Visiting San Cristobal, Galapagos
A Guide to San Cristobal, the Galapagos Islands
Whether flying in or out of San Cristobal, you’ll probably spend your first or your last Galapagos days in the capital of the Galapagos Islands, Puerto Moreno. A slick seaside town, far removed from the dusty paths of Puerto Villamil, the town’s defining feature is the vast numbers of sea lions that call it home. Taking a quick wander along the seafront will bring you face to face with hundreds of these sand-puppies, frolicking and falling down left, right and centre. The first thing you’ll hear as you come into town, from the sea or the sky, will be the honking and barking and general peculiar noises that sea lions use to witter away to each other all day.
The beaches of Puerto Moreno were the first The Beagle met when Charles Darwin reached the Galapagos Islands, one of the most important moments in scientific history. Memorialised in stone, overlooking the dense wildlife he helped reveal to the world, giant pelicans and curious frigates sit on Darwin’s shoulders. The boardwalk is littered in flitting feathers, and the seas filled with dinner divers. Wander down the seafront for an afternoon, watch the sun fade and the sea lions roll around in low tides. Further from town, you’ll find more beaches littered in sea lions, marine iguanas, and a myriad of peculiar birdlife. Take yourself all the way out to sea and you might just find yourself swimming alongside circling hammerhead sharks, or floating manta rays cutting imposing figures through the waves.
Whether your first dip into Galapagos life, or the perfect ending to your trip, San Cristobal exemplifies the diversity and the mystery of the islands.
Things to do
1. Las Loberías
The beaches namesake are her main attraction, the baby sea lions that are bred on her banks. Watch huge groups of sea lions waddle along the sand, utterly graceless outside of the water. Tiny baby lions trip over their own flippers as they hurry to catch up with their parents or their siblings or the other groups of young rolling around on the beach. Leave early for the 40 minute walk to the beach, watching enormous pelicans swooping overhead, and head to the other side of the airport. One of the most enjoyable elements of slow, budget travel in the Galapagos Islands is the long walks through varied environments, which you miss when you take the speedy boats around the various islands. You may see more taking a cruise, but you miss witnessing the slow pace of life that exists for the islands inhabitants- and their animals.
Once at the beach, sit back (way back, don’t disturb the wildlife or you’ll put it at risk), and watch the puppies play in the water and flop on the sand. You can spend hours endlessly entertained by their shenanigans. If you want to walk further along the spectacular coastline, you can carry on past the beach and along the cliffs ahead. Get a panoramic view of the spoilt wilderness, far from the tourist crowds in Puerto Moreno or the cruise shippers at the beaches.
2. Take a tour to Kicker Rock
A famous figure in the Galapagos’ seas, Kicker Rock offers more than an interesting stone formation. Take a tour from Puerto Moreno and take the chance to go snorkelling or diving at the base of the rock, where you’ll get the chance to swim with enormous rays, bobbing turtles, and even spot the ominous silhouettes of shadowy hammerhead sharks. Pods of dolphins and twirling sea lions interact with swimmers with innocent curiosity, free from the fear instilled in animals oft exposed to human wrongdoings. Snorkellers have been known to find themselves face to face with hundreds of sharks at a time, whether reef or hammerheads, one of the most unique opportunities one can find so close to shore.
3. Interaction Centre
Though not known as a destination coveted for its rich history, learning about the islands’ past is crucial to understanding their geology, their wildlife, their future and their people. The Interaction Centre offers a well curated exhibition, covering how the islands came to exist, and how they are developing as active volcanic spots. It also covers the, somewhat bleak, history of the people of the Galapagos. Based in, often forcibly, a harsh habitat, not easily manipulated to the needs of a human population, proved a continual struggle for the people that built the towns we can visit today.
4. Punta Carola
You may have no lover to take to lovers beach, but you can snuggle up with your favourite angst-y marine iguana or dorky sea lion and take in the sunset. A cove a short walk from the interpretation centre, the beach is a cosy and secluded alternative to the shores closer to town. Carry on further upwards, to Cerro Tijeratas, to watch the sun slip behind the famous frame of Kicker Rock from a tranquil vantage point.
5. Meet the locals in Puerto Moreno
Like I say, the seafront in Puerto Moreno is home to more sea lions than I’ve ever seen. Flapping around on every shore, their barking and snorting and general hollering make up the less-than-dulcet soundtrack to the town. Take an evening stroll through town, to watch baby sea lions cuddling up to their mothers, while their fathers flop around like giant puppy dogs in the lapping waves. Watch them play, wander through their territory at a respectful distance, and make sure not to litter or to disturb their home in any way.
The Galapagos Islands are a treasure, one of the last bastions of pure nature and wildlife, not contaminated or plundered by men looking to drain their resources. I saw a shocking number of tourists with little to no regard for the paradise they were in. Touching animals, littering, breaking the rules that the islands have established to protect their wildlife. If you have the privilege of visiting the very greatest of the treasures that the natural world has preserved, you had better be contributing to that preservation. Arrogance and disregard are pollutant, and seemingly rampant amongst a certain type of Galapagos tourist.
Instead, embrace the curious and the bizarre. Embrace the fact you may never be anywhere this pure again. Contribute, learn, explore, enjoy.
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