Situated in the Pacific Ocean and about 1,000 km from South America, the Galapagos Islands are part of the Republic of Ecuador. The archipelago consists of 19 volcanic islands and dozens of islets and rocks, spreading over an area of 45,000 sq km on both sides of the equator. The islands are home to a great number of astonishing marine animals and wildlife species, which were studied by Charles Darwin and later became the foundation for his Theory of evolution. Since then biologists have been fascinated by Galapagos ecosystems and the way local species illustrate evolutionary processes.
The Galapagos archipelago has been recognized by UNESCO as one of the most unique, scientifically important, and biologically outstanding areas on earth. The islands have a unique set of environmental conditions that set them apart from the rest of the island groups in the world. Their sunny equatorial position, combined with cool ocean currents, allow for an unusual mix of tropical and temperate environments, resulting in the rare plants and animals that inhabit them.
Of the three main and most inhabited islands, San Cristóbal is probably the most relaxed and versatile. It is the easternmost, the fifth largest, one of the geologically oldest islands in the Galapagos archipelago and it is where Darwin first went ashore in 1835. Its name San Cristóbal comes from the patron saint of seafarers, St. Christopher.
San Cristóbal has a total area of 558 km2 and a population of approximately 6,000 people. It is the most fertile island in the group and is the second most populated after Santa Cruz. The capital of the archipelago, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, situated near the south-western end of San Cristóbal, is home to many government offices, a Navy base, an airport, offering daily flights to the mainland and the Galapagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences.
El Junco, a crater lake in the highlands of San Cristóbal is the only source of fresh water in the whole archipelago, which led to the formation of the first permanent settlement on the islands in 1869 - El Progreso. Today, this oldest surviving settlement is a small farming community with a population of 500 people, located on the side of an extinct volcano about 8 km from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
The Galapagos Islands have more unique and endemic species than any other cluster of islands in the world and therefore are dedicated to long-term conservancy and maintenance of the ecological balance. San Cristóbal is a forerunner in the quest for renewable energy with at least 60 percent of its energy already generated by wind and solar power.
For tourists who wish to explore the Galapagos, San Cristóbal is a preferred choice of stay, because it offers a perfect combination of wildlife sightings, beautiful landscapes, gorgeous beaches, outdoor activities, entertainment options in the city and truly kind local people. But if you ask any visitor to name one thing about Galapagos, it would most probably be “sea lions”, as their presence is ubiquitous on all of the islands. There are two types of sea lions here, the Galapagos sea lion and the more rare fur sea lion, both endemic and exclusive to the archipelago. With a population of 50,000, sea lions are literally everywhere. In San Cristóbal they can be seen laying on the promenade benches, climbing on the boats, swimming in the water and willingly posing for pictures.
San Cristóbal’s Galapagos National Park Visitor Center (Interpretation Center) is a must-see for first time visitors, who wish to know more about the islands and their importance to evolution and conservation. Opened in 1998 it presents a complete and documented history of the Galapagos, its ecosystems, flora and fauna and the history of the archipelago from its volcanic origins to the present.
There’s a lava trail leading off from the Interpretation Center to the Frigatebird Hill and Darwin Bay, where one can see a mixed colony of Magnificent Frigate Birds and Great Frigate Birds and will be treated to breathtaking views of the port and the northwestern part of San Cristóbal, including Kicker Rock.
Kicker Rock, an eroded cone of an extinct volcano, rising 140 m above water, is one of the most spectacular landmarks in Galapagos. It looks like a boot from one side, hence the English name Kicker Rock, and like a sleeping lion from another, hence its Spanish name, Roca León Dormido. It's unique ecosystem makes it an underwater paradise and an excellent snorkeling spot.
Another must see site is La Galapaguera - a remarkable preserve and controlled breeding center for the Tortugas, where you can see the once-dwindling population of indigenous giant Galapagos tortoises thriving again. It is also possible to hike to the Tortoise Reserve – an excellent site for viewing giant tortoises in their natural habitat. Many of the species endemic to San Cristóbal can be seen on this hike, including the giant tortoise, lava lizard, gecko, and mockingbird.
San Cristóbal has more beaches and surf spots that the rest of the islands. A one-hour boat ride from San Cristóbal will take you to Isla Lobos (Sea lion island), a tranquil and scenic islet, inhabited by a large number of sea lions. It is great for snorkeling and a seasonal nesting location for blue-footed boobies. The other beaches that shouldn’t be missed are the rocky Ochoa Beach, the coral Cerro Brujo beach, the year-round surfer paradise Punta Carola, the Puerto Chino beach, whose white sands mysteriously turn green at times, the Manglecito and Puerto Grande beaches, where you can snorkel or swim with sea lions. All of San Cristóbal’s beaches offer abundance of wildlife - migratory and coastal birds, crabs and sea urchins, sea lions, iguanas, etc.Apart from spectacular scenery, wondrous endemic species and glorious visitor sites, San Cristóbal offers visitors a chance to dive into the local culture, learn to dance salsa, experience the hospitality and kindness of local people, try their incredibly delicious food and learn valuable lessons about ecology, sustainability, ecotourism and responsible travelling.