Tips for a cheap trip to San Cristobal
Isla San Cristobal is one of the four populated islands of the Galapagos archipelago and it was our personal highlight.
A lot of places on San Cristobal you can easily reach by feet. Compared to Santa Cruz it is not that touristy but more populated than Isabela. The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno in the southwest is the capital of San Cristobal and the Galapagos archipelago, although it only has the second largest population behind Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. It has 5,600 inhabitants and in the last years a lot of renovation has been going on. Along the waterfront you find an inviting esplanade, called Malecon, with a lot of restaurants and agencies for tours.
Very impressive are the numerous sea lions that are lying at the esplanade. When you visit this place for the first time you cannot believe how close they live together with the people.
HOW TO GET TO ISLA SAN CRISTOBAL
Like Santa Cruz, also San Cristobal has a national airport where the three airlines LAN, Aerogal, and TAME, are flying to from the Ecuadorian mainland. At check in you pay 10 dollars for a 'visa' for Galapagos. When you arrive on Isla San Cristobal and your passport is being checked, you will have to pay a 100 dollars park entrance fee. It is important that you keep the smaller part ticket of your payment for your return flight. If you do not have it at check in, you are charged a small fee.
From the airport you can easily take a taxi to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. It is a 5 minutes drive and only costs 1 dollar. It is also possible to walk to the town. However it can be exhausting in the heat of the sun.
When you want to visit Santa Cruz you can take the public ferry. It costs 30 dollars and leaves two times a day, in the morning and in the afternoon. The boat ride to San Cristobal takes 2.5 hours and when you are a bit more sensitive when it comes to boat rides, you should take a seat in the back. It is a speed boat and depending on the weather conditions the ride can become a bit bumpy in the front. Our recommendation is to take your own music. Then time will pass much quicker.
THINGS TO DO ON SAN CRISTOBAL
That is the best on the Galapagos Islands... there are so many things you can do and see FOR FREE!
As mentioned above the esplanade along the waterfront in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is full of lazy sea lions. It is a real pleasure to watch them and to listen to their funny noises. Especially at dawn you find hundreds of them relaxing on the sand, on benches, or even in unused water slides (which are supposed to be used by kids :). It is just incredible!
La Loberia is a beach on a sheltered bay and it was our favourite. From the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno it is a 30 to 45 minutes walk to the beginning of the beach area. From there it is another 8 minutes to the actual beach. La Loberia is a white sanded beach partly covered by lava rocks. These rocks are very popular by sea lions and you will see them lying around everywhere and sun-bathing.
As breeding takes place from May through January you can see baby sea lions the whole year round. It is a real pleasure to see them climbing over the rocks very clumsily and looking for their mums. We were surprised how trusting they were and how close they came. Sometimes we had to step back to not touch them. Take your snorkelling equipment and explore the bay.
You will see a lot of fish and even giant sea turtles. When you are lucky you will be visited by a sea lion who wants to play with you. When we were snorkeling we were surprised by a sea lion and it surrounded us for round about 3 minutes. He observed us and we observed him. These minutes were so fascinating that, afterwards, we could not believe that we swam together with a sea lion in its natural environment. It was definitively a lifetime experience.
Our tip: Follow the trail after the beach. There you will find black/white sticks that indicate the trail. It guides you through lava rocks where you have to climb a bit and brings you to a peaceful coastal landscape and a cliff. Hardly any person goes there so you can enjoy a 'typical' Galapagos feeling. It was great and we enjoyed sitting on top of the cliff and watching the nesting and flying birds and the sea turtles which we could see from above. As you have no shade on the beach or on the trail you should bring sunscreen and wear at least a t-shirt and a hat. We had an umbrella with us and it protected us very well from the sun.
Interpretation Center and Cerro de las Tijeretas
In the Interpretation Center on San Cristobal you learn a lot about the history of the Galapagos Islands. At the northern end of the bay of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno it is a 10 minutes walk to the entrance of the center. Colourful displays explain in an easy way the history of the islands and how the future may look like. What influences the increasing numbers of inhabitants and tourists may have. We found it very interesting. The entrance is free, you just put your name in a list at the entrance.
