San Cristobal Galapagos | How to see this island on a budget

San Cristóbal is the fifth largest and easternmost island of the Galapagos. It is made up of three or four fused volcanoes, all extinct. Its name comes from the Patron Saint of seafarers, “St. Christopher.”  It is one of the oldest islands geologically and has one of the few airports in the Galapagos Archipelago.  It is most fertile of the Galapagos islands and is the second most populated after Santa Cruz.  It has an abundance of wildlife and plenty of things to offer its visitors. 

San Cristobal Marine Iguana
San Cristobal Marine Iguana

How did we get to San Cristobal Island?

We flew to San Cristobal from Quito via Guayaquil which was the most competitive way for us to travel.  The flight was about 3.30hrs long and we flew with Latam.  I must say we had heard a few rubbish reviews about Latam but our experience was good.   On arrival to San Cristobal we discovered the airport was really close to the main town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno where we’d booked our accomodation.  We had 2 options to get from the airport and the first was taxi and the second was to walk.  Good old Google Maps told us it was a 16 min walk and even though we had our rucksacks we didn’t think that was too bad so we ditched the taxi idea and set off walking.   It wasn’t long before we were in the town and we’d saved a taxi fare, result!  
 
It may be that you’re on another island and therefor will be using the inter-island ferries to travel to San Cristobal from Santa Cruz and if that is the case then rather than the airport you’ll arrive at the port which is smack bang in the centre of town and within walking distance to most of the hotels and hostels.  Full details of how we bought our flight tickets, which airlines we chose & why and how to secure the best deals for travel can be found on our Galapagos on a budget  blog post which goes into our travel plans in depth.  

Where did we stay on San Cristobal Island?

The island has loads of accommodation options from sea front hotels and hostels which were rather expensive to the less costly options of hotels and hostels a few streets back from the front.  The further back you go the cheaper the rooms are and we didn’t mind the 10 min walk into town in the evening so we opted for budget.   We chose La Casa De Mi Sub as it was reasonably priced and the pictures on the internet looked really nice.  To be honest it was a bit basic but it served our needs for our time in San Cristobal.  I think it’s important if you’re trying to do the islands on a budget that you find accommodation that includes a free breakfast as it can be expensive in the town.  

With regards to Wifi, it’s is always going to be an issue no matter where you stay on the Galápagos Islands so just prepare for it to be slow and not having the ability to upload videos etc.   You can always do that when you get back to the mainland.   To see what the best accommodation options there are available for your trip then check our suggestions at the end of his post.

San Cristobal Giant Tortoise
Lynne & a Giant Tortoise

What is there to do on San Cristobal Island? 

The Port 
The port is the first place you’ll want to explore when you arrive on the island and almost straight away you’ll come face to face with the islands wildlife.  The port has a large colony of sea lions who lay on the sand, play in the water and occasionally laze about on the pavements.  The port is also home to the famous Galapagos Pelican and the gorgeous orange Sally Lightfoot Crabs as well as an abundance of Marine Iguanas.  In the sky you’re likely to see the frigate birds, remember to watch out for the red throated ones and other sea birds who call this port their home.  There is the main promenade along the front of the town and just off one of the piers there is a small semi circular walkway where you can view the wildlife in the bay.  There you have it.  An abundance of wildlife, on your doorstep and it’s cost you absolutely nothing. 
 
San Cristobal Interpretation Centre
How do you get there?
You can get to the interpretation centre easily from the town by walking eastwards and following the signs for Playa Mann from there its a short walk, about 10 mins.   You could also take a taxi but that would be at a cost and alternatively you could hire a bike but again that would be at a cost.  It really makes more sense to walk and you have the option of stopping for a coffee or snack en route. 
How much does it cost to get in? 
There is a booth at the entrance to the centre where you have to sign in and give your passport number.  The entrance to the centre is free but there is the option here to get a guide to take you through all of the centre’s exhibits and that may involve a cost or a tip at the very least.  We decided to go it alone as all the explanations of the story and exhibits were in English as well as Spanish and to be honest we like to take our time.  
What is in the centre?
Once inside there are 2 main exhibition areas that take you through the history and settlements of the islands and the human history room gives a chronological timeline of the islands from discovery to present day with some really interesting stories.  It really is the most informative exhibition and well worth a visit if you’re on San Cristobal island.   There are also some well paved paths leading from the interpretation centre that take you to beaches further up the coast and a fantastic snorkelling point which we mention further down.  The paths are lined with the most exquisite cacti and there is an abundance of birds all chirping away. 
Interpretation Centre
Interpretation Centre
Playa Mann

