to go, where to eat out etc. in Puerto Baquerizo and on San Cristobal in general. If you still have any questions, write them down in the comments and I’d love to help you.
And if you have any other recommendations, let us know in the comments as well.
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