When you walk through the Interpretation Center, you will find a trail that guides you to Cerro de las Tijeretas which means Frigate Bird hill. The trail guides you to different viewing points around the cliff. You can see a lot of frigate birds there and when you are lucky you will even find one with an inflated red-coloured throat pouch.
Here you also find the sheltered bay of Las Tijeretas which offers a nice snorkeling spot. There is a wooden platform from where you go into the water. The most fish can be seen close to the platform. Further away we saw a giant sting ray lying on the ground but not much more. Try not to go snorkelling when the tide is coming in as the view is not that clear and small waves are coming. You can check the tide times on the internet.
Playa del Amor and Playa Mann
Also within the area of the interpretation center you find the way to Playa del Amor. It is a white sanded beach, perfect for relaxing and surfing (for beginners). As there are no shady places, do not forget to take sunscreen or something to cover. On one side of the bay you can see a small light house which is nice for taking pictures.
When you leave the interpretation center into to direction of the town you will pass Playa Mann. It is a smaller beach and a nice place for a short rest and swim and a great spot for watching the sunset. There is also a small shop where you can buy snacks and ice cream. On the weekend it gets very busy here as the locals seem to love that beach. Then also many other street vendors are coming.
Kicker Rock or Leon Dormido
When you love snorkelling we highly recommend a tour to Kicker Rock, also called Leon Dormido. Kicker Rock is two volcanic rocks tower 140 meters tall and one of the most spectacular things to see on the Galapagos Islands. Small boats can go through the channel which is 19 metres deep. It is said that the rock formation looks like a sleeping lion. When you have a good imagination, you might see the lion. I think we could see it a bit :).
We booked with Wreck Bay Diving Center and were very satisfied. After meeting at the boat terminal in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno a speed boat brought us to Isla Lobos. Here we had a short stop and saw sea lions and blue-footed boobies. At the coast of the mainland we saw frigate birds sitting in the trees. Here we even saw a frigate bird with its inflated red-coloured throat pouch. After taking some pictures we went on to Kicker Rock. It is a one hours boat ride to there from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
In our group we were the only ones snorkeling. The other four guests were divers and disappeared in the depth of the water. We had our guide and it was like a private tour. As soon as we jumped into the water we were welcomed by a giant school of fish with probably thousands of species. We snorkelled along the rocks and saw many other schools of colourful reef fish and bullet fish. The walls of the rocks were fully covered by colourful corals… yellow, red, purple, green. And in between we saw a starfish, just beautiful. Under us we saw potted eagle rays, barracudas, green sea turtles, and white tip reef sharks gliding against the current through the channel.
After two snorkelling trips our boat brought us to another rock where we went snorkelling. Here it was a bit sandier and we did not see that many fish but it was still nice. Afterwards we went to Puerto Grande which is a beautiful natural white sanded beach. Here we enjoyed a delicious lunch on the boat and could go for a swim in the crystal clear turquoise coloured water or walk along the beach. Then we made our way home and could not believe what we have seen on that day.
It was a fantastic trip and Kicker Rock was definitively one of our highlights on the Galapagos Islands.
Our recommendation: Wreck Bay Diving Center, normal price is 80 dollars but you can negotiate a price of 70 to 75 dollars when you bring your own snorkelling gear, price includes: Boat ride, short or long wet suite (definitively recommendable), guide, snacks, lunch.
ACCOMMODATION ON SAN CRISTOBAL
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno has many different options where to stay for a good price. In average you pay 15 dollars per night/per person in a shared room. During our stay on San Cristobal we stayed in two different accommodations and we can highly recommend them:
Casa de Laura Hostal
Our first two nights on San Cristobal we spent at Casa de Laura Hostal which is located at the western end of the Avenida Charles Darwin. It is a family run hostel with very clean rooms, equipped with hot shower, TV, air-condition, and WIFI. The courtyard is nicely arranged with plants and palm trees above benches. However we spent 20 dollars per person per night for a double room with private bathroom. That was a bit too expensive so that we decided to change the accommodation after two nights.
Gran Hotel Paraiso Insular
After leaving Casa de Laura Hostal we found this really good hostel just two blocks further in the Avenida Alsacio Northia. Here we got a proper hotel room with a double bed, TV, the best WIFI we had on the Galapagos Islands, and air-condition. Our private room was very spacious and equipped with a hot shower. The room had been cleaned every day and we only paid 15 dollars per person. We felt so well here that we stayed for 6 nights.