This beach is one of the first beaches you’ll come across on the island and its quite small.  If you have been to the Interpretation centre then you will most likely have passed it.  You can reach the beach by walking eastwards along the front and then following the signs.  This beach is a small semi circular cove, populated with a fair number of sea lions and has  a little selection of bars and restaurants where you can grab a snack, lunch or a drink whilst having your day at the beach.  You can swim and snorkel at this beach and there will be sea lions and other marine life in the water here for you to see.  We didn’t spend much time here as there was more to explore on the island but we did stop for a coffee one morning as we passed by.  It’s a great little local beach. 

Playa Punto Carolina

This beach is a little further along the coast and can be reached 2 ways.   If you’ve visited the interpretation centre then you can take one of the paths leading from the centre which will take you to this beach.  Alternatively there is a road that is next to Playa Mann which will take you to another path to the beach.  On this path you don’t have to go through the centre.  This path was actually much quicker and we got to the beach in no time.  Like the other beaches you’ll come across on the island, you’ll have to sometimes step over sea lions or marine iguanas to get onto the beach.  This is very much their territory and you just have to work around that.  This beach is larger than Playa Mann with an extensive shoreline and a lighthouse at one end.  You can swim and snorkel at this beach and the sea lions, of course, love to be in the water too.  You might be lucky and see a turtle or two swimming in the afternoon but further along the coast is better for spotting the turtles.  This beach is one that visitors flock to at dusk for the sunset as it’s spectacular if you get a clear day. 

San Cristobal pathways
San Cristobal pathways
Cerro Tijeretas

This part of the coastline isn’t a beach but is a wooden platform at a small cove that is perfect for snorkelling.  Again, like Playa Punto Carolina you can reach this by 2 ways. The paths leading from the interpretation centre or by the path out of Playa Punto Carolina.  When you reach the snorkelling site there is a wooden pole to hang up your bag and clothes and a wooden platform down into the water.  The platform does have some steps but don’t be surprised if there are one or two sea lions snoozing on the steps which makes it tricker to get in the water as they don’t like to be disturbed and will let you know by growling loudly.  The water is extremely cold but the reward is swimming and snorkelling with the sea lions and other marine life such as some very colourful fish and if you’re lucky a marine iguana. 

Playa Baquerizio

You’ll find this beach further along the coast from the snorkelling site of Cerro Tijeretas.  The path to this beach starts off as well paved but then changes to a loose rock path that is a bit tricky to walk on but very much worth it as this beach is stunning.  It’s about a 2km walk from the snorkelling site however you get great sea views to your left as you make your way along the path.  As its a little further off the beaten track its quieter and is a perfect spot for snorkelling with the turtles.  There were loads there when we visited and it was such a privilege to be floating on the top of the water watching them glide below.  There are loads of sea lions here too and a variety of seabirds and other marine life in the water.  A perfect place just to sit and watch their antics.  This was our favourite beach.   

San Cristobal Sea Lion
San Cristobal Sea Lion
Playa La Loberia 

This beach is on the other side of the town about 2km from the port and just past the airport and like the other beaches on the island, you can get here by a variety of methods.  You can get a taxi which will be a cost, you can hire a bike which will be a cost or you can walk which is what we did and it took about 30 mins from town to get there.  The road to the beach is well signposted and once you get there you have to sign in with the Park Warden and then make your way along the coastal path to the beach. 

The beach is a small rocky cove with its resident sea lions lounging about the sand.  You can swim and snorkel in the cove and there is an abundance of sealife including large turtles to see here also.  

If you take a path to the left of the beach it takes you about 1km along the coast to a view point where you can see some fantastic seabirds including the Red Billed Tropic birds, Magnificent Frigate birds, swallow tailed gulls and an assortment of other fantastic sea birds.  We also saw a large amount of marine iguanas on and near the path whilst we walked along.  I would advise to take this walk earlier in the day as when we made our way back to the beach the tide was coming in and we had to pick our way through the rocks to get back to the beach.   If we’d have left it any later then we might have had to do a bit of wading! 

