Santa Cruz Island, in the Galapagos, is home to the largest town in the archipelago Puerto Ayora which is the main Galapagos tourist hub.
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.
How did we get to San Cristobal Island?
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.
What is there to do on San Cristobal Island?
San Cristobal Interpretation Centre
How do you get there?
How much does it cost to get in?
What is in the centre?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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)
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!
Booking resources for your trip to San Cristobal Island
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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Isabela Island is the largest of the Galápagos Islands and is distinctly shaped like a horseshoe. It is made up of no less than 5 young volcanoes fused together with some of them still being active with the most recent eruption on Sierra Negro being only in 2018.