FOOD ON SAN CRISTOBAL
There is a myth that food and beverage is very expensive on the Galapagos Islands. But this is NOT true. It is very easy to find a lot of cheap options. Local restaurants offer delicious and good menus for only 3.50 to 5 dollars for lunch and dinner. Look for 'meriendas' when you want to have dinner, this is the Galapagos word for it. Usually the menus consist of a soup, a main dish with fish, pork, or chicken with rice, and a juice. Do not go to the restaurants at the waterfront, these are very expensive and have tourist prices. And it doesn't automatically mean that the food is better. It is usually the opposite. We tried different restaurants in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and these are our recommendations:
The Lucky Restaurant is located in the second row, in the street Ignacio Hernandez, and it offers lunch (almuerzo) and dinner (meriendas) for 3.50 dollars. We tried both and had a vegetable soup, a main dish with chicken, rice, and a small salad, and a juice.
Follow the Avenida Charles Darwin into the south-western direction and at the corner of Avenida de la Armada, just behind the bridge, you find the Cormoran Restaurant. This very cosy place offers local food that is cooked and served by older ladies. It feels a bit like eating at home at mums place. We ate here several times and had a very delicious noodle soup, a main dish with chicken, rice, and beans, and a juice. Unfortunately they serve the main dish before you have finished the soup. So you have to hurry up a bit :). They only offer lunch. The menu del dia costs 3.50 dollars.
Mary's Cakes & Coffee
There are also different restaurants that offer breakfast. Our favourite was Mary's Cakes & Coffee in one of the side streets between Avenida Charles Darwin and Ignacio Hernandez. You can easily see it when you walk along Avenida Charles Darwin as there are usually always sitting people outside. They offer different types of breakfast e.g. continental or vegetarian, starting at 3.50 dollars. But you can also choose between typical Ecuadorian snacks. We liked the milk shakes, the so called batidos, a lot. They offer a lot of different fruit flavours and for 0.5 litres you only pay 2.50 dollars.
Restaurant next to the Gran Hotel Paraiso Insular in the Avenida Alsacio Northia
At the end of our stay on San Cristobal we realized that there is a really good restaurant just next to our hotel. Unfortunately we forgot the name but it is easy to find. When you want to eat a big piece of fresh and delicious meat, come here. Usually you can choose between pork, beef, or chicken, which comes on a separate plate because it is so huge. On the second plate you get rice, bean sauce, and a small salad. It is incredible how much good food you get here for only 5.50 dollars.
In the Avenida Charles Darwin at the esplanade the Tongoreef Restaurant also offers different types of breakfast starting from 4 dollars. Also here we enjoyed the fruity batidos (0.5 litres for 2.50 dollars). The tables in front of the restaurant offer a nice view of the harbour and the esplanade.
Calypso is a very popular restaurant at the southern end of the esplanade. Every night it is packed and we were wondering if it is really such a good restaurant. However it did not fulfil our expectations. You get pizza, pasta, and sandwiches and it all looks great but the taste is just average. Our Pizza Hawaii mainly consisted of cheese (we love cheese but that was far too much). And both times we went there we had stomach problems afterwards. What a coincidence. Plates start at 6 dollars but proper ones are more expensive.
This bar is also located in the second row and very populated by young people. Here locals and tourists meet and play dart or billiard. It is a simple place but with a nice atmosphere. It is a good location for finishing a day.
On every island of the Galapagos archipelago where we went to, we had moments and situations that deeply impressed us. On Isla San Cristobal our personal hightlight was La Loberia. For us it was a lifetime experience to swim with giant turtles, to see super cute baby sea lions, and even to play with them in the water. And all this happend outside a zoo. INCREDIBLE! And the trail along the cliff guided us to unspoiled nature where we were the only ones. 100% NATURE!
We hope you like our tips about 'Galapagos: Isla San Cristobal on a budget' and that they will help you to plan a trip to these beautiful islands. Don't forget to check out the other Galapagos blog posts for:
Safe travels and thanks for reading
BoB, Liane and Lars