San Cristobal Green Turtle
San Cristobal Green Turtle
Hire a taxi for the day

As our time on the island was limited we decided one day, to hire a taxi to get us to another part of the island.  The taxi rank was a few blocks away from the port and we negotiated a price of $60 to take us to 3 different sites over a 6 hr period and we felt, even though we were on a budget, it was worth the money.   Here’s where the taxi took us:-

El Junco Lagoon

El Junco is a lake in the highlands of San Cristobal and despite its name its actually a volcanic crater.  Once you arrive at the parking area you have about a 15 min steepish climb uphill on a good path to reach the top.   Once at the top there is a circular path around the lake so you can see it from all angles.  There are also some spectacular views of the surrounding area and apparently its a mecca for all sorts of birds.  On the day we visited it was raining and there was a low mist completely clouding the lake so we could hardly see it at all.  The path around the circumference was extremely muddy and not walkable on our day but I’m sure its a spectacular place on a clear day and well worth a visit. 

Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado (Tortoise reserve)
The Galapagos are famous for their giant tortoises and this is one of the Galapagos main breeding centres.   The site is free to get in and once inside you follow a well paved path through the reserve, up and down hill, past watering holes and scrub land keeping your eyes peeled for the beautiful creatures.  In the heart of the reserve is the breeding centre and here you’ll find the tiniest of tortoises right up to the size that they are when let out into the wild.  The guide here explained the story of these fabulous creatures and the sad fact that the smallest of tortoises, in the nursery pens, have to be kept secure as they had incidents of people popping them in their pockets to steal them and then sell for ridiculous prices.  We saw loads of giant tortoises on the trail and it was fascinating watching them go about their day. 
 
Puerto Chino 
This was our final stop for the day on our taxi tour and it was a coastal area with a beach and rocky outcrop.   The beach was peppered with various sizes of sea lions and the rocky outcrop was a good place to see the blue footed boobie up close.   There was a path around the rocks which led you to a cliff area overhanging the sea and it must have been our lucky day as when we turned the corner there was a blue footed boobie, sitting right there waiting to have its picture taken.  It sat and posed for us for about 20 mins then flew off.  Such a beautiful bird up close.  This beach was also perfect for snorkelling and swimming. 
San Cristobal Galapagos
Blue footed Booby bird, San Cristobal

Things to do if you have a more flexible budget

The islands are notorious for their tours whether these be land based, diving or snorkelling tours.  San Cristobel is no exeption in having a multitude of tour offices offering tours to off shore sites and other islands.  If you have the budget to spend on a tour either diving, snorkelling or visiting another island then check out our Galapagos on a budget blog where we help you get the right tour at the right price. 

Food and drink on San Cristobal Island

This is the thing, apart from tours, which is going to do eat into to your budget.  Food and drinks on the island are not cheap but there are other options than eating in the higher end sea front restaurants.   We’ve already mentioned having accommodation with a breakfast is a good idea but also seeking out restaurants away from the main strip and offering more traditional Ecuadorian food is a good option too.   We tended to eat in the cheaper “Menu del Dia” type restaurants most of the time in the evening and then had a treat meal every once in a while.  Drinks are expensive whether it be coffee, tea, beer or cocktails so remember to budget for these.  There is the most amazing ice cream shop on the island, just down from the main pier, which you have to try.  It’s not too expensive but so delicious.  Just a word of warning though the portions are huge! 

Our view

You my not think San Cristobal is the prettiest of islands when you first arrive into town, it’s not the cleanest of places and back from the sea front the buildings look a bit rough and ready.  But get out into the countryside and the island holds a wealth of wildlife that can be visited for a relatively pocket friendly cost.  We spent three full days here and there was plenty to keep us occupied.

Booking resources for your trip to San Cristobal Island

Flights

You can compare cheap flights on the Expedia platform or here on the Aviasales website.  Both will give you a good idea of how much its going to cost you to get to your chosen destination.

Accommodation

We have always tended to use Booking.com having said that if your on a tight budget another good site to try as a comparison is Hostelworld, If your looking to compare different sites you can do that on Hotellook, we tend to look on here first to make sure we are getting the best deal.

Tours & Tickets

You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site.  Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.

For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.

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