San Cristobal Island, GALAPAGOS
(Isla San Cristobal)
San Cristobal is the fifth largest and easternmost island in the Galapagos. It was formed from three or four fused volcanoes, all of which are extinct. It is here where you can find the oldest permanent settlement on the islands. It is also the island on which Darwin first went ashore in 1835. The largest lake in the islands, El Junco, is located here as well, and is one of the sources of freshwater in the Galapagos. The majority of the residents of San Cristobal live in the port city of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, which serves as the capital of the Galapagos Islands. Tourism and fishing, as well as government comprise most of the industry here. On San Cristobal, you will find a wide array of the wildlife these islands have to offer.
San Cristobal is home to a colony of sea lions as well as Galapagos turtles, frigatebirds, blue and red-footed boobies, marine iguanas, dolphins and seagulls. There are many places to see and explore in and around San Cristobal as well. Kicker Rock is just offshore of the island, and one of the most photographed sites in the Galapagos. It rises 500 feet out of the sea and is home to a variety of birds as well as sea lions. Lobos Island is named after the sea lions in the area and is a small islet just off San Cristobal across a small channel. It is home to large colony of sea lions and sea birds. Just off the northern coast of the island lies Cerro Brujo, one of the first sites visited by Charles Darwin. Here you will find a beautiful white sand beach. San Cristobal is the home of La Galapaguera, a research station dedicated to the breeding and refuge of giant Galapagos turtles.
Located just off the shore of San Cristobal, Kicker Rock rises dramatically from the sea with steep cliffs towering up to 500 feet. This is the most photographed site in all of the Galapagos Islands. Kicker Rock, or Leon Dormido, is named for its shape, which resembles a boot or sleeping lion. It was formed from the remains of an eroded volcano cone. It is home to sea lions, as well as a variety of birds, including blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, and red-billed tropicbirds. Kicker Rock can only be accessed by boat, and a guide remains with visitors at all times. The rock’s location, as well as its unique ecosystem, make it an underwater paradise. The natural erosion of this cone has formed a channel between the rocks that produces the perfect habitat for a multitude of marine life, including sharks, rays, sea turtles and sea lions.
Lobos Island, or Isla Lobos, is a small, flat islet separated from San Cristobal via a channel. It is a seasonal nesting location for Blue-footed boobies, although it is named for the colony of sea lions that sometimes reside here. Fur seals and frigatebirds have been spotted here as well. The snorkeling around Lobos Island is some of the best you will find, with sea lions often playing in the water around the island, as well as sea turtles and rays.
Cerro Brujo (“Wizard Hill”) was formed from the eroded remains of a volcanic tuff cone. It is one of the first places visited by Charles Darwin upon his expedition to the Galapagos Islands. It is here where Captain Fitzroy climbed to the top of the hill to scout out reefs for exploration. It is primarily known for its pristine white sand beaches, where the sand supposedly feels as soft as powdered sugar. Frigatebirds and sea lions call Cerro Brujo home. Behind the beach is a natural lagoon, where egrets and herons often visit. At times, the lagoon dries up leaving deposits of salt at the bottom. The residents of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno used to use the lagoon as a salt mine.
Punta Pitt is located on the northernmost end of San Cristobal Island. Upon arrival, visitors will be greeted with the loud barking of the bachelor colony of sea lions who live here. They spend much of their time fighting and mating. Visitors can also climb a steep ravine up the cliffs to a breeding ground for boobies. It is the only place in the Galapagos where you can see all three species of booby nesting together: Red-footed, Blue-footed and Nazca. Two species of frigatebirds reside here as well. The views from the top of the cliffs overlooking the beach are magnificent, and one can observe the contours of the wind-eroded peaks of the island from here as well. The trail across Punta Pitt offers a look at some of the vegetation that thrives here, such as saltbrush, spiny shrubs, Palo Santo trees and tiny cacti.
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno was named after Alfredo Baquerizo Moreno, who was the first Ecuadorian president to visit the Galapagos in 1916. Besides the restaurants and hotels, the island is the home of the Galapagos campus of Ecuador’s Universidad San Francisco de Quito, as well as a post office, police station and hospital. The headquarters of the navy and national police are located here as well. The town is reachable by both air and sea, and many cruises begin and/or end at the San Cristobal airport, located just outside of town. The town is home to three beaches, one of which is exclusively reserved for the sea lions that inhabit the area and are highly revered by the locals. The sea lions can also be seen all over town, lounging on boat decks or sleeping on park benches. The other two beaches in town are open to the public. Lava fields and desert plants make up much of the landscape on the island.
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is the capital and administrative headquarters of the Galapagos Province. It is located on the southwestern coast of San Cristobal, which is the easternmost island in the archipelago. It is also the oldest permanent settlement in the Galapagos. Locals have nicknamed the town Cristobal, after the island. Fishing is the main trade and economic activity here, but tourism is quickly on the rise, with plenty of hotels, restaurants, internet cafes and local shops to choose from. The town contains the second largest population in the Galapagos, after Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. It also offers a paved hiking trail with a scenic overlook, and visitors can stroll the quaint waterfront for shopping and to experience local flavor. This port town also hosts a visitor interpretation center, the Centro de Interpretacion, which provides an excellent overview of human history and settlement in the Galapagos.